Teacher and Classroom Analyses
The thesis of the SAGE program is that reduced class size, rigorous curriculum, staff
development, and lighted schoolhouse activities can increase student academic achievement.
However, these elements, with the possible exception of lighted schoolhouse activities, cannot
influence academic achievement directly. They are mediated by classroom events. They must
first influence what teachers and students do in the classroom before they can possibly have any
effect on students' learning. To fully understand achievement effects in relation to the SAGE
variables, it is necessary, therefore, to examine classroom changes brought about as a result of
reduced class size and the other aspects of SAGE. In this section the relationship of classroom
events to reduced class size, the principal SAGE variable, is examined. Data obtained from
Teacher Interviews, Classroom Observations, Teacher Logs, and Teacher Questionnaires are
reported below for first and second grade only. Kindergarten data are not reported at the
classroom level because of the absence of corresponding achievement data. Further, it should be
noted that for a variety of reasons, completed instruments, particularly Teacher Logs and
Teacher Questionnaires, were not returned by all teachers, and therefore, discrepancies may
occur in reported frequencies.
Twenty-eight of the SAGE teachers who served as the observation sample were
interviewed, either individually or in teams, in Spring 1998. Of this total 17 teachers were firstgrade
teachers, 9 were second-grade teachers, and 2 were combined first- and second-grade
teachers. In terms of SAGE classroom types, the interviews were distributed in the following
way: 15:1 Regular (one teacher teaching 15 students)—10 teachers, 15:1 Shared Space (two
teachers each with 15 students sharing a room usually divided by a wall)—2 teachers, 30:2 2-
Teacher Team (two teachers teaching 30 students)—10 teachers, and 45:3 3-Teacher Team
(three teachers teaching 45 students)—6 teachers. The interviews, which lasted from 20 minutes
to over an hour, were tape recorded and transcribed. They required teachers to describe the
extent to which their teaching was affected by small class size, the extent to which they believed
their students' learning had improved as a result of being in a small class, and changes they
anticipated making in their teaching during year three of SAGE. (See Appendix A for the
Interview Guide.) Results regarding these three areas follow.
Each of the interviewed teachers indicated that his or her teaching had changed as a result
of having a small-size class. The areas mentioned most frequently were knowledge of students,
discipline, instruction, individualization, and learning activities. Although all of these areas were
also found to be important in the Fall 1997 teacher interviews, it is becoming clearer from the
Spring 1998 interviews that the most important change that results from having fewer students is
Knowledge of Students
When there are fewer students in a class teachers develop greater knowledge and
understanding of each one, they indicated. This knowledge appears to be of two kinds:
personality knowledge and task-progress knowledge. Because there is more time to interact with
each child the teachers come to know the total child, his or her broad strengths and weaknesses.
Longer parent-teacher conferences, because fewer conferences are scheduled during conference
days, further help to develop this personality knowledge. The class becomes a closely-knit group
or a family, as many teachers remarked. The teacher knows the students, but students also come
to know each other better and are more willing to share their thoughts and problems with the
Task-progress knowledge occurs because there are fewer students to monitor. Teachers
stated that they are able to make contact with or get around to each child on a frequent basis to
identify errors and provide direction.
Illustrative Teacher Comments
You have more time to personally get to know them. Not long ago I had a little
girl whose daddy traveled. He was a trucker and he was gone quite a time and
her work went down, down, down, down. And I thought, OK, something is wrong.
And I was able to quickly get hold of Momma and talk to her to find out what was
wrong where probably with a big group she probably would have gotten lost in
the shuffle. I was able to talk about Dad and we drew a picture of him and his
truck and other stuff we would not have been able to in a large class.
I know exactly where the children are and exactly what skill basics they haven't
You are really able to focus on each child and their problems each day.... I know
what each student is doing every day.
I think that I know them really well this year. I never had a small group before;
it's just like having your own little family.
Discipline. The teachers unanimously agree that the problem of class discipline is greatly
reduced if not eliminated because of the small size class. Fewer discipline problems can occur
because there are fewer students to misbehave, but also the family-like atmosphere that develops
contributes to a lessening of inappropriate behavior. Further, when misbehavior does occur, it is
noticed immediately and can be dealt with immediately, the teachers said. In a small-size class
students are more on-task, attentive, and involved.
Illustrative Teacher Comments
They don't really have an opportunity really to get out of control at all.... With a
small class, first of all you are going to have less problems and secondly, you are
right on top of the children because you know it's a small room.
Fewer children does mean less discipline problems. I really don't have any
discipline problems in my classroom this year.
I think as a teacher I am spending a lot less time on discipline, crowd
management. There's lots more time for teaching and the children have a lot
more time for learning. As far as discipline problems, no, I really don't have any.
Discipline has not been a problem this year.
I have an excellent group and you know I attribute a lot of it to the small class
size … we are a family.
Instruction. A result of less time spent on discipline is more time spent on instruction, the
teachers indicated. Some teachers said that reduced time spent on keeping student records and
other "paper work" because of having fewer students also resulted in more time available for
Illustrative Teacher Comments
You get more teaching time than what I did before. When you have 25 kids at one
time and have to take two that are disruptive out into the hall and talk, the rest
The only thing that really changes as far as I can see is that you can teach.... You
are actually teaching more of the time than you are disciplining.
I feel like I am spending more time on instruction.
It just seems like you have so much time, and you have the same amount, but it
just seems like it can go so much farther and you can cover so much more.
Individualization. Every interviewed teacher mentioned individualization repeatedly as a
change they have made in their teaching. Several teachers mentioned directly, and it can be
inferred on the basis of comments from the other teachers, that individualization refers to helping
students acquire common content or skills. It does not refer to permitting students to pursue their
Teachers said that because of small class size they know the strengths and weaknesses of
each child. They know where each is in the learning cycle and can respond appropriately. The
teacher gets around to every child to offer help in a one-to-one situation. Further, the teacher can
give help instantly when the class is small. In addition to this tutoring-type of individualization,
the teachers indicated that they individualize by arranging the class in small groups based on
perceived learning needs of individuals much more than in large classes.
The individualization of instruction is important for all students, the teachers indicated,
but they believe that it has been of special benefit to poorer or struggling students, shy students,
and students with exceptional needs. This kind of attention to problems which are identified
early and treated early because of reduced class size result in reduced need for remediation of
instruction later, they believe.
Illustrative Teacher Comments
There is more time for me to spend with each child. I can relate to them more
even though relating has always been a priority for me. I feel that I really find a
problem that is happening at the time.... I can find a problem and correct it.
I would say that the most important thing is that they get individualized attention.
Another thing that is a lot easier to do is to really meet the individual needs of
learners. I can really plan for each kid, those that are very needy and those that
are top notch.
The thing about it is if a child is having problems you can see it right away. You
can take care of it then. You don't have to wait until they turn in their papers and
then go back and reteach it to them. I mean, you get around to each child. And,
you know it's essential that you go around and check their work. If they're having
a problem you can take care of it right then rather than have them practice the
skill wrong while they finish the worksheet or whatever work they are doing at
their seat. I can take care of it right then before they get a chance to practice it
wrong and so correct it right away. It works a lot better for the children.
I have a lot more time for individuals and small groups of children.
Learning activities. Another impact of reduced-class size on instruction is an increase in
student-centered learning activities. The interviewed teachers said that they used considerably
more hands-on manipulative activities, more enrichment-type activities, more interest centers,
and more cooperative groups. They used more of these activities which permit students to be
more independent and self-governing because they felt that having a small class gave them
confidence in their ability to maintain control in situations where students have more freedom.
Some teachers said that student-centered activities were used more often with a small class
because having fewer students required fewer materials and resources necessary for many of
these types of activities. Teachers in team-teaching situations said they could offer more
student-centered activities because while one teacher is responsible for implementing the
activities, the other teacher can focus on any misbehavior that might arise.
Illustrative Teacher Comments
Having only 15 children, it lends itself to a lot more hands-on teaching, more
We do a lot of hands-on. When we talk about money we have money. Kids get to
work in pairs most of the time, two kids; they get to experiment with money. With
measurement they are able to get up and walk around the room and everything,
with a partner, where with 30 kids in the classroom, it would be very hard for
them to go around the room.
I think that this year we have done a lot more hands-on type of thing.
We can do hands-on activities because there are more adults in the room.
Yesterday...we were able to do a mathematics lesson about how many objects do
you think can fit in this box.
All of the interviewed teachers stated that their students' achievement has increased
considerably as a result of being in a small-size class. They report that students are moving
through content at a much faster pace than first- or second-grade students normally do. They are
much farther along in textbooks, sometimes even using textbooks that are usually reserved for
the next-higher grade. In addition to content coverage, the teachers also report that they are able
to expand and deepen students' learning. They are now able to add breadth to the content in
terms of new topics of interest to the students, including greater attention to inquiry and personal
learning skills, and they are able to dwell on a topic and pursue it in depth.
The teachers remarked that although all students are benefiting because of reduced class
size, including students who have learning difficulties, the students who are learning at the most
rapid rate are those who were in SAGE classrooms the previous year. The teachers said that
these students were instantly recognizable as soon as school began in the fall.
Illustrative Teacher Comments
We have been able to touch on a lot of areas that I wouldn't have been able to
touch on in a larger class.
We can talk about more things in depth because the smaller group does not get
out of hand when we are discussing different things.... We're able to get through
the book quicker and faster because the kids grasp the information a little bit
Academic-wise, I am farther ahead than I have ever been. Our mathematics
book, we are done with it. Other years we didn't cover the last three chapters....
Now I have to go to the third-grade teachers to ask what they would like me to
work more on.
I think that they are farther along than groups that I have had in the past, in their
Although teachers were asked to think about changes they planned to make in their
teaching for the third year of SAGE, most took the opportunity to either express their satisfaction
with the SAGE program or to identify general problems usually without offering solutions. The
satisfaction with SAGE, apart from its benefit to students, was that it made teaching more
pleasurable. Reduced class size results in reduced stress. One can concentrate on actual
teaching rather than having to spend time on behavioral problems, excessive paper work, and
other problems. The teachers who taught in 30:2 team situations saw the teaming aspect as an
additional strength. Some, in fact, appear to be unable to separate SAGE from team teaching.
Teaming enables teachers to specialize in terms of content areas, reduce management because
one teacher is often free to monitor the class while the other teacher teaches, discuss strengths
and weaknesses of students, and cooperate in other ways.
Some of the problems mentioned were that teacher inservice was needed and more
hands-on activities need to be used.
Illustrative Teacher Comments
I think that it has been a very rewarding year and the children have grown
tremendously. It just has been wonderful to continue SAGE into the upper
grades. I think it is just an excellent, excellent program.
I have just enjoyed it so much to be honest.... To me sharing a class has really
brought a new dimension to the whole thing.... That person is in there constantly
and she has expectations that I might have slipped by. Or, she will catch
something that could just go by the wayside because I am busy doing something
else and it's really been to the benefit of the children as well as both of us, I think.
I would like to get more into, you know, some more open-ended activities, things
like that. This year...we were kind of feeling our way.
The only way that SAGE will work for me is if we have kids that are in the
program for the whole SAGE.... With the mobility within the city kids are moving.
I lost two kids this year who were good students, and it really broke my heart to
know that they went into a bigger classroom.
Observations were made in selected SAGE classrooms during the 1997–98 school year.
The classrooms were chosen to represent different geographic areas of the state, grade levels, and
types of SAGE classrooms. The sample consists of 25 classrooms in 12 schools from 9 school
districts; 14 first grades, 9 second grades, and 2 combined grades; and fourteen 15:1 Regular,
four 15:1 Shared Space, five 30:2-Teacher Team, and two 45:3-Teacher Team classrooms.
Each classroom was observed twice, once during the fall and once during the spring, with
the exception of a second-grade classroom that could only be observed during the fall. The
observations, which took place in either reading, language arts, or mathematics, were open-ended
observations designed to capture a broad range of classroom events regarding teaching and
learning. Following the observations during which observers took careful notes, expanded
accounts were written for each observation. These accounts were then analyzed using a set of
categories developed from observations made during the first year of SAGE. The main
categories, each of which has subcategories, are individualization, engagement, and
management. (See Appendix B for the Observation Guide.) Classroom behavior related to these
three areas is discussed below for the total group of classrooms, for first and second grades, and
for types of SAGE classrooms.
Total Classroom Behavior
Behaviors expressed as percents of total behavior in individualization, engagement, and
management for fall and spring are presented in Table 48. It can be seen that, except in a few
areas, the behavior observed in the fall is similar to that observed in the spring.
Table 48. Total Classroom Behavior for Fall and Spring
N of cases Percent N of cases Percent
Monitoring 25 11 25 13
Grouping 25 9 25 8
Choice 25 2 25 1
Help 25 26 25 23
Participation 25 47 25 39
Whole Class 25 4 25 12
All Children 25 2 25 4
Listening 25 43 25 54
Practicing 25 10 25 3
Responding 25 28 25 22
Gaming 25 2 25 1
Manipulating 25 3 25 3
Creating 25 2 25 4
Dialoguing 25 4 25 4
Problem Solving 25 2 25 2
Reporting 25 2 25 4
Reflecting 25 0 25 0
Initiating 25 3 25 2
Praise 25 33 25 23
Reproof 25 13 25 7
Remind 25 23 25 16
Warms 25 4 25 4
Cools 25 1 25 2
Peer 25 8 25 18
Permits 25 19 25 31
Individualization. The classroom observations and teacher interviews yield quite
consistent data in the area of individualization. Table 48 reveals that about 90% of the observed
classroom time is spent in some form of individualized activity in which students are working on
their own or in groups on selected or assigned tasks and being monitored or helped, or they are
actively participating in a group discussion by expressing their views and understandings. For
only about 10% of the time are they being instructed by the teacher as a total class. This general
pattern is constant over the course of the year with two possible exceptions. Active participation
is somewhat less in spring and total class instruction with a common task is somewhat more.
Engagement. For both fall and spring engagement consists more of teacher-centered
instruction than student-centered instruction. Listening, practicing, responding, and other
activities directed and controlled by the teacher, make up 80% of the classroom events. The
remaining 20% of engagement consist of more student-centered activities, such as manipulating,
problem solving, creating, and others. On the surface, this comparatively little use of these more
"hands-on" activities seems to clash with teachers' interview comments, but in the interviews
teachers discussed their teaching in total while the observations only dealt with reading, language
arts, and mathematics, subjects which may present fewer opportunities for student-centered
activities than science and social studies.
The only change that appears to occur over the year regarding engagement is in the
teacher-centered behaviors. In spring more listening but less practicing and responding occurred.
Management. Negative management comments of “reproof” and “cools” (i.e., ignoring
or discouraging children) from the teachers in the observed sample are comparatively low. They
make up 14% of the statements in fall and 9% in spring. Even if “reminds”, a behavior designed
to preempt misbehavior, is included in negative management, negative management still totals
only 37% in fall and 25% in spring. The reduction of the need for discipline in small-size classes
about which the teachers spoke in the interviews is evident in these figures.
The fall-to-spring changes appear to be more marked in management than in
individualization and engagement. There is less negative management in spring compared to
fall, but there is also less positive management. The beneficiary of these changes is “student”
and “peer” self-management. “Peer” management and “permits” management both are used
more in spring.
First-Grade and Second-Grade Behavior
The classroom behavior observed in first grade and in second grade appears to be almost
identical in each of the three areas as can be seen in Table 49. About 90% of the time the focus
is on individuals or small groups, while 10% of the time it is on total group tasks; 80% of the
engagement is more teacher centered and 20 % is more student centered; and about 30% of the
management is negative, including preemptive negative, and 70% is positive, including student