21 August 2010

Smaller Is Better

The Army School System's outpost in Utah has figured out an important lesson about teaching: that students learn better in smaller groups.

I can hear the cry now from California teachers who bemoan class sizes in public schools. So, before I sell out to the dark side whose maxim is, "more money for smaller classes," I need to clarify.

The number one variable that affects how students learn is what the teacher does in the classroom. Most typical systemic deficiencies can be overcome by good teaching practices.

Army instructors don't learn teaching techniques, so systemic changes-- like class size-- are more important. By reducing class size, moreover, instructors can more easily implement good techniques without formal training.

Our class size, which came as a pleasant surprise to me, was 17. We had three instructors. That's a ratio that any high school teacher would kill for.

Our classes were called, "learning centers." Imagine everyone's absolute astonishment when we were encouraged to "share freely" our experiences, and see things from others' point of view in our small groups. What has the Army come to?

It's good senses, in this case. The military has resources to make teaching effective. The desire and ability to put them to good use in terms of learning lags a bit behind those resources, in many cases.

But at the Regional Training Institute at Camp Williams, they have figured it out.

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