Small class size project wins ATA's educational research award

A research study of the effects of small class size on student growth is this year's winner of the ATA's Educational Research Award.

The research project was coordinated by Fern Snart, associate dean, faculty of education at the University of Alberta, and co-researchers Margaret Haughey and Jose DaCosta. The project director from Edmonton Public Schools was Karen Bardy with Susan Bell, Sandra Carl-Townsend and Anne Mulgrew. The study was chosen from a total of 18 applications.

The study focused on the effects of small class size on student growth and achievement and teacher practices at the Grade 1 level in 10 Edmonton inner-city schools. Working in collaboration with Edmonton Public Schools staff, researchers examined the gains to students when classes were limited to 15 students, and participating teachers were involved in specific professional development activities focused on balanced literacy and/or early literacy.

Through the results of student assessments, as well as meetings and interviews with parents, students, administrators and teachers, research findings indicate that students made noteworthy gains in reading and writing. Smaller class sizes also had an impact on teacher practices. Teachers were able to spend more time on individualized instruction, establish more productive learning environments, enhance curriculum and extend students' learning, incorporate more hands-on learning experiences, integrate reading, writing and speaking, support students' personal skill development, make greater use of their knowledge of literacy development and grow professionally.

The study demonstrated that small class sizes in Grade 1 classrooms is one effective strategy in helping high needs students reach their potential and plays a vital role in enabling the teacher to individualize instruction, assessment and feedback. To be effective, the implementation of small classes needs to be accompanied by effective teaching strategies that require cultivation through professional development opportunities and support.

The Educational Research Award, which includes a stipend of $5,000, is open to all university faculty of education academic staff. Research considered must be directly related to school and classroom practice, tied to the Alberta context, focused on school teaching and or learning, related to critical issues, and must be current.