Class Size and the Goals of the Writing Course: Exploring Classroom Management Strategies

By Best, Linda | Research & Teaching in Developmental Education, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Class Size and the Goals of the Writing Course: Exploring Classroom Management Strategies


Best, Linda, Research & Teaching in Developmental Education


My thoughts about a topic for this issue turned repeatedly to workload and working conditions-what I had in mind was a practical discussion about classroom management strategies in relation to elements problematic to teachers of writing, class size being one example. Getting started, I wondered about relevant literature, specifically something focusing on standards or guidelines that would support faculty perceptions about workload. Shortly into my research on the topic, I was not surprised to find an approved position statement from the Executive Committee of the Conference of College Composition and Communication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Entitled "Statement of Principles and Standards for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing," the 4C's document is extensive, covering numerous conditions and formulating firm standards in support of students' opportunities for success.

Coming across this material, I re-thought this column, shaping multiple purposes for it: (1) to highlight the position statement, (2) to explore realistic impressions about workload issues and (3) to review a number of classroom management strategies.

The Position Statement

The overarching framework for the 4C's statement focuses on goals for students and the assertion that these cannot be compromised by adverse faculty working conditions. Emphasis is placed on quality instruction and the many standards that can ensure it-those tied to the classroom, such as class size, and those that support the faculty, such as institutional regard for tenure-track faculty research and scholarship in the area of writing and the provision of office space for part-time faculty. While the complete text of the statement is important to the profession, the element most critical to this column is class size, and examining it demands attention to two points: the 4C's position on the ideal class size for the teaching of writing and the reality for faculty in the classroom.

Paragraph 22 of the position statement presents these points about the topic:

No more than 20 students should be permitted in any writing class. Ideally, class size should be limited to 15.

Remedial or developmental sections should be limited to a maximum of 15 students.

No English faculty members should teach more than 60 writing students a term. In developmental writing classes, the maximum should be 45.

A Realistic Appraisal of Class Size

To formulate an impression of the compatibility between standards and current practices, I conducted a cursory study, using the Internet, on writing courses at institutions throughout the United States. At the 40 representative institutions randomly selected and reviewed, class size for introductory writing classes including those at the developmental level ranged from 15 to 37 students, with 26.25 being the mean class size.

At some of the institutions, class size varied not only across the levels of writing taught but also across the sections of one particular writing course as well. Though no indicators offered possible explanations for the circumstances, one could speculate about reasons for the inconsistencies-designated sections for special needs students, for example, or classroom capacity. From the simple data gathered via the Internet, the number of students in college writing classes appears to exceed 4C's standards far more than it meets the organization's criteria. Further, the variation across institutions, levels, and even sections of a single course suggests that the structures for postsecondary writing teaching and learning-from a class size perspective-are not only uneven but arbitrary as well.

It follows that faculty at the institutions reviewed-and many of us as well-teach writing in less than optimal conditions, as perceived by our professional organization. On one level, of course, we work to change our circumstances, seeking assistance from external mechanisms such as professional organizations and bargaining units in support of negotiations and discussions at our respective institutions. …

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