Class Sizes Matter in Drama

If ever there was a subject in the school curriculum where the size of the class matters, it has to be drama. The number of students in a drama class can directly affect the way students learn in both positive and negative ways.

Small Drama Classes

Depending on the year level, what teachers of other disciplines call a small class may well be a typical number in drama. Up to ten students may be quite common for a teacher of drama in the senior years of secondary school, simply because the demand for drama is less than that of many other subjects.

I once had a Year 12 class of only five students. With a student leadership system in place, two of my five students were the drama captains of the school, while two others were the music captains. You can imagine this class was a dream to teach … and it was! With four of my five students in positions of responsibility in the performing arts, I suddenly found myself with five dedicated, mature and responsible female students who simply wanted to learn 100% of the time.

The advantages of this very small drama class included efficiency in decision-making, a group focus conveniently doubled up as the class focus, content was taught swiftly leaving ample time for exam revision, students received plenty of teacher advice and assistance, a healthy teacher-student rapport existed, and discipline issues became virtually non-existent.

The disadvantages of this small drama class of five included absenteeism (we only needed two students away and group work was affected), at times a lack of ideas and inspiration, and little opportunity for critical feedback from peers.

Large Drama Classes

On the flip side, a lot of us have taught large drama classes over the years, particularly in the junior secondary or primary years. I commonly teach junior secondary drama classes of twenty five and twenty-six students.

The advantages of a large drama class include interaction and socialisation with many peers, lots of opportunities for mixing up students in a variety of group work situations, plenty of chance for observing and learning from others’ performances, healthy class discussion and academic reflection, plus fun opportunities for worthwhile drama games. There’s something about a big junior drama class in my teaching week that I really look forward to, but sometimes I just can’t put my finger on the exact reason why? I am sure though, a lot of positivity arises from a drama class with large numbers.

Disadvantages of large drama classes include the loud noise level (your colleagues suddenly don’t want to teacher anywhere near you in the building!), classroom management (the teacher has to be well organised and constantly alert), a lack of physical space, the sheer amount of time it takes to get through many group performances (must be built into curriculum planning and the number of assessment tasks), and teacher headaches (both literally and metaphorically).

Students in large drama classes may also receive less teacher feedback and individual assistance than those in smaller classes. Bu there are pros and cons here. A small class with closer attention from the teacher may also be more reliant on that teacher in drama. I have a large class of twenty-one students in Year 12 drama at present, and with nearly that same number in the previous year’s class, these students quickly became independent learners and trusted their gut instinct with performance making decisions. At times they have no choice but to first seek feedback from a critical friend in the classroom, before receiving advice from the teacher. These are all vital skills for any senior drama student and not easily learned.

Conclusion

Because of the practical nature of drama with performance making and assessment often occurring in the classroom during class time (the teacher can’t save class time by taking a performance home with them!), the size of the drama class matters and can affect both teachers and students in many ways. But healthy numbers in a drama class contribute to so many aspects of productive student learning. As teachers of this wonderful craft, we just have to employ appropriate strategies to keep the learning effective and our students engaged.

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15 Responses

  1. Jayne says:

    Any advice for teaching in s small classroom. The kids can barely move and whilst I use the four corners for group spaces, realistically the room is so small the groups amalgamate into each other. The kids are quite restricted in their movement. I don’t need a MASSIVE room but being in the smallest room feels quite a stressful experience! I’ve cleared it of everything I can. Classes of 20 crammed into it.

  2. Filip says:

    Any advice on teaching a class of two students? I teach at an international school and my two students are very interested in Drama – this is their first time in a Drama class. However, I am finding it difficult to ease them into it because their are no opportunities for improv, games, etc. because there are only two students. And they don’t have an audience 🙁 Any tips would be much appreciated!

    • Wow, this is a tricky one, Filip. I’ve never taught a Drama class this small myself (smallest was five students). Your predicament is an interesting one. I am hoping there are some readers of The Drama Teacher who have taught very small Drama classes in the past who will be able to offer you some tips and strategies. Can anyone help Filip?

  3. Nathan says:

    I have a class of 3 at As level. Ideas on how to motivate them?

  4. David says:

    HI there,

    I found your drama networking page and have been looking through it. I am writing you to ask for advice.

    I have four years teaching experience (Drama and Dance) in an IB International School in Turkey. At the same time, I am pursuing my Masters in Curriculum and Instruction in Bilkent University while teaching.

    I have a Bachelors degree in Theatre (from Canada) and several years professional experience in theatre and dance. In addition to my IB teaching experience I have other drama teaching experience as well.

    I am looking at options to teach drama and/or dance in other schools in Europe. I am trying to assess my options and would be grateful for your help.

    I have two questions:

    1) I heard there are some schools that can consider teachers with no formal certification, where they are looking for experience, passion, educational philosophy, track record, other studies (like Masters), etc. Do you have any suggestions of where to find these schools or which schools in particular are like this?

    2) How can I acquire a teaching certificate that is recognized internationally? I am looking for a program where I can I apply my Masters courses credits towards a teaching certificate.

    Thank you for any advice and help that you can offer.

    Happy New Year

    David Goodman

  5. Juliet says:

    My class sizes have been (in the past) at the lowest 30, at the highest 43. After multiple attempts, over a decade of teaching, to get administration to understand classes this size are ridiculous, I finally moved to a new district. However, I have seen the overgrowth of theatre classes has become a trend in education.
    Any suggestions on how to approach administration and help them understand WHY theatre classes don’t work when they are so big. What could be said/done to convince an administrator to keep the numbers reasonable?

    • Juliet,

      I suggest you legitimately play the OH&S card with this one. Class sizes of those numbers for a largely practical subject such as drama can easily be unsafe. Students can hurt themselves due to a lack of appropriate space, props and costume items on a crowded classroom floor, your inability to effectively supervise so many students at once and many other reasons I am sure you see in your large classes, that are not your fault as the teacher.

      Employers should understandably be nervous when occupational health and safety concerns are raised in the classroom, because of various stakeholders they are responsible to such as parents, teacher unions etc.

      I recommend you contact your state or national drama teaching association for any policies or published documents on the issue of class sizes in drama, which you may be able to show your employer in support of your case.

      From a pedagogical perspective, it is near impossible in my opinion to teach quality drama in classes of those numbers, regardless of age or year level. This should also be communicated to your employer.

      Oh, and I imagine a fair bit of teacher stress would exist in a large drama class of 43, also! Simply not fair on yourself as the teacher.

      All the best,

      Justin

    • John says:

      I feel you. I am a first year drama teacher with 56 in my Drama I class; 14 of them with special needs. It is stressful to say the least. Worse than that, though, are the 20 or so that are very much into it, but are not getting the training they need/want. Justin : I love your posts, but had to shake my head when you stated that class sizes tend to be smaller as the ages progress, especially in comparison to mainstream classes. In the US, it is quite the opposite : mainstream classes have caps; electives do not. I teach 6 classes, and my lowest is 32, highest is 58. It is very frustrating.

      • Those class sizes are insane! 56 students in Drama! John, I do not know how you do it. Small numbers in senior classes here in Australia are not the case for every subject, usually just niche or less popular subjects, of which Drama fits into one or both of these categories. Many Drama teachers here struggle to get a senior class up and running due to single figure enrolments, but you having 56 in a Drama class is crazy. Surely that would be an occupational health and safety issue purely based on the number of students in a practical class? Do your professional teacher associations or teacher unions in the U.S. have any say in potentially capping elective subject class sizes in the future? The peak professional association for Drama teachers here, Drama Australia, wrote a position paper back in 2001 and updated it in 2009 entitled “Working Conditions for the Teaching and Learning of Drama”. I have used this paper twice in the past with my school principals – once for capping a senior class at 25 students, and other time for installing air conditioners in my Drama classroom. You can download the document from this post: https://www.thedramateacher.com/working-conditions-for-teaching-and-learning-in-drama/. Well worth a read.

  6. Angie says:

    Last year I had to teach Year 10, 11 and 12 Drama in the one room. I’m used to teach Unit 1/3 combined, but adding Year 10 was a nightmare – especially as they were the dominant number – there were ten Year 10s, two Year 11s and three Year 12s. No doubt the VCE students suffered as the 10s held everyone back. It really is the problem with small numbers in Drama.

    This year I was lucky enough to not have Year 10 also, now with five Year 11s, two Year 12s = class of 7. I must echo how difficult it is, particularly with ensemble, when potentially half to two thirds of the class are missing. On many occasions I only have 3-4 students present.

    • Barbara Varrasso says:

      We are thinking of introducing a combined yr 11 and 12 Drama class for the first time next year.
      Can I have some advice about how this might work please?

  7. Jodi says:

    I am a drama teacher in Toronto Canada. What I think is more important then the size is the gender split. For example, my smallest gr. 10 drama class has 19 kids. But, only 6 of them are girls. This class is weak. But, my class with 32 is the opposite with 5 boys and the rest girls and this class is doing really well. I think the class needs a core group of people that really do great work and then the others hopefully will try to reach towards the this. Finally, the tone of the class is also important. Sometimes the mix of people brings each other down because the environment is not safe enough to take risks. No matter how hard the teacher tries–it’s not their fault. I’d say the more unsupportive the group the lower the marks. J. Singer

  8. Jane says:

    Dear Justin,
    What is the ideal size for drama students aged 16-18?
    I need to motivate class size to my principal.
    I want to say 16…
    Can you tell me what you think?

    • Hi Jane,

      I’d say about 15, so 15 or 16 is much the same. You need enough students in the class to create healthy reflective discussion, creating and mixing up groups for performance work. But if you start creeping up near the number 20, it becomes a headache in terms of classroom management for the teacher and time management with performance projects and curriculum deadlines.

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