In preparation for the release of his new book, Outliers, next week, Malcolm Gladwell has published an article, The Uses of Adversity, explaining that sometimes disadvantages come with unexpected advantages.
Writing about the piece afterwards, Gladwell expounded the approach that being an outsider, having a disability or coming from a social-economic disadvantage, can sometimes be exactly what one needs to succeed.
From Gladwell’s blog:
If dyslexia can—under certain circumstances—be advantageous, what are other disadvantages that can have the same effect?
In the article, I mention, in passing, the question of class size, and the data on class size is really quite fascinating. Time and time again studies fail to show any significant advantage to reducing the size of classes—except in the case of very poor children in the very earliest of grades.
This, of course, defies common sense. We know that teacher feedback is a big component in learning. So why wouldn’t learning be enhanced by lower teacher: student ratios? One answer might be that large classes are a disadvantage with advantages: that in coping with the difficulty of competing for teacher attention, kids learn something more important—namely self-reliance. This might also explain why the highest achieving schools—those in places like Japan and Korea—tend to have much larger classes than in the United States.
Aside from the many, many variables that might make comparing class sizes across nations and cultures difficult, I also wonder if teachers instructing inconsistently large or small classes might not be changing their styles to meet the particular needs of a particular class size. It stands to reason that one would teach a class of 10 quite a bit differently than a class of 30—however it’s also very understandable that teachers tend to teach the same way from lesson to lesson and stick to it—regardless of class size.