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Teacher and Classroom Analyses

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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.

Teacher Interviews

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

quite mastered.

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

own objectives.

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

student centered.

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.

Student Learning

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



Anticipated Changes

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.


Classroom Observations

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



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