ERIC Identifier: ED429330 Publication Date: 1998-12-00
Author: Gaustad, Joan Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Implementing Looping. ERIC Digest, Number 123.
"Looping" is the practice of advancing a teacher from one grade level to the
next along with his or her class. At the end of a "loop" of two or more years,
the teacher begins the cycle again with a new group of students.
Neither startlingly new nor complex to implement, this form of classroom
organization was described in 1913 by the U.S. Department of Education under the
name "teacher rotation" (Jim Grant and others 1996). Other terms for it include
"family style learning" (Joseph B. Rappa 1993), "two-cycle teaching," "student
teacher progression," and "multiyear instruction." Forms of looping have long
been used in the private Waldorf Schools and in other nations, including Germany
and Japan (Dana Simel 1998).
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF LOOPING?
Teachers and students in
looping classes need not start from scratch every fall, learning new sets of
names and personalities, establishing classroom rules and expectations. Most
teachers find that students remain on task far longer at the end of the first
year; accordingly, teachers estimate that they gain a month of learning time at
the start of the second year (Grant and others).
Spending several years with a class enables teachers to accumulate more
indepth knowledge of students' personalities, learning styles, strengths, and
weaknesses. This longer contact reduces time spent on diagnosis and facilitates
more effective instruction. It also helps teachers build better relationships
with parents (Paul S. George and others 1996, Simel, Robert D. Lincoln 1998).
For students, having the same teacher and classmates for two or more years
provides stability and builds a sense of community. Looping reduces anxiety and
increases confidence for many children, enabling them to blossom both socially
and as learners.
Looping appears to have positive effects on behavior and attitudes. The
Attleboro, Massachusetts, school district, which mandates looping from first
through eighth grades, reports improved attendance and test results, fewer
discipline problems and special education referrals, and reduced retention
(Rappa, Julia Steiny 1997). A Tolland, Connecticut, pilot program found that
"there were fewer infractions for the looped eighth graders than for the
non-looped control group, despite the fact that the looped students had incurred
more behavioral infractions in the seventh grade" (Lincoln).
In the Cleveland-based Project F.A.S.T, students in looping classes scored
substantially higher on standardized tests of reading and mathematics than did
students in regular classes, "even when both groups were taught BY THE SAME
TEACHER," reports Daniel L. Burke (1997, emphasis in original). A nationwide
survey conducted in 1996 by researcher Paul S. George found positive attitudes
toward looping among participating teachers, students, and parents (Linda
IS LOOPING COMPATIBLE WITH OTHER PRACTICES?
compatible with a wide range of traditional and innovative practices. It
particularly facilitates instructional strategies that depend on indepth student
knowledge, such as authentic assessment and whole language, or that require
considerable investment of time in their early stages, such as cooperative
learning (Barbara J. Hanson 1995). The emotionally supportive environment and
extra instruction time help to make inclusion successful. The longer time-frame
promotes a developmental perspective on learning and encourages teachers to try
promising innovations (Grant and others, George and others).
Team teaching, parent and mentor involvement, summer bridge programs, and
year-round schooling are other compatible practices. Looping can also be a
transitional step to multiage instruction, which adds a wider age range to the
multiyear time-frame (Char Forsten and others 1997).
Looping can flourish on any scale, from two interested teachers in
self-contained classrooms to an entire school system. "Interbuilding looping"
can ease the transition from primary to middle school. An increasing number of
schools offer parents the choice of looping, multiage, and single-grade classes
(Forsten and others).
FOR WHAT AGE LEVELS IS LOOPING APPROPRIATE?
Looping can be
used from kindergarten through high school, but in the U.S. it is most common at
the primary and middle-school levels. In the Attleboro School District all
teachers loop in grades 1-8, mostly in two-year loops, and some have done so in
kindergarten and high school (Rappa). Each Waldorf School teacher remains with
one class throughout grades 1-8.
Opinions differ regarding when the advantages of variety outweigh the
benefits of stability and indepth relationships. Primary teacher Jan Jubert
believes the single-year pattern is particularly stressful for younger children
and that they benefit most from looping (Grant and others). But Lincoln argues
that stability "may be more important in the middle school years than at any
other time" in a student's career.
Attleboro teacher Glen Killough supports looping at the elementary level but
believes middle-schoolers need variety to counteract their tendency to form
cliques (Grant and others). Some Fort Wayne, Indiana, Community School teachers
believed that overfamiliarity was a drawback for children older than fourth
grade (Simel). The point at which the balance tips may depend on the
characteristics of a school's students, staff, and community.
WHAT PROBLEMS ARE ENCOUNTERED WITH LOOPING?
can amplify the negative as well as the positive aspects of relationships. The
greatest concern of parents is that their child might spend two years with an
ineffective teacher. Time can also exacerbate problems with student-teacher
personality clashes, unreasonably demanding parents, problematic mixtures of
students, and specific weaknesses of a generally good teacher.
Simel reports that joining a looping class is hard on newcomers, and that
introducing five or more new students in the second year can be disruptive
enough to reduce the benefits of looping for the original students. Some
students and teachers also experience emotional difficulty leaving their classes
at the end of a loop.
Looping's longer time-frame increases motivation to resolve problems that
might have been ridden out for one year. Seventy percent of Lincoln teachers,
who loop for three years, said they made a greater effort to build relationships
with parents and that parents were more open (George and others). Difficult
students--and parents--may shape up when they face a second year of consistent
It is crucial to create procedures to resolve resistant problems. Grant and
others recommend automatically reviewing all student placements at the end of
each school year, as well as allowing teachers and parents to request midyear
Teaming can resolve or reduce many problems. Teachers with different teaching
styles and personalities may connect better with particular students or parents;
teachers with varied strengths can balance each other's weaker areas (Grant and
others). Teaming teachers strong in complementary content areas is particularly
common above the elementary level.
Simel advises against involving new teachers in looping until they are secure
in teaching one grade level. Attleboro administrators try to match new or weaker
teachers with stronger ones from whom they can learn, and school officials
regularly evaluate and reassign team members (Grant and others).
WHAT ARE SOME TIPS FOR IMPLEMENTATION?
Looping is easier
and less expensive to implement than most education reforms, but extra resources
are still needed to ensure success (Simel). Some staff development is desirable,
and it may be essential if grade levels involved have specific curriculum
requirements. When Attleboro mandated looping, it encountered resistance from
middle-school teachers who had taught classes with specialized content for many
years. The district provided summer workshops in new content areas and in
team-building to ease the transition (Grant and others). Simel suggests
providing looping teachers with extra materials and planning time.
Special care should be taken with class composition. Grant and others warn
against the temptation to overload looping classes with special-needs students
who might benefit from the supportive atmosphere. Looping classes should have no
more than their fair share of such students.
Parents should be informed in advance and ideally offered a choice among
looping, standard, and perhaps multiage configurations. Attleboro encourages
parents to "shop" among looping teams for the best match for their child at the
start of each two-year cycle, and the district tries to accommodate requests
Teachers also deserve choice. While acknowledging Attleboro's success,
Forsten and others advise against mandating looping. Successful pilot programs
begun by enthusiastic volunteers typically stimulate interest among other
teachers and parents in subsequent years, but some teachers may still prefer not
Providing several options on an ongoing basis does create greater
administrative complexity (Forsten and others). However, if it results in
improved learning and happier students, parents, and teachers, it is worth the
Burke, Daniel L. Looping: Adding Time,
Strengthening Relationships. Champaign, Illinois: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education, December 1997. 2 pages. ED 414 098.
Forsten, Char, and others. Looping Q & A: 72 Practical Answers to Your
Most Pressing Questions. Peterborough, New Hampshire: Crystal Springs Books,
1997. 129 pages. ED 411 086.
George, Paul S., and others. "Lincoln Middle School: A Case Study in
Long-term Relationships" (8-page excerpt). Columbus, Ohio: National Middle
School Association, 1987. Reprinted in The Multiage Handbook by Jim Grant and
others. Peterborough, New Hampshire: Crystal Springs Books, 1996. 287 pages. ED
Grant, Jim, and others. The Looping Handbook: Teachers and Students
Progressing Together. Peterborough, New Hampshire: Crystal Springs Books, 1996.
160 pages. ED 399 083.
Hanson, Barbara J. "Getting to Know You--Multiyear Teaching." Educational
Leadership 53, 3 (November 1995): 42-43. EJ 514 699.
Jacobson, Linda. "'Looping' Catches On as a Way To Build Strong Ties."
Education Week (October 15, 1997): 1, 16, 19.
Lincoln, Robert D. "Looping in the Middle Grades." Principal 78, 1 (September
Rappa, Joseph B. Presentation to the National Education Commission on Time
and Learning, Cambridge, Massachusetts, September 24, 1993. 3 pages.
Simel, Dana. "Education for 'Bildung': Teacher Attitudes Toward Looping."
International Journal of Educational Reform 7, 4 (October 1998): 330-37.
Steiny, Julia. "A Class Act: 6 Extra Weeks of Learning." Providence Journal
(October 5, 1997): H1-H2.
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