There was nearly unanimous agreement among the interviewed teachers that student academic growth was affected by reduced class size. Teachers remarked that their students achieved at a high rate in reading, language, and mathematics. Because a solid foundation of reading skills could be built early, students were able, as has been mentioned, to proceed to second grade materials. Some teachers also said that student writing ability improved considerably as did their problem-solving ability in mathematics.
Their writing skills are much higher than in the past. That’s because of all of the extra practice that they got this year. I think that their skills are stronger because they just get more attention, all of them. They’re so far, it’s like they’re beginning second grade .... As for a like reading goes, as far as their comprehension of different things, or as far as math goes, all over.
The teaching changes teachers revealed that they plan to make during the 1997-98 school year are of two kinds. Some teachers, after a year of teaching small classes, have learned the demands of this new environment and are considering how they can improve the practices they used during the first year of the program. They indicated that they need to plan more carefully because students learn and progress so quickly in this setting. Further, as the new first-grade classes will contain large numbers of children who have experienced small classes as kindergarten students, they know that planning an accelerated curriculum will be necessary. Other teachers seem to be more satisfied with the teaching they employed during the first year but now want to expand their use of student-centered teaching. These teachers mentioned that they intend to use, for example, more guest speakers, curriculum integration, creative activities, problem solving, readers’ workshop, and student decision making.
I think what I would do is let the kids make more decisions, let them be more problem solving. I would probably plan more to bring more people into the classroom like speakers to talk about things that I haven’t had a chance to plan.
Classroom observations were made in 26 first-grade classrooms, including 2 classrooms that also contained some kindergarten children, in October and April during the 1996-97 school year. These classrooms, taught by a total of 31 teachers, were selected to reflect the variety of types of 15:1 student-teacher ratio classrooms in the SAGE program, and a range of geographic areas. Of the 26 classrooms 15 were Regular classrooms, 15 were Shared Space classrooms, 5 were 2 Teacher Team classrooms, and 1 was a Floating Teacher classroom. The 26 classrooms were located in 13 schools from 9 school districts.
The October observations lasted from one to three hours. The purpose of these
observations was to become familiar with the classrooms and to record a reading or mathematics lesson to serve as a baseline measure of classroom events. Upon completion of each observation, the observer wrote an expanded narrative account based on the notes recorded during the lesson.
These accounts were transcribed and analyzed using previous research on class size as well as constructivist teaching theory as a guide. Previous research suggests that achievement benefits of reduced class size may be related to less time needed for managing the classroom, fewer students with whom the teacher must interact, and greater homogeneity of student needs. Constructivist teaching theory suggests that for student understanding to occur instruction must be based on students’ prior knowledge, make students active participants, provide feedback on students’ constructions, and encourage student reflection. This procedure yielded a set of categories which was then used to complete the analysis of each observation. The main categories of individualization, engagement, and management as well as subcategories are displayed in Table
The April observations were more focused observations. These observations, which lasted from 30 to 90 minutes, used the categories established during the first observation as a guide. Observers looked for instances of these categories of behavior but also recorded other prominent behaviors or events.
Data from the two sets of observations follow. First, the classroom behavior of the total group of observed classrooms is presented. Second, classroom behavior by type of SAGE classroom is discussed.
Total Classroom Behavior
The observed behaviors for the total group of classrooms from both the fall and spring observations are presented in Table 38. The findings are expressed in total frequencies and in mean percents. Because of varying length of observations, the frequency with which different teachers used particular behaviors, and the observation style of different observers, data for individual classrooms were standardized by converting behavior tallies for each category to
percents of total behaviors used and then computing mean percents to facilitate total group analyses.
Table 38 reveals that few changes were observed in teacher classroom behavior from October to April in the three areas of individualization, engagement, and management. By comparing frequencies it appears that there was increased use of nearly all categories of behavior from October to April, but this increase is most likely a function of focusing on the categories revealed by the first observation.
Individualization. Table 38 shows that considerable individualization occurred in
observed SAGE classrooms. Although the teachers do not regularly permit students to choose or create their own learning activities, they frequently provide help to individual students and actively involve many, if not all students, in classroom events. Also, but to a lesser degree, they monitor student progress and subgroup the class or single out individuals for special attention. Changes that appear from October to April are that participation increased while both subgrouping and total group instruction decreased somewhat. An example of a lesson in which individualization is prevalent is the following:
In the first portion of this observation, the teacher introduced the lesson to the entire class. The class was working with different numbers which could be added
together to make 11 and 12. The teacher individually called on students to come up with answers to her examples. When the second student that she called on struggled, the teacher offered assistance. When the third student responded with “4+7=11" the teacher said to him, “Right!” The teacher continued explaining what
the class was going to be doing, including a discussion of math “fact twins.” She continued to call on students to give examples, ending this portion of the lesson having called on half of the students present.
The class then broke into groups of two to complete a cooperative worksheet using fact twins. The sheet involved using 11 chips in various groups of two. It was arranged that one student would attempt the first question while the other student checked the answer. The roles were then reversed for the second question, and so on. As the students worked, the teacher walked around the room, providing assistance when necessary. This ranged from helping them in their own management to specific discussion of the lesson to modifying the activity for those who completed it quickly. One group that could not decide who should go first and were arguing about it was reminded by the teacher of a way to settle the dispute. The students used the rock/paper/scissors game to make this determination. The teacher then worked with a pair, helping them complete both the initial number sentence and its fact twin. When one group finished the 11's quickly, the teacher got another chip so that they could work on the twelve’s. She told this group “good job!” Finally, as groups began to finish, she encou aged
them individually to work on something on their own. Some began reading.
Others began looking at pictures of the field trip they had recently taken. The teacher continued to monitor the entire class, helping those that needed it, as well as checking all students’ homework. The lesson ended as the bell rang and the students lined up for recess. (15:1 Regular classroom)
Engagement. Taken together, the analysis categories of listening, practicing, and responding represent more teacher-centered teaching because students are assigned a passive role in learning, while gaming, manipulating, creating, dialoging, problem solving, and the remaining engagement categories represent more student-centered teaching because students are more actively involved in learning activities. In both the October and April observations the observed classrooms were dominated by teacher-centered teaching. However, there is a slight decrease in teacher-centered teaching and a corresponding increase in student-centered teaching from October to April. In particular, listening and practicing are used less, on average, while responding is used more in terms of teacher-centered teaching. In student-centered teaching the average percents increase for dialoging and problem solving but decrease for creating.
Engagement (Teacher-Centered) Example
In this team-taught classroom, the 30 children sat at their desks as the teacher directed their attention to the blackboard on which she had written the letter “J.” The teacher asked the class to look at the Wordwall and find a word that began with that letter. A student went to the Wordwall and pointed out the word “jump.” The teacher then directed all the students to write jump on their papers. As the students did this both teachers circulated among the tables helping students here needed. The process was repeated four more times with different students called on each time to provide a word from the Wordwall. After the students had written all the words the teacher told them they are going to put them in ABC order. She called on one student for the first word (GO) and then had all the students write that word. She continued the process until all five words were alphabetized. The last portion of the lesson consisted of adding “ing” endings. To begin this portion the teacher began hopping up and down, and asked the students what she was doing. “Jumping!” they called out. She then had them go through all five words adding the “ing” endings. As each word is written, both teachers circulated to check that all students have written it correctly. When a student was having difficulty, the teacher (not the one leading the lesson) remained at the student’s desk providing the extra assistance needed in order to keep up.
When this portion of the lesson ended, the class was divided into three groups. Six children left the room to meet with the reading resource teacher. Three children worked with one teacher on one side of the room, while the remaining children worked with the other teacher on the side of the room. One group read a story from their readers with different students reading different pages. As they went through the story, the teacher complimented the children who read well and helped those who had difficulty. She made sure that all students understood the content of the story. At the same time, in another portion of the room, the other group of three students worked with the story of the three little pigs, cutting out pictures and pre-printed words which tell the story. The teacher of this group helped the students individually match the words with pictures, with the ultimate goal of having each student create a book of the story. In each portion of the lesson, the teacher drove the activity. She asked questions and the students responded to the questions directly. (30:2 Team-Teaching classroom)
Engagement (Student-Centered) Example
This lesson began with the teacher distributing bags of geometric shaped blocks consisting of triangles, squares, trapezoids, etc. The teacher encouraged the children to experiment with the blocks to make patterns of their own. The students immediately constructed their own patterns. The teacher then passed out sheets which had two patterns pre-printed on them: a star and an octagon. The students were then asked to arrange their blocks in these shapes, beginning with the star. The teacher monitored, providing help when needed, and encouraged students to use different blocks to form the same shape. The students worked on their own, raising their hands when they wanted the teacher to check their work.
The teacher then used the overhead projector and her set of blocks to show one way of ma king the star. She then invited students to come to the overhead and show the blocks that they used in creating the star. Four different children demonstrated their constructions on the overhead, as the teacher praised them by saying, “Good Jeffrey!” and “I like the way that you are trying to find a different way.” The lesson continued as the students began working on the octagon pattern. This time the teacher checked the patterns as she monitored, rather than using overhead demonstrations. Finally, students were instructed to create their own patterns with the blocks, draw them on a sheet of paper, and then later, have other students try to make them. The students become engaged in making their own patterns using a variety of blocks. The teacher continued to walk around the room, monitoring and helping. The class session ended, however, before students could challenge each other with their newly created patterns. (15:1 Shared-Space classroom)
Management. The data regarding management are difficult to interpret because of the large increase in the average percent for the teaching category labeled "permits" in the April observation data. Undoubtedly, more instances of students sharpening pencils, taking bathroom breaks, and engaging in other out-of-seat behaviors on their own volition occurred, but the occurrence of this type of behavior appears to be exaggerated by observer attention due to its addition to the observation guide for the April observation. It can be seen in Table 38, however, that observed SAGE teachers are much more positive than negative in their classroom management. Praising, reminding students about behavior that is expected, warming the classroom climate, and permitting students free classroom movement make up nearly all of the classroom management. Reproving students or cooling the classroom atmosphere through sarcasm or ignoring students is used very infrequently. From October to April, however, there is a decrease in several types of positive management. This could be a result of both the end of the school when students may become less attentive and also it may be an unavoidable consequence of the huge increase in the permit category of behavior. That is, as students more freely move about the classroom abuses of freedom may require a response from the teacher.
Management Example 1
In one classroom, as the noise level of the students increased, one of the teachers said to the students, “Matt is really focusing on those dots, he isn’t talking. That’s what you need to do.” Later, she said, “Nice job Rodney, he’s working so quietly.” Toward the end of this particular lesson the teacher said, “I’m checking for superstar behavior. Wow! I could pick a bunch of kids from each table.
Superstars are always ready!” (30:2 Team-Teaching classroom) Management Example 2
In another classroom, the teacher asked, “who is ready?” When a few voices were still audible, she said to one student, “I like the way you are listening!” She went around the room praising students’ good behavior. (15:1 Regular classroom)
Classroom Behavior in Different Types of SAGE Classrooms
The observed average percent frequencies for each of the four main types of SAGE classrooms are presented in Table 39. Because of the small number of classrooms observed it would be a mistake to generalize from these data to other classrooms of a particular type of student-teacher ratio, but the findings displayed may suggest trends for future analyses.
In general the findings for the four main types of SAGE in each of the three areas of individualization, engagement and management echo the findings for the total group of observed classrooms, as would be expected. There are some observed differences among the types, however. In terms of individualization, 15:1 Shared Space classrooms use monitoring and provide help more and have students participate less than the others. The 15:1 Regular classrooms subgroup for special attention less than the others except for the one 30:2 Floating Teacher classroom. For engagement, 30:2 Team Taught classrooms use teacher- entered teaching the most, while 15:1 Shared Space and 30:2 Floating Teacher use manipulatives and dialogue more than the others. Regarding management, the 15:1 Shared Space classrooms use much more praise than the others, but permit students to move about the classroom less than the others. The 30:2 Team Taught teachers use behaviors to warm the climate more than the others.
Teacher Activity Logs
Activity Logs designed to provide descriptions of typical school days were completed by SAGE kindergarten and first-grade teachers three times (October, January, and May) during the 1996-97 school year. The logs required teachers to record classroom activities at 15-minute intervals for a complete school day in four areas: time use, grouping, content, and student learning activities.
A total of 638 logs were completed and returned. Of these, 218 (K=97, 1st=155, combined grade=6) were completed in October; 200 (K=93, 1st=101, combined grade=6) were completed in January; and 220 (K=100, 1st=116, combined grade=4) were completed in May.
For this analysis, October logs were viewed as a baseline measure of classroom activity while January and May logs were combined to form a measure of classroom activity reflective of the effect of reduced class size.
Table 40 presents mean percent scores for time use, content, grouping, and student learning activities for all SAGE teachers. Mean percent scores were determined by converting frequency of category use for each teacher to percents based on total frequency and then computing an average percent use for each category for the total group or subgroup of teachers.
As can be seen in Table 40, time use for all teachers is dominated by instruction. More time is spent on instruction than time spent on routines, planning, and personal matters combined. This finding for instructional time is stable from October to May, as are the results for routines, planning, and personal activities.
In terms of grouping, whole class instruction is the most prevalent organizational form teachers use to develop content and skills, yet it only accounts for roughly half of the time spent on instruction. Small group and individual instruction account for most of the other half. Over the year small group instruction increased while whole class, individual, and combined grouping decreased slightly.
Time spent on content, as revealed in Table 40, was constant over the year with twice as much time spent on reading-language arts compared to mathematics. Reading-language arts taught as separate lessons consume about thirty percent of the instructional time while mathematics consumes bout 20 percent. Altogether, including integrated lessons, reading-language arts and mathematics account for about 75 percent of the instructional time.
Overall, the main student learning activities used were practicing, listening, receiving help, creating, manipulating, and dialoging. The activities used less frequently were problem solving, answering, reporting, receiving critique, and reflecting. Of the 12 student learning activities, 4 are most closely identified with teacher-centered teaching: listening, practicing, receiving help, and answering. These 4, which comprise 25 percent of the options, account for 50 percent of the activities reported. Those activities that decreased slightly in use after October were receiving help and receiving critique. Practicing was the one activity that increased in use over the year.
Results for Kindergarten and First Grade
Table 40 also presents results for kindergarten and first grade separately. The results show that in main findings the two groups are quite similar, but that some differences exist. For example, kindergarten teachers spend comparatively less time in instruction and comparatively more time on routines. They also use whole class and individual grouping less and small groups more often than first-grade teachers, especially in the Fall. Reading and language arts was the dominant content area in kindergarten, but much more time is devoted to this content area in first grade. Kindergarten teachers used comparatively more integrated content than first-grade teachers, In regard to student learning activities, the two grade levels are remarkably similar.
Although both emphasize the use of practicing, listening, receiving help, creating, manipulating, and dialogue, they differ somewhat in the extent to which some of these activities are emphasized. First-grade teachers appear to use listening, practicing, receiving help, and answering, the set of behaviors representing more teacher-centered teaching more, and creating and manipulating less than kindergarten teachers.
Results for combined kindergarten and first grade classrooms most often reveal a middle position compared to kindergarten and first grade findings. Two exceptions evident in the combined January and May logs are that they use individual grouping less but problem solving more than other classes.
Results for Different Types of SAGE Classrooms
Results for the four main types of classes are reported in Table 41 in the form of mean percents. Combined January and May logs for Regular, 2 Teacher Team, Shared Space, and Floating Teacher classrooms are basically alike but some differences are evident as can be seen.
The Regular classrooms differ from the others in that whole group instruction is used more often as is integrated content. The 2 Teacher Team classrooms use small groups more and individual instruction less than the others. They also are comparatively high in their use of integrated content. The main features of the Floating Teacher classrooms are that they use planning and evaluation, individual grouping, receiving help, and answering more frequently along with more time spent on reading-language arts than the other classrooms. Integrated content and creating were used comparatively less. In relation to use of more teacher-centered teaching (listening, practicing, receiving help, and answering), the Floating Teacher group is the highest. The Shared Space classrooms spend the most time on instruction and the least on planning and evaluation. They also spent the least time in small groups, but the most in combined classes. In terms of student learning activities they are comparatively high in receiving help and comparatively low in problem solving. In terms of activities most closely associated with teacher-centered teaching, they are the lowest.
Teacher Questionnaire: Classroom Teaching
The first section of the Teacher Questionnaire, which dealt with the effects of reduced student-teacher ratio on classroom teaching, reveals results similar to those of the other classroom measures. This section, which contains two parts, was completed by 206 kindergarten and first-grade teachers. The first part required teachers to rate their agreement with each of 11 statements concerning classroom practices. The second part asked them to rank the 16 statements by identifying up to three statements that represent the most significant ways their teaching had changed as a result of reduced class size.
As can be seen in Table 42 the results show that teachers felt that all of the teaching behaviors listed were affected positively by reduced class size. The behaviors that were seen as being affected most, based on ranking, were reduced management-more teaching, individualization, assessing progress, diagnosing learning problems, and covering content in greater depth.