Large classes and how High School teachers and students perceive them

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2015

50 Pages, Grade: 9





2.1 Defining Large classes
2.2 Defining “Perception”
2.3 Advantages of teaching and learning in a large group
2.4 Disadvantages of teaching and learning in large groups
2.5 Classroom Management
2.5.1 Atmosphere
2.5.2 SPACE
2.5.3 TIME
2.7 Pair and group work

3.1 Research methodology: Qualitative Research

4.3 What teacher perceives from students in a large group





The main aim of this study is to investigate the perceptions of students and teachers in a large class, perceptions regarding the environment, the material and the class in general. To achieve that, a qualitative process was used in order to obtain information to be able to answer the aims of this research project. The main tools for collecting the data were an interview to the teacher, questionnaires to some students and observations in the classroom. All the instruments were used in order to obtain their own perceptions about themselves as well as each other: teacher-students and students- teacher. The teacher’s interview was recorded and transcribed and then analyzed and compared with the answers that students gave in the questionnaires.

The results were expected to contribute to the orientation of teachers who are teaching in similar situations. In addition, this paper aims to illustrate the common problems that can be found in this type of classrooms and see if more teachers identify themselves with this topic. The findings show the urgent necessity of knowing and implementing new and different strategies when teaching too many students, taking into account the environment and other different aspects which are found in high overpopulated schools. The results of this investigation showed that students are not totally satisfied with the teacher’s methodology as one of the most outstanding problems. It also showed the teacher’s perceptions about his students and the limitations that a teacher has to innovate in a classroom overcrowded with at least 50 students.


Education in Mexico has been going through a process of change over the last decades. Such changes have not been beneficial neither for teachers nor for students. One example of them is the size of the groups in which teachers have to give the English class as the result of the lack of budget in Education. Little money to pay teachers, then fewer teachers to work with many students willing to complete their basic education. Therefore, English as a compulsory subject has a huge demand in basic education. On the other hand, there are a few teachers who are trained in the language teaching field, classrooms, then, are overcrowded with students who have to take the course. Then, it is here where the problem emerges: little teaching training dealing with large groups. Sometimes, the term “Large Classes” makes reference to a problem, at least, for some teachers as they may have no time to get to know all of the students, or at least to prepare material for them. Throughout the years, teachers have faced the problem of overpopulation in classrooms but this problem has increased resulting from the new education policy.

A group of 50 students is a group that requires attention and Hess (2001), expresses that large classes sometimes are more exhausting and of course more demanding. Teaching a group of almost 50 students could be something impossible to do and according to my experience these situations sometimes happen. This research was carried out in a public high school in the capital city of the state of Veracruz: Xalapa. This school represents a typical situation that takes place in most of the school in this state and probably along the country.

What is common to see is that some students are not probably well prepared in the English class; they are supposed to have taken three courses during their junior high school but most of this courses fail in reaching their goals. In consequence, both, teachers and students at this stage have false expectations. On the one hand, students have poor English language knowledge. On the other hand, teachers suppose their students have some knowledge of the target language. Therefore, students at this level fail to carry out some assignments in the classroom, they do not have the command they are expected to. Then, this is the reason why they seem to need more dynamics in the classroom because as they do not master it they easily get bored. In other words, students seem to need control over the language and some abilities to manipulate it in order to accomplish the tasks they are given. As can be seen, teaching at this level is very complex, for that reason the purpose of this study is to expand our understanding of what things happen in large classes in high schools, to present the perceptions of those involved in the setting.

Based on my own experience teaching at this level, I decided to observe in more detail the situation in order to try to find a solution to it. Also, it seems to be a common problem in most of the public schools in the area. According to what most teachers have experienced, teaching large groups may be a really hard activity, especially at this level. However, it is not only a problem that teachers face, it is also necessary to see the counter part: students. They are a crucial element in this problem. This is why it is necessary to observe both sides of the coin in order to have a better understanding of this situation. Finally, some suggestions will be given regarding the way teachers can improve the class and get better results from the students based on the findings of this research paper.

This research took place in a public high school which apparently seemed to have plenty of limitations. Firstly, there were very few professionally trained English teachers, lack of materials and in most of the cases the book was the only material teachers could count on, among other situations. Also, a very highly-prestigious high school resulting in overcrowded classrooms with different personalities and attitudes to the class.

To follow the research project, some English students were asked to give their perceptions and opinions about the way they consider their teachers work in the class, what kind of things as students want to add at the class and also how they would prefer to be taught. This small-scale research may be interesting for those undergraduates who are about to finish the university and are thinking of becoming teachers. In a different way, teachers will be curious about the recommendations students give to improve the lesson, consequently they will know how to make a progress in the classroom in different directions to teach and using different methods.

As stated before, teaching in a large group could be not an easy activity to do because of the obstacles that sometimes emerge in the process and the different needs of the students, being these last requirements the objectives to find in the research. According to Nolasco and Arthur (1988), one of the most important parts for any teaching style in large classes is the control in the classrooms. This is one of the reasons it was necessary to observe the kind of control if any, that exist in a large high school groups.

Once again the importance of researching for information is vital in this process. Consequently, this research will be focused on the students and the professors and will be done with the help of them. Some opinions and methods from experts will be used too in order to state clearly the objective of the research. To collect the required information and in order to get better results some observations were made in order to gain as much experience of the real data.

This research was basically carried out with three major goals in mind. First, to inspect closely a large class with the purpose of having a close perception of how students and teachers behave. Also, to identify the main problems by doing some interviews and questionnaires to the people involved. And finally, a proposal based on the results of this investigation will be given in case it might be useful.

This research report was written with the main purpose of giving teachers and even futures teachers an exact idea about how to start a teaching process at high English level in large groups leaving behind the common way of teaching. To put it in another way, this research had as objective to give teachers some strategies to improve the way they give the English class in large high school groups according to student’s suggestions. Probably, some students and teachers involved could think that being in a large class is a normal condition. Bearing this in mind, this paper was supposed to open present the whole panorama of this problem: large groups, poor teaching techniques, and lack of knowledge and interest on the side of the students.


2.1 Defining Large classes

The interest of knowing how students learn a second language in overpopulated classrooms has become a major issue in language studies. As well as teachers’ dealing with too many students at the same time, different learning styles, personalities and attitudes mixed at a time. Then, what constitutes a ‘large’ group will vary across cultures, but at least in this context, a large class implies a lot of effort on the side of the teacher who needs to be somehow skillful to know how to deal with all that mixture of personalities hanging around in the classroom. Teachers need to find the ways to develop attitudes and methods to ensure the best possible learning experience for all students. In this chapter will give some opinions from experts in the topic and meanings about the implications for teaching and learning in large groups.

There are different definitions for the concept of what a large group is. Nolasco and Arthur (1991) give a brief meaning of a large class.

Teachers who are used to groups of 12-14 students might find a group of 20 to be rather threatening others may be relieved when they have only 40. Large classes are often found at secondary level but we have seen very large classes of several hundred students in a university. (p.4)

With this in mind, it is difficult to give an exactly definition about what a large class is because of the different opinions of the people who have faced a large group once. The bigger the group, the greater the need for strong structure and support so it is worth focusing on anticipated student numbers when beginning to design a course, module or individual session.

A class size of at least 80 students is considered to be large. The definition of a large class, however, varies across disciplines and teaching contexts. It is often said that a large class is a class that a student or the lecturer perceives to be large. In the Business School, this might vary from 50 students in some disciplines to over 1000 students in our introductory undergraduate courses. (University of Sydney, 2014)

Taking the number of students who form a large group into account, it is often said that most teachers agree that teaching a small group of students is easier, more enjoyable, and less time consuming than teaching a large group. Unfortunately, due to budgets, space, or lack of teachers, many ESL schools only offer large classes. In some schools, large classes may consist of up to 50 or more students, like the case of the school I worked at. While your class may look more like a University lecture hall, your job is not to lecture. Just like teaching a small class, you must come up with engaging activities that keep all of your students interested.

As has been said before, people have different opinions about what a large class is, thus a definition from teaching and learning forum (2014) has been also considered in this investigation.

Some people hold that 50 would be large enough for a college English class; others would argue that a large English class could have as many as over 100 or even 150 students. However, most English teachers generally agree that a language class with 50-60 or more is "large" enough.

As we can observe, the definitions given agree with the fact than a group can be called “large” when it is formed by more than 50 students. In this paper, a "large class" refers to a high school English class with the number of students ranging from 40 to 50 students in a third semester course. In the following pages I will describe the factors that are essential in the process of teaching and learning in a large group.

2.2 Defining “Perception”

Perceptions vary from person to person. Different people perceive different things in different ways, for example, beauty is perceived differently by all the people, everyone has their own concept of it and their own understanding of it. But more than that, we assign different meanings to what we perceive. And the meanings might change for a certain person (Cherry, 2014). One might change one's perspective or simply make things mean something else if we want to see them differently, it might depend on our mood or how we decide to behave towards them. The oxford dictionary defines perception as the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted. A belief or opinion often held by many people and based on how things seem.

According to Cherry (2014) “Perception is our sensory experience of the world around us and involves both the recognition of environmental stimuli and actions in response to these stimuli. Perception not only creates our experience of the world around us; it allows us to act within our environment.”

Therefore, the way we perceive things or the value we give to certain things or situations will vary from person to person, then, we cannot generalize abstract concepts as the understanding and appreciation of them depends on the way we have experienced them along our lives, our perceptions can also be modified as we live and experience things differently, as we gain maturity. In a classroom, for example, the idea of a good teacher might differ from student to student depending on what they believe to be good or bad as well as on the experiences they have had, or even on their parents’ ideas of teachers.

2.3 Advantages of teaching and learning in a large group

The process of second language learning is complex, as well as teaching, especially if it is teaching large groups. Both parts involve working with all kinds of skills and attitudes in order to reach the needs that an L2 requires. Students often feel lost in a large class, this is because they feel the teacher does not pay attention to them, they feel they are not listened to, not even watched, there are too many of them working at the same time or doing different things, getting distracted that the teacher usually pays attention to the most disruptive ones and that makes them have a feeling of discomfort or the desire to behave the same way in order to catch the teacher’s attention. Hence, the opportunities each student has for asking questions or getting feedback sometimes may seem limited this makes them lose interest in the class. In big classes, it could be difficult for the teacher to make contact with all the students mainly with the ones at the back, and in most of the cases, students at the back are the ones who usually need to receive individual attention from time to time.

Jeremy Harmer (2004: 128.) states:

Frequently, big classes mean that it is not easy to have students walking around or changing pairs, etc. Most importantly, big classes can be quite intimidating for inexperienced teachers. Despite the problems of big classes, there are things which teachers can do.

One of the most striking aspects of this topic is that teaching and learning in a large class has not only bad aspects for teachers but also for students. However the disadvantages, we can highlight one major advantage of teaching a large class in high school, and it should be that large classes are usually full of high energy, fun and excitement; time goes by quickly and classes are rarely boring. Most students are willing to participate frequently because of the number of classmates. In addition, they learn to be more confident and motivated because of the little time that teacher dedicates to everyone.

Even when there are many challenges teaching large classes, the teacher must find some techniques to do the job easier. In a large class, there will always be a person who will want to participate in the activities and as it has been mentioned before students sometimes feel more secure to give an opinion in a place like a large group. It is essential to mention that with adequate preparation on behalf of the instructor, large classes can be a very valuable experience in teaching and of course in learning for students too.

Another advantage of teaching and learning in large classes is the use of pair and group work, these activities allow students to participate more with the classmates and provide opportunities to practice with those who are still afraid of speaking English to the teacher. In addition, students can get to know more and more people as the number of students gives them this opportunity. In the teacher’s case, it is easier to observe students in teams than individually, monitoring group work is a way of saving time. Nolasco et al. (1988) wrote some suggestions to improve the way of teaching in large classes:

It is important for the teacher to circulate during pair and group work. When you are moving around remember to put yourself in a position where you can see and be seen, and make sure you are with. It is important that students feel that you are interested and also actively working.

With these suggestions in mind, the relationship between students and teacher could be better in each class. It is also a useful technique to bring the distractions to its lowest limit by involving every student in the learning process. Group work gives also the opportunity to see how students use their differences to carry out the tasks, each member of the group sees the problem differently and suggests different ways to do the activity.

According to Harmer, teachers should use the size of a group as an advantage. These kinds of groups are good because there are different kinds of people, the environment is funnier, drama from students is more dramatic, and as a result of this variety of people a good class feeling is warmer and more enveloping. Large groups make the teacher’s work more challenging; this is why experienced teachers use this potential to do better classes. Despite all the advantages that there might be in a large class, there are also disadvantages. This will be discussed next.

2.4 Disadvantages of teaching and learning in large groups

One of the challenges large classes represents is the overcoming of anonymity and distance that can exist between teacher and students. If students are to be actively involved in and feel personal accountability for the learning process, they must be more than anonymous spectators and passive recipients of information. One of the complicated things that teacher has to do is learning students’ names. In large groups, this situation results to be something difficult to do because of the big number of students. Eventually, this situation makes that some students may become invisible in large classes.

In order to facilitate discussion, feedback, and active learning, the instructors of large classes can work to create the kind of group identity and individual rapport that make smaller classes so effective and enjoyable. (Schreyer institute for teaching excellence, 1992).

When a teacher has too many students in a class, it becomes difficult for the teacher to get to know each student on a personal basis. Learning disabilities or special needs are less likely to be identified because teachers do not have the time to focus on the individual needs of each student. Teaching is about “relationships” and according to (Gibbs Graham and Jenkins Alan, 1992) “Large numbers plus one-term modules mean staff hardly gets to know most students and vice versa. Construction of any sort of relationship, the basis of best teaching, is therefore impossible”.

Another important disadvantage in large groups is the organization. Large classes have higher noise levels and the class may start late by the time students are finally settled. The larger the class, the more difficult the organization of any outdoors visits is. In addition, the atmosphere in large groups is less friendly than in small groups. For students, attending large classes also find it hard to make friends because many people do not let them get to know to each other. Then, large groups have many disadvantages, still, it is also the teacher’s ability to make the best out of so many constraints. Working with large classes is the reality for most teachers in the public education, but if they have the tools and willingness to do their best, they will eventually succeed.


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Large classes and how High School teachers and students perceive them
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High school, teachers, students, large classes
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Olga Lidia Sanchez Cruz (Author)Dalia Patrica Carrera Rodríguez (Author), 2015, Large classes and how High School teachers and students perceive them, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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