No Airplanes, No Cursive Tricks

We're not talking about something you might do in a stunt plane here. Although if that's what your classroom is like, sign us up.

Looping, in education speak, refers to the practice of moving students from one grade to the next with the same teacher in tow (or leading the way, as the case may be).

The idea isn't a new one. In fact, when Rudolf Steiner created Waldorf schools in Germany in the early 1900s, he designed them so that teachers stayed with their students from first through eighth grade. Which feels like basically lifetime, as far as those kids are concerned.

But a good lifetime, according to Steiner: the idea was that long-term relationships established with teachers would be especially beneficial for students. And maybe he had something there; looping is a concept many U.S. schools seem to be rediscovering today.

Is it just a fancier name for the multi-age approach?

In short: nope. Looping is different from what occurs in a multi-age classroom: looping involves keeping a group of same-age, same-grade students together along with their teacher. Both the students and teacher are "promoted" to the next grade level together at the end of the year.

In a multi-age classroom (which you can conveniently learn more about here), we've got students of different ages and abilities. Each year, a portion of the class (the older students) transitions out of the room, becoming the younger kids in the next level up. Which means that the younger students in the original class become the older students, and a new group of young 'uns transitions in.

In a nutshell: while the teacher (or team of teachers) in a multi-age classroom does not change, the student population does, whereas in looping, the entire class remains intact while only the grade level increases.

Pros and Cons

Some benefits associated with looping include

  • long-term relationships between teacher and students that allow the teacher to know the students better as learners and people;
  • decreased "getting to know you" and "settling in" time at the beginning of each school year. Who can handle so many name games? Moving on;
  • greater opportunity for long-term learning plans and projects, including activities or reading lists that can be assigned over the summer with teacher input on both the front end and follow-up time;
  • decreased student anxiety in anticipating "the new year" (whew, that's a big one);
  • increased support and stability for students who may not be getting those things outside of school; and
  • a stronger sense of community both within the classroom and between teachers and the families of their students.

But we wouldn't be helping you out if we didn't say there are potential drawbacks, too. (Aren't there always?) Every teacher who's been in the game for a while has likely had a class they were relieved to see go at the end of the year—something that wouldn't happen if the class and the teacher stayed together for a longer period of time. If you know what we're talking about, eight years with the same class may sound like a cruel form of ancient torture.

Which means that difficult classroom dynamics and poor personality fits have to be dealt with in a different way if simply holding out till the end of the year isn't an option.

Classes that have looped may also be more difficult for new students to penetrate. Sure, integrating new students into an established community of peers who have attended the same school for several years can be a challenge with or without looping. But imagine moving into town and joining a class who's been stuck together for seven years straight.

Ouch.

Finally, due to differences in personality, including varying levels of introversion and extroversion, there are some cases when nothing—not even looping—can guarantee that a teacher will get to know every student well, or that every student will come to have a meaningful long-term relationship with a teacher.

Want More Info?

If you're on the fence, here are some resources:

If that's not enough about looping, then go learn to crochet.