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Looping in Education – Time to Make It a Fundamental Practice?

I read with great interest the story of retiring teacher Mary Barrera-Gomez. Currently a fifth-grade teacher at Forbes Elementary School in San Antonio she will be retiring after 29 years in education.

What makes her story truly unusual is twofold. First there is the fact she left the administrative ranks six years ago for one last return to the classroom. However, the most unusual aspect is the district’s one time instructional leader returned to a kindergarten classroom where she began a six year journey with a single group of students.

As she is set to retire, she will be turning over her students, her kids, to middle school having taught every subject at every grade level from kindergarten through grade five. The journey has been a long and sweet one for Barrera-Gomez. But it is the journey the students have been on that makes the story so powerful.

Looping
young-studious-girl.jpgThe practice of placing the same group of students with one teacher for more than one year is referred to in education as looping. Still considered extremely innovative and used infrequently, looping often occurs for two years and occasionally for three. The situation involving Barrera-Gomez represented my first exposure to someone taking the looping concept through a student’s entire elementary years in America.

The idea of a teacher moving with his or her students to the next grade level rather than sending them on to another teacher is backed by substantially favorable research. According to a multitude of literature, the practice ensures that students move from one grade to the next with a minimum of anxiety and eliminates the transitional period that a new school year often requires thereby providing more time for new learning. The practice also fosters greater relationship building, for students and for parents.

The looping concept is embedded in Italian preschools, considered by experts to be among the best in the world, where it is common to use a three year loop. In Germany one will find that the practice is in great supply with six year loops actually being somewhat common. And the practice is critical to the Waldorf concept where one teacher and the same group of students remain together from grade one through grade eight.

The concept is also being employed with great success at the Met School in Providence, R.I., where one teacher/advisor is assigned 15 students in grade nine and then takes those students through their entire high school program, all four years and in all subject matter.

The practice of looping eliminates a good part of the blame game that happens in the school setting. All too often the pecking order begins when the high school blames the middle school for not preparing the students, the middle school blames the elementary school, and the elementary teacher blames the prior teacher, ad nauseum. Looping puts one teacher in charge of a group with complete responsibility for progress.

The listed advantages are lengthy while the only cited disadvantage of looping is an inappropriate match, or personality conflict, between teacher and student. Of course such an issue can take place in non-looped classrooms as well.

Back to Mary Barrera-Gomez
Given her knowledge of the curriculum, Barrera-Gomez felt confident she could undertake the challenges of a six year loop, a practice that meant she was teaching six different grade levels over a six year span. It is a frightful thought to most teachers today who have been trained and then worked with the factory model of focusing on curriculum at one specific grade level.

However, the stories emanating from Barrera-Gomez’ classroom give rise to the notion that more schools must consider the practice. There is the simple story of Manuel Guerrero, barely 10, who responds to the question as to what he wants to be when he grows up with the statement that he hopes to be a surgeon.

Barrera-Gomez cites six plus years of can-do messages as being critical to helping little Manuel’s future aspirations. It is the type of reiteration that is not likely to occur with but one year with a teacher. According to newspaper accounts, Barrera-Gomez states, “That last piece of my plan is to plant that seed in them to pursue higher education.” To which 10-year-old Manuel adds, “She always told us, ‘Do your best and you can make it to college and have a good degree,'”

In addition to the enhanced personal connections and the creation of aspirations, Barrera-Gomez’s students did better academically than other district fourth-graders in reading and math. While 79 percent of students passed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) in both math and reading, the retiring teacher had a 90 percent pass rate in reading and an 86 percent passing rate in math. In one area her students lagged, only 84 percent of her students passed writing as compared to 91 percent district wide.

Barrera-Gomez insisted her focus was on well-rounded students who were critical thinkers that understood that hard work would be the catalyst to get them into college. Though she sought the positive test results she began to treat the test scores as secondary to her focus on the whole child.

Looping – Time to Make It the Common Practice
With all the data collected, the concept of looping is a proven practice leading to improved classroom social aspects and increased learning. It is extremely disappointing to realize that the practice is still considered radical in most areas of the country. If looping is good for kids then the adults must be the professionals they are hired to be and garner the skills necessary to employ this practice.

Kudos to Barrera-Gomez for being such a professional.

26 comments

1 For-Profit DeVry Regains Edge and Provides Some Lessons for Public Education? — Open Education { 01.07.08 at 10:11 pm }

[...] noted in a prior post the amazing story of Mary Barrera-Gomez. But within that story is a compelling fact, the administrator in charge of instruction who [...]

2 Valerie Collom { 04.25.08 at 12:31 pm }

Is there any evidence that looping works with high schoolers? I realize that one of the goals for looping with grade schoolers is to avoid unnecessary anxiety due with the year to year transitions. Shouldn’t we encourage transition in high schoolers as we prepare them for college?

3 Thomas { 04.25.08 at 5:16 pm }

Valerie,

Great question, looping seems to have a powerful impact in a positive way at the Met School but your point about transitions is an important one – at some point education needs to help students handle transitions so as to help them with life beyond high school. There is a need for balance no doubt, but if the goal is also to increase achievement then looping must be considered in some fashion.

Tom Hanson

4 Zena Dickerson { 04.29.08 at 11:59 am }

Our school is pretty interested in looping this year. Please forward any information that you may have

5 Sharon Buckley { 05.23.08 at 2:22 am }

Our school is very interested in adopting looping for 7th and 8th graders in math only. As I am Dept. Chair, I have suggested looping for Pre-Algebra and Algebra students. Please forward any information that you may have.

6 Antrice { 05.30.08 at 11:33 pm }

We are looping our 4th and 5th grade classes this year. Please forward all information concerning looping.

7 Kendy Moore { 05.31.08 at 8:37 am }

A collegue and I are preparing a prosal to administration concerning looping 1st to 2nd. Any “experience suggestions”, especially those that support this endeavor, would be appreciated.

8 L. Harris { 06.13.08 at 10:44 pm }

Looping has proven to be effective, not only for the students but also for the administrator. I’ve had the privilege to complete a full rotation of looping 6-8 in a middle school setting. Based on our data we could clearly see a decrease in discipline. I attribute the decline to establishing relationships with the students. With discipline down I was able to be an instructional leader!

9 Kirsten { 08.20.08 at 6:36 pm }

I have had the very positive experience of looping with 5th & 6th graders for 8 of my 20 years of experience. With recent NCLB pressures, our administration ended looping at all grade levels in our K-6 school, much to the disappointment of most teachers and families. Our school board would like to know why and formally look at looping and what it means for students, families, and teachers. I have found the learning of students and the community they create with each other in 2 years to be incredible. Discipline isn’t an issue, parents are comfortably involved, and students make wonderful growth. It should be an option for all students and families at every grade level K-8 at least.

10 Wende { 09.29.08 at 8:06 pm }

I am trying to find recent reseearch on the benefits of looping for an annotated bibliography assignment, but most of what I find is pre 2000. Can you steer me toward any recent articles?

11 Thomas { 09.29.08 at 9:09 pm }

Wende,

Try this brief:

http://www.principalspartnership.com/looping.pdf

It appears to offer some up-to-date info as well as links to other potential research studies.

TH
Editor

12 Josh { 02.16.09 at 9:21 am }

Hi All,

I’m preparing a proposal for a redesign of our high school. The proposal centers around a grade 10/11 loop. Any thoughts? Research you know of? Concerns?

Josh

13 Linda { 02.17.09 at 10:39 am }

Information about looping in an infant/toddler and preschool/Prek program

14 JOSH { 03.02.09 at 9:43 pm }

Our teachers are about to bring the idea of Looping at our elementary school. We haven’t settled on a 2 or 3 year loop yet. I teach at a small rural school in southern Nevada in which we only have one class per grade. If you anyone has some compelling research either way it would be incredibly useful. We need to have our ducks in a row before we propose it to the parents and administration.
Thanks!

15 Nicky { 03.31.09 at 3:55 pm }

I am doing a presentation on looping for one of my master classes. Any information you have that you could send me would be excellent, especially any graphs you may have that prove looping to be successful. Thank you for your time.

16 Julia Nix { 05.04.09 at 10:58 am }

Thank you for this information. I had been approached about looping with my students several times, but was concerned that the students would get my weakness two years in a row…although a good teacher, I do have them! This brought out several advantage points that I hadn’t considered, especially of providing that stability to the students. I am teaching on a military post, and our transition rate has been 60%… per year. I can now see that looping would be a great advantage to students who already have to face changes overy two to three years during their relocations without having to start midyear with one teacheror team, and then a few months later have another. I’m sure that the stability for students in high transitory situations would be the same. We may not be able to change their world, but we can provide them with some continuity and support!

17 Veronica Gaboury { 06.15.09 at 1:08 pm }

Thank you for this article. I am looping with my current 9th graders next year and although I am very excited and feel this is a great opportunity, I still have to explain myself to cynics. :-) I would love to pick your brain and read more ‘research’ based articles to support my discussions. If it is possible could you point me in that direction? Thank you.

18 Darcy Smith { 07.10.09 at 12:59 pm }

I am a middle school principal and doctoral candidate interested in learning more about looping. I am finding that some schools who have adopted looping, at a later date, have reverted to traditional sheduling. I am interested in seeking to determine what sets sustainable looping programs apart from others that are abandoned and the “why” behind the move away from looping. I would appreciate the opportunity to exchange emails with anyone who has experience with looping who would be willing to share. Darcy Smith – darcy.smith@palmaccsd.org

19 Mary Ruzga { 07.30.09 at 11:37 am }

The South Carolina State Department of Education established an Office of Innovation. One of the initiatives I coordinate in that office is teaming and looping which we are piloting in several schools. It is the combination of teaming and looping that has resulted in success. We have found that looping has a positive impact on parental involvement and the social and emotional growth of students. While teaming has a positive impact on student academic achievement. In our “team” two teachers in consecutive grades are identified as looping partners. They meet throughout the year for the main purpose of preparing each for the loop or grade exchange. Of course they are part of their grade level teams as well. However, the close relationship they form as looping partners helps them develop a clear vision of the vertical articulation of content for their two grades, an understanding of the social and emotional needs of students in the grades to which they will move (exchange/loop), a source for resources in the new grade, and a “go to” person for support once the loop has occurred. Our initial cohort of teachers participated in a day long orientation session and attended our first annual statewide follow-up last week. As a result of the data collected to date we have almost tripled the number of looping teams for this coming school year. Last year our focus was on elementary schools. This year we are including middle and secondary sites. Anything I can learn about looping at all grade levels from other states will help improve and support our efforts in SC. Please feel free to email me at mruzga@ed.sc.gov

20 Annie Conway { 09.25.09 at 2:08 pm }

Our district is piloting looping with hopes to expand k-3. Where can I find recent research on the effectiveness of looping? It seems, as a colleague stated earlier, that available data is prior to 2000. Any ideas on which grades work best with looping? We are trying k-1 and 2-3. What practices are used to support teachers? What are the challenges faced by experienced looping teachers?

21 jeff mitchell { 06.15.10 at 11:07 pm }

I have looped with classes twice in my academic careers, primarily because they were going to have sub-par teachers in the next grade level. This past year I taught 4th grade and asked to loop w/my class. Well my principal gave me about half of my previous class and some other 4th graders from other classes, two of which had documented behavior problems. Would that make for an inappropriate match?

22 Silvia cancila { 07.05.10 at 1:22 pm }

I have been a looping 3rd and 4th grade teacher for 14 years in 2 diffewrent districts. I see so many benefits .

23 Jane { 08.17.10 at 10:27 am }

Two colleagues and I loop with middle school students, grades 6 through 8, as we teach all three grades every year. The looping is the choice of the family, so every year we get students we have not had before, too. Do you know of any other middle schools where looping in academic subjects is taking place? What do you know about middle school looping in general?

24 elsie montealto { 08.20.10 at 1:34 am }

Wish the Philippines consider “looping” as a welcome development since I believe it will clck in our schools. However, I have qualms about trying it in the secondary schools. Any suggestion/s on how to apply it to high school students since subjects are taught by specialization.

25 Cathy H { 05.20.11 at 10:41 am }

Our school is moving to looping within the next two years. Where can I find recent information on the effectiveness of looping? What practices are used to support teachers? What are the biggest obstacles? We have several teachers that are concerned about looping. (K-6) I am also wondering about current information about multi-age as well???

26 Maria Newton-TaBon { 10.18.13 at 7:11 pm }

I served as principal of one of the schools with the SC State Department project on looping with Mary Ruzga. Looping served us well at Wilder Elementary school and my last year there we were the highest scoring school 99.3.

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