Small v. Large

As I’ve discussed in other parts of my site, my teaching experience is with both small and large groups. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Ideally all learning should have a mix of small and large groups. All of the following observations are based on my experience as an English Conversation Fellow (A sort of assistant teacher, but sometimes with half classes [10-18 students] and large groups [1-7 students]) and private teacher (groups of 1-3 students).

Description of Concept Positive in Small Group Negative in Small Group Positive in Large Group Negative in Large Group
Distance Groups larger than 5 can allow students to interact with each other as well as the teacher, allowing an adequate learning gap. Groups less than 5 students can create dependency instead of independence. Students mimic teacher. Whole classes (above 15 but below 35) can do multilple permutations of group assignments with good teacher direction. Students in any size above ten students may see the teacher as an adversarial rather than dialectic coach.
Time The smaller the group the better, the teacher may provide higher quality interaction to individuals. Sometimes one-to-one time with a teacher can be intimidating for students, and they clam up. If the class is properly organized, a teacher can provide time to work while doing one on one time, but this is only possible in smaller (10-22) students. Usually classes are bigger than 22, so usually there is very little individualized time with students.
Grading In smaller and individual classing grading is qualitative rather than quantitative, but… Qualitative grading is not widely accepted especially with the current focus on linking test-scores to teacher performance. In a classroom the teacher may challenge the students to grade each other (for a portion of their work) thus creating the need for meta-cognitive assessment which can further learning. When the volume is very high (say 150++) there is a trade-off between quality grading time, and quality planning time.
Social/
Interactive learning
In medium small groups, the children become friends, and that can be very positive, allowing them to leap to new places by intra-group competition and play. Small groups can sometimes be too comfortable, where the students get used to gaming the teacher. Conversely, the interaction with the teacher may remain stilted. In small classes (10-15) usually students can socialize even if they wouldn’t normally get along and this can open their eyes to the possibilities of otherness, especially in cross-cultural settings. In very large groups, often the social elements of the class can distract the students from learning, especially when (as in much of the EU) each class may be the same students from K-12.
Complexity
of Projects
In small groups, the teacher has more time to devote to preparation and interaction, so very ambitious things may be tried even with badly behaved groups. But some things which require lots of input from all sides will not work with small groups. Alphabet books are an example, because the group’s collective attention span may be too short to complete the project if it’s too small. The teacher can create great group interaction projects in classrooms because there are more students to work with, there are more hands to contribute to a large scale project. Like making a poster to go in a hallway. Projects requiring a lot of parts and labor are difficult in big groups. Sometimes the instruction of crafts is difficult because with large groups everyone asks at once. For example I’ve had mixed experience using Origami in EFL classes.
These observations are not comprehensive. This is just a blog entry to help me think about my experiences and maybe to provide you, the reader, with a novel point of view. My general conclusions were that each kind of group can be good for students, but that hopefully, whether in-school or out, the kids can get some of each kind of learning. They can learn different meta-cognitive and social skills in the different kinds of teacher-student and student-student interactions that each kind of learning experience provides.
As for myself, I’m not sure I’ve drawn conclusions about what kind of group I’d like to teach in future. But it makes me consider which kind of group interactions best use my skills as an educator:
Do I want to get certification and become a bilingual classroom teacher? Do I want to start an educational consultation business using art and language? Do I want to study Art Therapy and work with smaller groups in a more formal setting? Have I finished exploring the possibilities? Which one uses my skills most effectively? Which one would be the most fulfilling for me?
What about you? Have you had similar experiences? Different ones? Where do you like to work? Do you work where you like?

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