Intimate Classrooms

psyche-thumbThis summer, I excitedly met the parents of those who enrolled in our Therapeutic and Creative class at the Bohol Child Head Start. During our orientation, I asked them about their expectations and the reasons why they sent their very young children to school.

The answers were varied: from socialization to behaviour change, language development, and preparation for formal schooling in June. I told them that all of these are addressed inside our classroom and even more. Because we only have a handful of kids, we are able to attend to their individual needs and respond to them appropriately.

All else being equal, it has been known for many years that smaller, more intimate schools create better learning environments than bigger houses of learning. And this conclusion is not just based on some intuitive understanding of how we learn but on data culled from scrupulous brain research.


It starts with the fact that every brain is wired differently. Hence, the current system, which is founded on a series of expectations that certain goals should be achieved by a certain age may actually be detrimental to learning. Students of the same age have a great deal of intellectual variability and there is no reason to suspect that the brain pays attention to those learning goals and expectations.

These individual differences emanating from different brain wirings can profoundly influence classroom performance. And we constantly see this in our classrooms. For instance, some students do not have brains sufficiently wired to read at the age at which we expect them to read. Therefore, learning models based simply on age are guaranteed to create a counterproductive mismatch to brain biology.

So, how does a small class size classroom makes a difference? The answer lies in the phenomenon of Theory of Mind and Customized Instruction.

Let us start with Theory of Mind. It is defined as the ability to understand the interior motivations of someone else and the ability to construct a predictable theory of how their mind works based on that knowledge. Given that every brain is wired differently, being able to read a student’s mind is a powerful tool in the hands of a teacher.

A teacher who has this fine-tuned ability gives her critical access to her students’ interior educational life. It may include knowledge of when students are confused and when they are fully engaged. It also gives the sensitive teacher valuable feedback about whether her teaching is being transformed into learning.

According to John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and author, students comprehend complex knowledge at different times and at different depths. Because a teacher can keep track of only so many minds, there must be a limit on the number of students in a class. The smaller the better. Hence, it is possible that small class sizes predict better performance simply because the teacher can better keep track of where everybody is.

What about Customized Instruction? Again, because of different brain wirings, individual students pace differently in their learning. An ability based instruction can be accommodated in a small class size where those who are lagging behind are given remedial instructions and those who are advanced are given more activities.

This information should help teachers lobby for smaller number of children in a class especially in the public schools. For the parents, this will help them make informed decisions to maximize their children’s learning experiences and assure better brain wirings.

P.S. Bohol Child Head Start is offering Grade 5! Enrolment is on-going. Call or text 416-1248 for inquiries. You can also visit or email

(By Kit Nemenzo Balane)

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