Classroom System of Instruction

Classroom System of Instruction


the organization of the teaching process whereby pupils, for the purpose of instruction, are assigned to groups that remain together over a set period of time, usually the school year; in this system the main form of instruction is the lesson.

Within the general organization of the classroom system a vertical and horizontal combination of classes may be distinguished. Vertically, classes are arranged in ascending order, reflecting the pupil’s content-time stages of instruction (the part of the curriculum taught in a single year), and are designated by sequential numerals. Horizontal classes—all on the same level— operate according to the same curricula and programs. Such classes are called parallel and are usually designated by letters in conjunction with the numerals that reflect their place in the vertical structure. If the grouping of pupils is done on the basis of special criteria and for different aims, there may not be complete horizontal correspondence, for example, between ordinary and special classes.

Historically, the classroom system superseded individual instruction, and certain aspects of it existed in the schools of the classical world and the Middle Ages. The Spartan and Athenian systems of education, which took shape by the sixth century B.C., provided for a single age (seven) at which children entered school, for the organization of instruction on several levels in accordance with an established curriculum, and, in Sparta, for the creation of fixed groups of pupils, all of whom were given various kinds of lessons at the same time. The monastery and cathedral schools that arose during the early Middle Ages had rigid schedules and lessons of specific duration. During the Renaissance (14th-16th centuries) some schools grouped pupils in classes according to branches of knowledge. The organization of the German schools developed by P. Melanchthon (1528) provided for a division of schools into classes and specified curricula and instructional plans for each class. Melanchthon’s ideas, implemented at the Strasbourg Classical Latin Gymnasium of J. Sturm (founded in 1538), laid the foundation for the organization of instruction on the principle of “one class—one year,” which is the basis of the classroom system of education. In the Jesuit schools and colleges that opened during the second half of the 16th century pupils were divided into classes according to branches of knowledge, and all the pupils in a class were instructed simultaneously. In the Brotherhood schools in southwestern Russia (L’vov, Lutsk) during the 16th century pupils were subdivided into classes conducted according to a schedule.

The initial theoretical groundwork for the classroom system of education was laid by the Czech pedagogue J. Comenius (Komenský), who considered it to be not only a pedagogically effective system but also a means of democratizing school education.

During the 17th and 18th centuries the classroom system gained acceptance, and in the 19th century it became one of the foremost systems for organizing education in many countries. In Russian schools the classroom system was widely adopted during the last quarter of the 18th century. The Guide for Teachers of the First and Second Grades of Public Schools in the Russian Empire, published in 1783, confirmed the classroom system as the basic means of organizing instruction in Russian public schools. K. D. Ushinskii subsequently made an important contribution to the development of many aspects of the classroom system, particularly the lesson.

In the process of improving the classroom system at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, when several countries adopted compulsory education laws, a number of complicated and urgent problems arose, such as classifying pupils, promoting them, and individualizing instruction. Schools in the capitalist countries, including the USA and Great Britain, were attempting to solve those problems by assigning pupils to parallel classes according to ability as early as the beginning of the 20th century. This led to the emergence of “strong,” “middle,” and “weak” classes and to a corresponding differentiation of curriculum, time allocated for the study of material, and methods of teaching, with the result that there was no possibility of students being transferred from weak to middle and strong classes. Students were assigned to classes on the basis of scores received on tests of mental aptitude, and this method of grouping came to be used by the ruling circles of bourgeois countries as a means of selecting pupils according to social class. Pedologists’ uncritical use of similar methods of classifying pupils in Soviet schools was condemned by the decree of the Central Committee of the ACP (Bolshevik) of July 4, 1936, entitled “On Pedologic Distortions Within the System of the People’s Commissariats of Education.”

Analysis of the theory and practice of instruction has shown that the idea of grouping pupils according to ability has a dual aspect. Although it theoretically has definite organizational advantages, it nevertheless includes a number of undesirable consequences, primarily with respect to humaneness. For a number of reasons such grouping is also unrealizable in practice, primarily owing to the lack of scientific methods of objectively measuring pupils’ abilities and to the inevitable destruction of the class’s homogeneity (if homogeneity could indeed be attained through some method of classification) because of pupils’ uneven development and differences in their interests and inclinations.

In the public schools of general education, pupils in the same class differ from one another in their ability, inclinations, and interests. Work with such classes is naturally more complicated, but the experience of the better schools and teachers shows that these difficulties may be overcome. The development of each pupil’s interests and abilities and the formation of creative individuality are ensured by combining sufficiently flexible and varied types of instruction with elective courses and various kinds of extracurricular work.

To a large degree the improvement of the classroom system of instruction has been facilitated by the studies of Soviet educators. In Soviet schools the system ensures the precise organization of instruction, the relatively continuous pedagogical guidance of pupils, and the productive cognitive activity of pupils. The Soviet classroom system preserves personal relations between teacher and pupils, as well as among the pupils themselves, and facilitates the creation of pupils’ groups, which become an effective instrument not only for instruction but also for upbringing. In the senior school grades, the classroom system is used in conjunction with elements of the lecture-seminar system. In addition to general-education schools, the classroom system is employed in vocational-technical schools and specialized secondary educational institutions.


Pedagogika: Kurs lektsii. Edited by G. I. Shchukina. [Moscow, 1966.]
Skatkin, M. N. Sovershenstvovanie protsessa obucheniia. Moscow, 1971.
Osnovy didaktiki. Edited by B. P. Esipov. Moscow, 1967.