Why Small Class Size is So Important
Most researchers agree that smaller class sizes greatly benefit both the instructor and students when it comes to language learning. However, ESL classes at some of the most recognized universities (such as Harvard, Yale, or UCLA) can reach up to 30 students on average. You can imagine that not everyone will get a chance to speak in a class that size. Many shy students will choose not to speak at all and will, therefore, not have a chance to improve their speaking skills. Others who want to get as much speaking practice as possible will be forced to find other opportunities on their own outside of class. This can quickly become frustrating and difficult for students who feel discouraged when they don’t see themselves improving.
Now, imagine how that language learning experience would be vastly different for a student enrolled in a program where they were one of only four students in each class. Not only would that student be speaking daily, but he or she would actually be speaking with every single activity. Instead of fixing only one student’s pronunciation of a word, the teacher would have the time necessary to fix each person’s pronunciation. Instead of just speaking with other students at about the same English level, students are able to speak directly with the teacher many times throughout the lesson, challenging themselves to improve both their speaking and listening skills with each interaction.
Additionally, small class sizes make a big difference in the social environment. Students quickly develop a trusting relationship when they communicate with each other so often. As this trust builds, students becoming more and more confident and are willing to experiment with language much more freely in the classroom. Even the shiest students begin to feel comfortable and will start improving their speaking skills much more rapidly. Having these more familiar relationships with their teacher and classmates, instead of a more academic or professional relationship, encourages students to speak more authentically and not just with “classroom English.”
Another reason students have greater success in smaller classes is because they get more individualized attention. In a class of 15-30, it is nearly impossible for the teacher to make changes to the curriculum or plan activities that focus on the specific struggles of each and every student. However, when classes have only 4-8 students, it is much easier for teachers to give students exactly the help and practice that they need. Teachers can also give more meaningful feedback on each assignment and test that will help students understand why they received the grades they did and how they can improve on the next one.
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