An examination of class size reduction on teaching and learning processes: a theoretical perspective

Harfitt, Gary James and Amy B. M. Tsui | British Educational Research Journal, vol. 41, no. 5, 2015, pp. 845-865

In this study, the authors contribute to research on class size by focusing on two under-researched areas: secondary-level classes and learning processes. The study uses four pairs of large and small classes (with four teachers, teaching one large and one small class each) to compare classroom dynamics.

The authors found that: “students in small classes (a) volunteered responses to teacher’s questions more frequently; (b) initiated interaction with their teacher more frequently by asking questions or seeking clarification; (c) were more likely to use humour with their teacher; (d) were more inclined to help each other and, (e) were more engaged in learning.

Importantly, in large classes, students tended to form groups based around existing friendships and cliques. This left some students feeling more excluded and most students more fearful of risk-taking. As a result, students in larger classes expressed preference for working alone outside of class rather than engaging in group learning activities.