S'More From The AP

Week Ending March 20, 2015

The Looping Journey - With Ms. King!

After I committed to moving up a grade level a word kept entering my mind. Looping. According to the definition, looping in education is the practice in which a single graded class of children stays with a teacher for 2 or more years. I have taught more years than I would like to admit but the opportunity to loop never developed until this past year. I spent some time looking up experiences of others and came to the conclusion that yes this was something I was interested in trying. I have moved grade levels and had a few of the same children but not enough to consider it a looping experience. My journey began with the big question to parents:

Would you like your child to move up with their teacher?

Parents had to decide if they felt this was a good idea for their child’s education. My forward thinking principal warned me not to take it personally. I said of course I get it, I also am a parent and I can understand remaining with the same teacher/class would not have worked a few times for my own children. Little did I realize that I could talk the talk but wow what a difference it is on the receiving side.

I not so patiently waited and agonized if I had made a mistake but in the end I had enough parents commit. Spending a second year together is not for every student, teacher or class. Once I was able to get past this we were off with a strong group of individuals. An advantage for those students was they did not have to wait for a letter or a posting on the school doors. On our last day together it was “Have a great summer and see you next year!”

Our first day of school was like being reunited with family you haven’t seen in months. Everyone was excited to see each other. After a year with students they become a part of our families and as you invest time and energy into their growth, the bond is very strong. An advantage here is you know who can work with whom and the getting to-know you time becomes a sharing of adventures. The routines I had spent weeks and even months developing were quickly put back into place. We did have a few new friends join us on our journey and they quickly picked up on our routines not from me but from the core of looping students.

The greatest benefits I have experienced as a looping teacher are the bonds I have with my students and parents. I know them and they know me. Parent night was very relaxed and conferences have been meaningful and straight to the point. The parents have been amazing. I have created my own stress by feeling a tremendous pressure to make sure every child benefits from this experience. These parents have put such trust in me I do not want to disappoint them.

An advantage I have had with my students is they are unable to tell me, “We didn’t learn that last year” because I know what was covered the previous year; I was there with them. Another advantage is that I feel a little ahead of the curve on being able to anticipate how my challenging students will react to situations. Our year began very smoothly, we were able to zoom through procedures and get started on second grade immediately, and it has been rewarding to see how far this very special group has come, socially and academically.

I would have to say some of my students have greatly benefited from looping, showing less anxiety and being more willing to take risks still others have struggled with being with the same children for this extended time. One thing I would do differently would be to start the first year together with the students, parents and myself knowing that we would be looping into the next year together. All in all as I think about my looping journey I can say from experience it has been a long, up and down road but one that I will cherish.

The Principal Ponders

I can’t imagine what it would be like have to start each year with a brand new faculty and staff. Having a campus full of teachers who wouldn’t know the routines and procedures, not to mention the curriculum that needed to be taught. Also being unsure of how personalities were going to mesh within grade levels is something I don’t even want to think about! But when I do stop and really think about it, teachers are asked to do this every year when they get a new a new class of students. Can we really expect high achievement from students until they learn what is expected of them and how to work with together?

Looping, or staying with the same class of kids for more than 2 years, is not a new practice. Also known as "teacher cycling," "teacher rotation" or "persistence teams," looping has been around since the early 1900’s. In Waldorf schools, which are based on the theories of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, students stay with the same teacher from 1st through 8th grade. This model is popular in countries such as Germany, Japan, and Italy. As early as 1913, the U.S. was debating whether to have students remain with the same teacher year after year, or have them move to a different one each year.

As with any educational practice, the benefits have to be identified by what the teacher does and not simply by the structure itself. While the practice of looping may make it easier to achieve certain outcomes, it is not the necessarily the cause. Some of the positive benefits of looping include:

  • · Improved relationships among students and between teachers and students
  • · More efficient instruction
  • · Higher Attendance Rate
  • · Improved student discipline
  • · Fewer referrals to special education programs

Perhaps the most important reason to loop would have to be to sustain the relationship that was built during the first year. Children’s most meaningful learning comes from positive, supportive relationships with caring adults. As James Comer states, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”

As with anything new or different, there will always be concerns. With looping, some common concerns are:

  • · Children being assigned to an ineffective teacher for consecutive years
  • · Separation after being together several years
  • · Socializing with the same group of students

Looping warrants consideration by any school looking to improve student achievement. When schools consider that it has been shown that student achievement in looped classes is never harmed but usually improves, there is no reason not to discuss implementing this practice.

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