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>By Dick Tibbetts, University of Macau, China

A teacher asked: “Did anybody else read the article about small classes in the November issue of Scientific American? Basically it said that class size reduction was a waste of time and money, usually because teachers changed neither their materials nor their methods to suit the new class structures. This is definitely something I agree with. How about everybody else?”

This came up in Hong Kong back in the late 80’s – early 90’s. They halved some class sizes because they thought it would lead to improved language learning. The teachers, as Sci American says, carried on as normal, confronting their classes with the microphone of power held in front and being as teacher centred and exercise bent as usual.

But those of us who are used to a range of class sizes tend to adapt our approach to suit the situation. If I could get my classes of 30+ down to 20 I’d be teaching in a somewhat different way. If I had them in groups of 12 it would be different again.

Hong Kong teachers seem to dislike change more than any group I’ve ever come across, partly because there is a lack of commitment in the profession and partly because the teachers’ English is often not good enough to cope with the demands of more communicative English that are more difficult to brush aside in smaller classes.

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