Looping in Today's Classrooms...

An in depth look at "Looping"

Michele Jacobs

EdPsy 399

Tom Anderson, Instructor

University of Illinois

Introduction

The year 1933, the place White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Maribelle Perry sat in a one-room schoolhouse set in the Allegheny Mountains. She had the same teacher for grades 1-6. This method of teaching was predominant in sparsely populated areas where it was difficult finding a teacher. Many teachers during this time period taught in one-room schoolhouses with multiple grades. After discussing the effects of a one-room schoolhouse with Maribelle Perry, she felt that she learned at a faster pace due to the older students in the same room as well as the bond she had formed with the teacher. Not unlike the experience that Ms. Perry had, children in today's schools are experiencing an atmosphere something like the one in West Virginia. The teaching method I am referring to be called "looping" where the teacher stays with the same group of students for two or more consecutive years. Other names for this method of teaching are: multi-year grouping, continuous learning, teacher rotation, teacher-student progression, and teacher retention. There are many advantages to Looping as well as some disadvantages. This paper will focus on both sides of this issue from a theoretical viewpoint as well as a first-person point of view.

History Behind the Looping Theory:

Looping dates back to the early 1900's in Germany where an Australian educator, named Rudolf Steiner founded the Waldorf Schools and educated the children whose parents worked in the cigarette factories. The teachers in this situation taught the same group of students all of the grade levels one through eight. Mr. Steiner believed "that a long-term relationship with the teacher was beneficial to children". (Brown University) From there, the Department of the United States posed a question in a memo in 1913 asking, "shall teachers in graded city schools be advanced from grade to grade with their pupils through a series of two, three, four, or more years, so that they may come to know the children they teach and be able to build the work of the latter years on that of the earlier years?" (Grant, Johnson, And Richardson, 1996) Since this time there have been many schools in which adopted this method as part of their educational process. However, in the last decade this method has become more popular and even recently as two years ago has been implemented in the county schools in Illinois. A man responsible for publicizing the looping method is Mr. Jim Grant, director of the Society for Developmental Education and co-director of the National Alliance of Multiage Educators. Mr. Grant has authored a book titled, The Looping Handbook.(Grant, Johnson, & Richardson, 1995) Bob Johnson one of Grant's co-authors has conducted many workshops and seminars on looping and multi-year teaching.

The theory behind looping focuses on both the social and academic benefits. However, more theorists, Such as Steiner, a philosopher in Germany tend to back the social importance of this method. It was Mr. Steiner who was the first to use this method. He found that the impact of the long-term relationship of the teacher and student formed a bond that helped in fostering a sound education. This method is still used in Germany today but teachers stay with the same students from grade one through four instead of one through eight. (Brown University, 1998)

Academically, looping has many benefits, one of which is a higher achievement rate. In Illinois, the ISAT is used to compare schools through the use of one test. Districts that do well, are exempt from a Quality Review visit by the Illinois State Board of Education and therefore look "better" in the eyes of the community. It may be that looping is becoming more popular lately because of the need to find a good fit for the way in which our students learn and the ways in which we teach them. Meeting the needs of all students and allowing them ample time to grow are very important benefits that can become crucial to the educational process.

Looping Advantages:

The advantages for looping include but are not limited to: increased instructional time; fosters bond between students/teachers/parents; serves diverse student population; increased parental involvement; reduce discipline problems; no time lost at the beginning of the year: postpone high-stake decisions; increased attendance and performance rates; and no additional cost to district.

Teachers involved in the looping program state that there is an increase in instructional time due to already knowing the students going into the second year. According to Allen Vann, author of "Looping: Looking Beyond the Hype", "if teachers move up with their classes, the first weeks of the second year will probably be more productive because the teachers will not need the days or weeks usually taken to become familiar with each child's learning style, strengths, weaknesses, interests, or home situation". Due to the increased instructional time, teachers also can delve into curriculum themes at a deeper level over the two-year period. Given this extra time can allow both students and teachers to grow together. Students generally do not feel the apprehension that is felt at the beginning of a new year because the environment is known and the expectations are set. There is no time lost at the beginning of the second year. According to Jim Grant et al. "the second year starts as day 181 instead of day 1, adding literally weeks of instructional time".

The bond created within the two-year period is an important element. Spending the extra year with the same teacher can eleviate any misunderstandings between parents and teachers. The students know what is expected of them from both sides, and therefore have less stress to endure during the second year. If both sides work together as a team to design the best educational experience for the child then noone loses. Parent involvement is an important element to any successful educational program. The more parents are involved in a student's education the more interest the student will show in the process. At the beginning of the two-year span parents put forth a more intense interest because they know that their child will have this teacher for two years. According to Kelly et al., in the article "A Place to Hang our Hats", she and her colleagues are engaged in a successful looping program where "on the child's first day of school, the student, the parent, the teacher and the administrator sign and begin to implement compacts for optimal learning". They believe that this is an important reason for a strong parental involvement component.

As with other educational programs, looping serves a diverse population of students. Special education students are mainstreamed into the regular education classrooms more and more. Therefore looping provides students with special needs an easier transition for a two-year period. The looping teacher can make sure that the accommodations are made for each of these students. The looping teacher's input regarding the students with special needs will be of more value given the extra year of learning together that looping provides.

Discipline problems tend to decrease in the looping classroom. Grant et al. states that "overall discipline improves". There are fewer discipline problems when expectations are set the first year and consistently carried forward the second year. Students also develop stronger bonds with each other when given the two years to work together.

Postponing high stake decisions can be a crucial component of looping. Jim Grant says that "if a teacher thinks a child may need a special education referral or an ADD diagnosis -- decisions that could dramatically affect the life of the child --- they can put it off for a year until they can better observe the child". We have all had students that at the end of the year we wish we had just one or more months more with this student could make all the difference. Looping gives this option by allowing the teacher to start just where they left off the year before.

Attendance rates have improved in several schools that have implemented the looping program. McCormick Elementary School in Maryland reports that their student attendance rates increased to 97.2%. In the three previous years before the implementation of looping the student attendance rate was 92.6%-93.9%. (Kelly et al. 1998) The teachers at McCormick Elementary report that "teachers and students alike have been known to actually cheer when a student comes in late". This brings to mind the old adage " Better late than never". (Kelly et al. 1998)

There are no additional costs directly related to the districts that implement the looping program. Most looping programs use the staff members who are eager to try this program, therefore no additional staff is required. Material costs are associated with the curriculum used in the district and therefore would not be an increase.

Looping Disadvantages:

Although the advantages outweigh the disadvantages there are several disadvantages associated with the program. Many of them can be prevented but they could pose as cautions as well. Some of the disadvantages are: new curriculum to learn; being "stuck" with a bad teacher; difficult parents; limited opportunities for some students; and the separation period.

The teachers facilitating this program must learn a new curriculum for the grade that they are unfamiliar. Until this is achieved, the new teacher is not as strong as teachers who "know" the curriculum. This may not pose a major problem if teachers are appointed mentors who have experience in this grade level.

Many parents are concerned with the possibility of being "stuck" with a bad teacher or one in which they feel is incompetent. According the Grant et al. "incompetent teachers rarely volunteer for projects such as these that require additional work". Administrators need to be aware of the teacher's personality and teaching style when assigning students for two years. However, if a match does not work out the student is simply transferred to a different classroom for the following year. It is not beneficial to keep a student and teacher together that do not match whether it be because of personalities, learning styles, teaching styles, or parental concerns. Another area of mismatching can be with the parents and the teacher. It is not beneficial to continue a loop where the parents are consistently unhappy and unsatisfied, this can be frustrating to both the parents and the teacher.

Socially students in a looping classroom do not have as much social interaction with other peers since they are with the same groups. This can be avoided if the classes have recess together or other classes such as physical education and music.

Separation after a two year period can be difficult for both the students and the teachers. Depending on the grade level students become attached to the teacher and visa-versa. The students will require some time at the beginning of the new year to get to know the teacher and the expectations and rules. This is nothing different than what most students experience each year that are not in a looping program. Planning and scheduling for looping should be thought out well in advance in order to avoid many of the disadvantages listed above.

Statistical Data for Looping:

According to Kathy Checkley, in the article titled, "Multi-year Education: Reaping the Benefits of Looping", "despite the apparent longevity and prevalence of multiyear programs in public education, there is not sufficient data to support what many educators contend: that multiyear programs have a profound impact both socially and instructionally". (Checkley, 1995)

However, since this time research has been completed in several schools. As reported in the section titled "Research" in the article titled, 'Looping: Adding Time, Strengthening Relationships" Daniel Burke reported a study completed by East Cleveland, Ohio, Schools and Cleveland State University through a pilot program named Project F.A.S.T. which included a multi-year teacher and student assignment. This study showed that "students in the program exhibited substantially higher reading and mathematics achievement scores on standardized tests than did students in the traditional grade organization, even when both groups were taught by the same teacher." They also reported that in addition to the academic growth, " an increased sense of ownership for student outcomes and a heightened sense of efficacy as a result of their increased decision-making autonomy for students".(Burke, 1997)

Burke also found that in a three year study done by George, Spreul, and Moorefield in 1987 "approximately 70% of the teachers reported that teaching the same students for three years allowed them to use more positive approaches to classroom management". This study also revealed that "84% of the teachers reported more positive relationships with parents and 75% reported an increased empathy with colleagues. Ninety-two percent of the parents in this study, when asked, requested that their child have the same teacher as the previous year".

Although it was difficult to find data that supports the claim of the significant impact of this program it was stated in all of the articles researched that the advantages are great and the disadvantages are rare. Lillian Katz, professor of early childhood at the University of Illinois reports in the Checkley article that " we need some good research. We need a good close study of how this might be effective. Why do some teachers seem to capitalize on these sorts of programs while others don't? What practices enable teachers to optimize the benefits of such programs? When these data are available, advocates will be better able to validate the multiyear practice". However, according to Checkley, "some educators are already convinced that looping can make a positive impact, with or without conclusive data". (Checkley, 1995)

A First Hand Look at Looping:

Background:

Tri-City Elementary School implemented looping during the 1998-1999 school year. Before this method was put into place, much research and discussion took place. It was through one Mr. Johnson's workshops that my district became interested in this method. We read many books and researched articles on the Internet regarding this method of teaching. We wanted to have our facts in hand before we presented it to the learning community. The principal, Karen Colbrook brought the idea to a staff meeting and wanted to know if any teachers would be willing to try this method. Four teachers volunteered and three were chosen for the positions. Parents of the incoming first grade students were informed by letter and were asked for input. A meeting was conducted by the teachers and administration for the parents and was held prior to the fall of first grade.

Implementation:

Two of the three teachers were familiar with the first grade curriculum. However, one of the teachers was previously a third grade teacher and required additional training of the new curriculum. The teachers worked as a team preparing for the upcoming school year. Looping meetings were held daily, weekly, and monthly to ensure smooth transition into the new setting. The students were excited about having the same teacher two years in a row and many times would comment about this. It was late in the first grade year when the teachers began to notice a difference in the students. At the end of a school year when a teacher has to say good bye to a class it can be difficult for teacher and student. However, with looping the students seemed very excited about the upcoming year because they knew who their teacher would be and who would be in their classrooms. A team concept is also created within the classroom. Students were seen "sticking up" for each other during recess, P.E., etc.

The beginning of second grade proved to be a smooth transition for parents, students, and teachers. The principal commented many times that parents were very pleased with the program. The students commented on several occasions that they were not scared at the beginning of the year. The teachers revealed that they were able to start in on day one of second grade with the first unit of study, instead of completing assessment material like the previous years. The teachers knew their student's strengths and weaknesses, and therefore lost no time assessing.

Wendy Dilley stated that she has "never had such an enjoyable first day of school". Kay Campbell noted that her students "were ready to get busy on the second grade material right away". I noticed that the parents were more relaxed and the day seemed more like a welcome home day instead of the first day of school.

We believe that our program is successful because of the dedication of the staff and administration as well as the overwhelming support of the parents. A bond is formed between the students and teachers throughout the two year period. A bond is also formed between the parents and the teachers. When a commitment of staying together for two years is entered into, both sides put forth more effort and cooperation than usually noted.

I have never encountered parent volunteers until we implemented this program. I now have four parents that volunteer on a weekly basis to listen to the students read, practice math facts, copy materials, read to the students, etc. The bond that this program creates is really unique. It will be difficult at the end of this year to leave this group and their parents.

I would recommend this program to any school wanting to better meet the needs of their students. We have found through implementing this program that students have fewer discipline problems, fewer special education referrals, higher attendance rate; stronger bond with teacher; less anxiety about second year; and do not loose any instructional time with assessments the second year.

Looping Assessment Tool Used at Tri-City:

The assessment tool below was designed by the team of looping teachers and our administrator in order to measure the progress and success of the program. This information may also be used to make adjustments in the program and improve areas of need.

 

Objectives
Desired Outcomes
Assessment tools

Time Line

1. Strengthen teacher/student relationship

Students and teacher will form stronger bonds.

Student/Teacher Surveys

End of Second Grade

2. Strengthen teacher/parent relationship

More parental involvement

Volunteer numbers,attendance at events, communication between home/school

1st-2nd grade data used for documentation

3. Establish a more effective instructional period/no lost time in the fall

Teachers will be able to begin teaching on day 1-rather than assessing behavioral/educational needs

Teacher Survey

End of the first month in 2nd grade

4. Meet the needs of all students more effectively

More students will be performing at or above grade level

Classroom grades, local assessments and the MAT

Data comparisons end of 2nd

5. Improve attendance

Higher daily average attendance the second year

Attendance Records

Ongoing throughout second grade

6. Reduce behavior problems

Decrease the number of referrals to principal and noon detentions

Anecdotal notes from teacher/principal

Comparison of notes at the end of 1st to those at the end of 2nd

First and Second Year Completed Looping Data:

The results below were collected by the looping team and analyzed at a team meeting. Using this information will allow our teachers to celebrate the impact that this program has had on our students and improve the areas of need.

Assessment Tool:

Results:

First Grade Teacher Survey

Bond with students formed in First grade began- middle Bond with students formed in Second grade- early

Effort made on parents and teachers part to establish a relationship consistent both years

Knows students better second grade year than previous

First Grade Student Survey

Comfortable with teacher

46/46 yes First Grade

45/45 yes Second Grade

Excited about having teacher two years

44/46 yes First Grade

44/45 yes Second Grade

Did you get to know teacher better

43/46 yes First Grade

45/45 Yes Second Grade

Students less anxious about next year -42/46 yes First Grade

Students less anxious about next year- 20/45 yes Second Grade

Second Grade Teacher Survey

On what day did you begin teaching- day 1

This day is earlier than last year.

Already know the students strengths and weaknesses ; No time lost assessing. Students felt comfortable and knew the expectations.

1-2 weeks time saved at the beginning of second grade

Same as above

Data Comparison Test Scores

Can not be complete - assessment materials not available until middle May.

Data Comparison- Behavior

Number of students referred to principal in First- 7 Number of students referred to principal in Second- 1

Number of students with noon detentions in First- 3 Number of students with noon detentions in Second- 0

It is important to note the behavior differences in the two year period shown above. Behavior difficulties can deter from the quality of education that all students receive. The teacher surveys also show progress and growth on behalf of this program. As teachers become familiar with switching curriculum they will be able to smoothly transition to the next grade. Socially the students benefit from this program because of the feelings of assurance they have the second year. The students also become risk-takers when they are comfortable with the learning environment.

Resources