By Judy Molland
Looping Connects Students and Teachers
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Defined as the practice of advancing a teacher from one grade level to the next along with his or her class, looping allows a teacher to remain with the same, single-grade set of students for two years or more. European and Japanese schools commonly use multiyear teacher-student groupings, but the use of looping has grown only recently in this country. While it is difficult to determine precisely how widespread the practice is, experts estimate that thousands of educators are currently “in the loop.”
Jim Grant, co-founder of the National Alliance of Looping and Multiage Educators, says the practice results in improved student attendance and fewer student referrals for discipline. “It’s all attributed to long-term relationships,” he explains. Since attendance and good behavior mean more time for learning, academic achievement has also improved with looping, he adds.
But Grant also admits there is a downside to looping. Parents worry that their child will be stuck in the “wrong classroom,” and, for teachers, looping may require extra training to prepare for new phases of child development. Because of these concerns, Grant recommends that looping be presented as an option and not a requirement.
In Massachusetts, the Attleboro school district has used looping for students in grades one through eight since 1992. When the practice first began, some of the district’s teachers left or simply retired. But those who stayed must have liked it, because faculty absences dropped from an average of seven days per year to fewer than three. Further research over a seven-year period found:
• Student attendance in grades two through eight increased from a daily average of 92 percent to 97 percent.
• Retention rates decreased by more than 43 percent in those same grades.
• Discipline and suspensions, especially at the middle schools, declined significantly.
• Special education referrals decreased by more than 55 percent.
“Looping has given us the ability to get to know a student in seventh grade, so when he comes into eighth grade, we know the kid really well,” says Patricia Crosby, a communications/social studies teacher on a two-person team that loops with 50 students from seventh to eighth grade.
“It also gives the kids continuity, so they know who they can check in with, and parents also feel more comfortable trying to work with us,” adds.
Richard Dunning, a middle school principal whose school has used looping for the last 10 years, is equally excited. “We loop from grades ,” he explains, “because we found that the seventh grade was the most difficult year.” In the four years that he has been principal, Dunning has received only one parental request for a change.
Teachers involved in looping speak enthusiastically about the amount of time they have to actually teach, particularly at the beginning of the academic year. The students are ready to work within the first 45 minutes of that first day, they say, instead of the month it can take for other teachers to get to know their students.
As academic progress from one year to the next becomes mandatory under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education reform law, one reason for schools to turn to looping is that it offers increased opportunity for individual attention to students. Overall, it may be too early to tell how looping affects standardized test scores required under NCLB, but many educators, including Grant, say there is evidence that children do better academically with looping.