The Hermit Poet

August 27, 2005

Small vs Large Classes

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 2:38 pm

Well, it looks like my dream of a small class is over. I’ve been assigned instead to the slightly earlier class of MWF 6:10 to 7:00 pm. It’s still evening, but currently has 18 students enrolled — as opposed to my dream class of 6 students. I think I can manage 18 students.

I wonder sometimes if there’s any benefit to having these larger classes. Some of the other grads will be teaching a full class of 22. Given our 10 week quarters, it seems difficult to cover everything we want to cover for both poetry and fiction in that time (it’s actually impossible — I think I should start off with that realization). As I see it, it’s largely an economic move — the university makes more money by having more students in their classes. This isn’t so much about the quality of the creative writing experience. Trying to create quality when the system hasn’t made it a priority can be frustrating.

For discussion and lecture, I don’t see class size as an issue. Where it does break down is when we want to workshop. Trying to handle 18 (or potentially 22) people’s work can be daunting. Not only to keep discussions focused, but also to keep comments useful. I hesitate to divide the class into groups because that introduces the problem of supervision, but I also dislike a large workshop environment where not everyone feels comfortable speaking. To some degree this can be combatted by asking all students to prepare a 1-page response/critique of the work being workshopped. Two copies to be brought to class – 1 for the student being workshopped, 1 for the instructor who will grade the critique.

Ideally, we would mentor small groups of 1 to 5 students. Up to ten is manageable. Beyond ten, something gets lost. Above twenty, it seems more like a circus unless you’re ready to crack the whip.

One Response to “Small vs Large Classes”

  1. chrisdaines Says:

    just wait until people try to add the full class and you have to reject them and say, “sorry the class is full.”

    i don’t envy that.

    having you as a teacher would be awesome.

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