The culture of a class is more important than its size in determining whether students will learn, writes a Los Angeles teacher.
I have two 10th-grade classes of about 30 students each. One of them is an “honors” class; the other, “regular.” In my honors class, the 30 students are engaged and demanding. They probe texts, cultivate questions, encourage discourse and write analytically. My regular class, on the other hand, is allergic to homework; students belch aloud and feel no shame because this is “just school”; they bully and curse at one another; they cannot sit still; they cannot listen; and their distraction is heightened by the gadgets they carry.
Each of these classes has its own culture. At the root of the culture are expectations — mine and theirs. In both classes my expectations exceed the students’, as it should be, but in the honors class, the students feed on one another’s enthusiasm. Sometimes the parts fare worse than the whole, but when the whole grows, so do the individuals. In the regular class, the parts are often better than the whole, but when the whole fails, as it too often does, so do the individuals.
It’s hard for teachers to create a positive culture in a large class, she writes, though some teachers never stop trying.