Today disagreements swirl around teaching tools and how to approach certain subjects. Yet in a recent poll regarding one particular strategy, it was reported that out of the teacher population, “79 percent described their experience as favorable, 16 percent reported it was neutral, and 5 percent said it was negative.”
What could garner such support from a sample of teachers?
The quote above comes from an Edweek.org article on the practice of looping. Looping is an educational strategy where a teacher stays with a group of students for multiple years. So then, are there benefits to looping? What did make that high percentage of teachers love it?
Teachers Learn as Students Learn
One reason teachers may view looping positively is that looping gives teachers better insight into a child’s learning, both in what areas they excel in and where they need more help. This insight makes the job of teaching easier after the first year with a class as teachers already know which students will need special attention in certain subjects and how best to help those students. Teachers placed with the same class are also able to refer to material they covered in previous years and have the knowledge of exactly what concepts their classes have gone over to avoid redundantly covering old concepts or skipping foundational skills.
Moreover, the expectations of a specific teacher are laid out in the first year and do not need to be gone over every year. Whether a teacher’s expectations relate to the way and form work needs to be turned in or the behaviors appropriate to the classroom, their expectations will be retained from year to year, giving teachers the extra time that would be used to teach a new class the rules of their classroom for actual learning instead.
As an article from Bored Teachers puts it, “It takes time to establish rules and expectations for a new school year, but in their second year with the same teacher, students move seamlessly from one grade to the next without having to relearn (and retest) their boundaries.”
Student Teacher Relationship
On the student side, looping allows for the formation of stronger student teacher relationships. Students working with a teacher throughout a school year will gain an understanding of what that teacher expects and likes. Students will also grow more comfortable with a teacher over time. This comfort level is usually irrelevant at the beginning of a new school year when students start with a new teacher or slate of teachers. However, with looping students are instead coming into a classroom with the same teacher their second year and each year after for however long their schools’ looping lasts.
Comfort within a classroom, and more specifically, comfort with a teacher, has been shown to be a major contributor to student success in multiple studies. In fact, the American Psychological Society says this about teacher student relationships on their website, “those students who have close, positive and supportive relationships with their teachers will attain higher levels of achievement than those students with more conflict in their relationships.” Relationships take time to build, and thus a student is only able to reap the benefits of a good student teacher relationship for a short time before it’s all reset by a new school year.
We’ve all experienced the anxiety and fear that comes with meeting a new person. These feelings, then, go double for students meeting their teacher for the first time since a teacher has so much control over their activities during an 8-hour school day. Looping alleviates this anxiety by ending the need for building new student-teacher relationships year to year.
Personally, I’ve experienced the effects of positive teacher relationships and a sort of looping in my own life. While I was homeschooled for most of my life, I transferred to an online high school when I turned fifteen, where, looking back, I can see that the classes where the teachers who truly took an interest in me were the ones that I did best in. As I have moved on to college the same trend has continued, and the professors who have taken an interest in me beyond simply my attendance in their class have been my picks for upper-level courses, and the professors under which I have gotten the best grades.
With the benefits of student teacher relationships in mind, it is no surprise then that the University of Minnesota on their page about looping notes that students in looping classrooms can improve “test scores, and the effects are largest for minorities… as well as student attendance and student promotion to the next grade.”
Student Comfort Makes a Parents Job Easier
While parents may seem to get little out of the arrangement of looping, beyond better grades for their child, remember how difficult it can be to convince a young child to leave the comfort of home to attend their first few years of school. Young children are, often, afraid to leave mom and dad behind and enter an unfamiliar environment. This fear can return each school year as a child transfers to a new grade or even when returning from a break as the familiarity of the school environment fades. Having a familiar face in a teacher that a child has spent more than a single year with can help to minimize this stress and make those first days of drop off after a break less tear filled.
Administrators and Job Satisfaction
In contrast to the benefits for students and teachers, the benefits for administrators are less easily seen. On the concrete, numbers side of things the University of Minnesota notes that institutions with looping saw that “Staff attendance improved from an average of 7 days absent to an average of 3 days absent.” Moreover, an article by Chalkbeat.com quoted one teacher who experienced looping as stating that “It was ‘the best experience of my career.’”
In short, job satisfaction, the golden goal for all managers, seems to be higher in looped classrooms than in traditional environments where classes change teachers from school year to school year. Coupling teacher satisfaction with the higher grades and better attendance often seen with looping, and then throwing in a dash of reduced conflict between students, teachers, and or parents from the familiarity that looping brings makes it a very attractive option that can make administration much easier.
Overall, the benefits of looping work on multiple levels, giving a leg up to students and teachers while providing ease for problems parents and administrators see throughout a school year. Students have reduced stress and better grades. Teachers are more easily able to create strong relationships with their students, gain more time for teaching material, and are more easily able to connect concepts between grade levels. Administrators see increased job satisfaction among teachers and the overall benefits that come in the form of better grade point averages and happier students. And parents have less trouble with younger children returning to school and can rest assured that their children are receiving a leg up in their education.
Looping as a strategy provides tangible benefits to students and teachers, making it an element in fostering a top-notch learning environment. The only question left is how can your school implement looping?
Stay tuned for part 2, where we talk about possible trade-offs and reasons looping may not be best for you. Coming soon!