Looping is a practice in which a teacher stays with the same class for more than one year; it is a multiyear placement for both the students and the teacher. For example, a teacher begins with a group of first-grade students and rather than sending those students on to a new teacher continues with them through second grade. Looping can occur for two or more consecutive years. In this example, the teacher could choose to remain with those students and move up to third grade. Looping can be used in conjunction with, or as a transition to, multiage programs but does not necessarily include students of a wider age range.
How Widespread Is Its Use?
The level of implementation varies widely. In some school districts looping options are offered at every grade level. In other instances, an individual teacher or pairs of educators initiate looping. Looping occurs most frequently in elementary schools and occasionally in middle schools. It is used in public and private school settings. Looping has gained popularity, but it is still considered innovative.
The rising interest in looping has been in direct response to the diverse needs of students. Looping provides stability for the growing number of students with less stable home environments. Looping classes develop a family-like environment, providing teachers with the opportunity to build strong, meaningful relationships with students. Students also have the additional time to develop positive relationships with classmates.
More instructional time is another benefit of this teaching design. Teachers and students "hit the ground running" at the beginning of the school year instead of starting from scratch each year. Teachers begin instruction immediately, rather than spending time assessing student achievement or developing classroom procedures. Students pick up where they left off instructionally and socially and are able to get into the swing of school quickly. Instructional time is gained at the end of the school year as well. Instead of packing up and checking out, looping teachers are able to continue instruction through the end of the year and end the year on a high note. The additional four to six weeks of instructional time allows teachers to gain an understanding of students' academic and social strengths and to plan instruction accordingly.
Another benefit is that teachers are able to give students projects to complete over the summer, in between the looping years, which keep students involved in learning. The momentum of learning continues and more continuity is provided for the students. These extended learning opportunities help students to realize that learning can occur outside of the classroom.
Increased parental involvement is another advantage of looping. Parents are able to gain a better understanding of their child's educational development and needs. Looping provides a means by which stronger parent–teacher relationships may be built. This bridge between home and school can help create a more family-like atmosphere in the classroom and beyond.
Looping requires minimal additional funding and is easy to implement. Additional curriculum resources and staff development are useful in implementing a looping classroom; however, most teachers will have the necessary skills to move up a grade with their students. Looping does not require additional classroom space and teachers can loop without disrupting other organizational aspects of the school.
By working with two or more sequential grades and the related content, teachers develop an overall view of the scope and sequence of the curriculum and the school program. This in-depth understanding allows them to maximize instructional time and provide remediation or enrichment based on student needs.
Although most teachers and students have positive experiences with looping, it is not appropriate for all schools, teachers, or students. Difficulties can and do occur. Integrating new students into an established looped class can be a challenge. Class dynamics and peer relationships can also go awry; there are times when too much togetherness wears on the students. Occasionally a personality conflict between a student and teacher may arise. These conflicts are most often resolved. However, if resolution seems unreachable, then the student is transferred to a different class. Another concern with looping is that students and teachers become emotionally attached and separations are difficult when the looping cycle ends.
Evidence Supporting Its Use
The Looping Handbook by Jim Grant, Bob Johnson, and Irv Richardson provides evidence supporting the use of looping. Beyond the benefits reported by teachers and parents, there is evidence that looping results in increased student attendance, decreased retention rates, a decline in discipline problems and suspensions, and increased staff attendance.
The Attleboro, Massachusetts, School District has provided looping assignments to its entire first-through eighth-grade students and all of its 400-some teachers. In addition there are cited examples of looping around the country, such as Ashby Lee Elementary School in Virginia, Liberty Center Elementary School in Ohio, Lac du Flambeau in rural Wisconsin, and schools in Chicago, Illinois. The Looping Handbook provides a list of several schools that are open to visitors. In addition, there exist numerous educational studies and articles on looping.
The Waldorf school system, with private schools located around the country, follows the tenets of its founder, Rudolf Steiner. One of these practiced beliefs is looping. A Waldorf teacher in the United States stays with a group of students from first through eighth grade.
It has been suggested that looping has occurred in thousands of schools across the United States. However, many of the looping classes have not been documented. For example, a teacher in California has looped with his students from second grade through sixth grade, but this case has not been studied or documented in educational research.
In a report from the National Middle School Association (NMSA), Paul S. George and John H. Lounsbury stated that looping is a major way of achieving long-lasting teacher—student relationships. According to the report, "increasing numbers of middle school educators believe that the education of young adolescents can be enhanced when teachers and students are members of classroom and small team groups characterized by long-lasting relationships" (p. 2).
The authors also reported that several middle schools around the country have implemented looping with success in an attempt to make a big school small. For many students the transition from a small elementary school environment with one teacher a year to a large middle school with several teachers a day can be overwhelming. Looping at the middle school level provides a nonthreatening environment for students. This allows the students to succeed academically and socially.
See also: Elementary Education, subentry on Current Trends; Steiner, Rudolf.
George, Paul S., and Lounsbury, John H. 2000. Making Big Schools Feel Small: Multiage Grouping, Looping, and Schools-within-a-School. Westerville, OH: National Middle School Association.
Grant, Jim; Johnson, Bob; and Richardson, Irv. 1996. The Looping Handbook: Teachers and Students Progressing Together. Peterborough, NH: Crystal Springs Books.
Grant, Jim; Johnson, Bob; and Richardson, Irv. 1996. Multiage Q & A: 101 Practical Answers to Your Most Pressing Questions, 2nd edition. Peterborough, NH: Crystal Springs Books.
Cheryl A. Franklin
Mary S. Holm