It's no secret that class size matters and it's no exaggeration to say that teaching big classes is a big challenge. The reasons are obvious: a big class is a mass, where it is sometimes extremely difficult to focus on individuals, and thus more difficult to build a close relationship with every single learner - a vital aspect of successful pedagogy.
However true it is, I'm not implying that instruction in big classes always leads to pedagogical failure. On the contrary, it can be as engaging, interesting and successful as in smaller classes. I wouldn't say so if I hadn't experienced it myself. Not that I teach big classes; I'm one of the lucky teachers who teach classes of up to sixteen kids. But I've recently participated in a conference for EFL teachers which totally changed my perspective on this issue, even though the topic of the event had nothing to do with class size.
One of the lectures took place in a huge assembly hall where I could barely see the people sitting a few rows down ahead of me, let alone the presenter, who had to use a microphone to be audible. I should stress that I prefer small workshops in cosy rooms with a few people around, where I feel more connected and engaged. Anyway, when the lights went out, all I could see was the huge screen, the presenter and just a few people sitting nearby. I was really tired after a long day but the commanding presence of the person on the stage immediately captured my attention. The first thing he did was that he greeted us in a very personal, enthusiastic manner, almost as if a pop star welcomed his audience at a live concert. Then he projected a few interesting questions that we were supposed to discuss with the person next to us. I immediately came alive. Then he went on with a few jokes and the audience laughed out loud. And we laughed all the time throughout the lecture. Whenever he asked a question, he gave us enough time to think and he took the time to elicit the answers. And he looked genuinely interested in the answers. Not to mention the fact that he even managed to talk adults into dancing and miming animals...
I can't say exactly what made me feel so motivated and engaged in the huge assembly hall on that day. Was is the humour, the interest of the presenter, the energy and enthusiasm he was able to pass on to the audience, an interesting topic, his classroom management skills, his charisma, or a combination of all?
But one thing is for sure; neither class size not the distance between the learner and the educator matters if some kind of connection has been created between them. What is crucial is the educator's power to instigate, provoke, encourage, stimulate and incite, and the power to create environments that promote thinking and learning.
*Goal 11/ Cycle 3