Sunday, March 4, 2007

Large class vs. small class

By Eve Ross - Beijing Institute of Machinery, Beijing

A teacher asked, “Did anybody else read the article about small classes in the November issue of Scientific American? Basically it said that class size reduction was a waste of time and money, usually because teachers changed neither their materials nor their methods to suit the new class structures. This is definitely something I agree with. How about everybody else?”

I took a beginning Chinese class at my school in which there were 4 foreign students, including myself. The teacher sat at the front of the room, and read the textbook to us (with her face hidden behind the book so that we could neither see her mouth move nor hear her very clearly). She asked us sometimes to answer the questions at the end of the chapter, but whether we got the answer right or wrong she would say, "hao" and continue. There was no oral practice other than this. There was no written work. She did not call on us when we raised our hands to ask questions. She came to class just as the bell rang and left just as the bell rang, leaving us no time to speak to her before or after class. She never even learned our names. The three of us who were auditing stopped going after a couple of weeks. The one enrolled student continued to attend, and told us that there was no change in the teaching method even when there was only one teacher for one student! This may be an extreme example, but it is true.

I would change my teaching method if given smaller classes, though. I know because I taught classes of 10 or 15 before coming to China, and I now find myself unable to do with 35 students some of the activities I did with the smaller classes.

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