Beyond the numbers: a look at a crowded class

Ethan Leifman and Ava Nicely

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Kids sit in the far back, squinting to read the board at the front of the room. There are hardly enough chairs or desks for everyone to have a seat and there are not enough supplies for everyone to use. Sounds like a typical class at Wilson, right?

With over 1,900 students in the school, most classes are either at capacity or over capacity.

With 32 students, Poonam Sharma’s third-period AP Physics 1 class is just one example of the many Wilson classes that are overcrowded. Courses like this with rigorous material combined with the large class size make it difficult for teachers to give the individual support that they strive to provide. “I think the major downfall of teaching a large class is you cannot give one-on-one attention even though you know there’s a group of kids in your class who are struggling. You can provide them with more online resources but it’s not possible to reach out to that student during class,” Sharma said.

One student in the class, Brendan Smith, agrees that one-on-one attention is impacted by an over-capacity classroom environment. “I think that being in a class that’s overcrowded definitely makes it harder to get personal interaction with the teacher,” he said. However, students are still able to learn the course material by spending extra time out of class to review. “It’s a little more difficult to learn in a larger class, although not impossible, it just makes it so you have to learn a little more on your own,” Smith said.

Another challenge posed to teachers by overcrowded classes is grading the large number of assignments that their students complete. Trying to give valuable feedback on student work conflicts with grading quickly when you teach as many students as Sharma does. “You just don’t have that much time to grade that many papers for one class. And if you don’t give feedback to students on time then you cannot improve or help your students’ needs,” Sharma said.

Some students have not felt as much of a difference in large classes. “While the class is pretty big, as long as you stay focused the learning is not hard,” explained senior Jacques Nissen, who said that his education is not directly impacted by the class size.

Despite the large class size, Sharma is committed to ensuring that all of her students receive the support they need to be successful. “I have a Google Classroom because I know it doesn’t matter how much you do in lecturing—not everyone from the back can see that so I try to upload my slides on there so that anybody can review them.” She also provides several online resources such as supplementary videos and additional practice worksheets to keep students on track.