Looping is an educational practice in which a class of students is promoted and progress as a group with the same teacher through two or more grades and for two or more years. Looping is also known as multiyear education, multiyear instruction/teaching, multiyear placement, multiyear assignment, and by other related names. Looping has innumerable advantages as recounted in the educational literature. The continuity of relationship, care and instruction associated with the long-term, continuous-learning environment and continuous-progress curriculum characteristic of looping classes provide perhaps the most important advantages of the practice. The most common disadvantages for looping classrooms can occur in traditional classrooms as well. A plethora of anecdotal evidence and a paucity of empirical research suggest many positive academic, social, and emotional benefits attendant to the use of looping as an educational strategy.
ACADEMIC TOPIC OVERVIEWS
Curriculum Organization > Looping
Although the practice of looping appears to have had numerous antecedents, its origin is most commonly attributed to Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), who founded the Waldorf School method of schooling in the early 1900s. A key feature of the Waldorf approach to education is continuous teachers: teachers who remain with the same class and teach all subjects through the elementary grades. Steiner's child-centered pedagogical ideas, concepts, and principles form a theoretical and philosophical foundation for the practice of looping. Among the primary practitioners of looping in U.S. schools are early childhood and preschool teachers who use the practice in childcare facilities with infant and toddler groups. Looping is also successfully implemented in the primary or early elementary grades (K-3) and in middle school education.
Looping is a concept, a model, and an experience. It is an approach that is based on a continuous progress school curriculum and instructional design with a nontraditional class structure. In some schools, looping is considered as an intervention (Forsten, Grant, & Richardson, 1999; Haley, 2007, Krogman & Van Sant, 2000). Table 1 summarizes key elements and characteristics associated with the educational practice of looping.
Looping is also called multiyear education or multiyear instruction/ teaching because teachers are given multiyear teaching assignments and make multiyear commitments to teach the same group of students. With looping, single-grade teachers become multigrade teachers. Other names for looping include extended relationship schools and classes, teacher-student or student-teacher progression, or persistence grouping (Bellis, 1999; Lincoln, 1998; Reynolds, Barnhart, & Martin, 1999). Schools, programs, curricula, classes, structures, experiences, teachers, and students can be looping or non-looping.
Table 1: Key Elements
Element/Characteristic Description Names multiyear education, multiyear placement, multiyear assignment, multiyear teaching/instruction, persistence grouping, extended-relationship, teacher-student (or student-teacher) progression Definition concept, model, educational practice, pedagogical strategy, assignment/placement, curriculum/ instructional design, class structure/ arrangement, approach, process, experience, program, adaptation, intervention Levels early-childhood (infants and toddlers), preschool, kindergarten, primary, elementary, intermediate, middle school Curriculum continuous-progress, child-/learner-centered, coherent, contextualized, customized, individualized Classes/classrooms friendly, supportive, family-oriented, community-oriented, stable, consistent, comfortable, caring, open, nurturing, inclusive, safe, secure Teachers/caregivers continuous, multigrade, multisubject, autonomous, responsible, accountable, efficient/effective, sensitive Students less-anxious, less-pressured, less-stressed, confident, strongly affiliated, learning communities, more disciplined, more motivated, less competitive, cooperative, participative, social
Students who are currently participating or who have participated in a looping classroom are sometimes called "loopers" (Coash & Watkins, 2005). With the practice of looping, the teacher or caregiver is promoted with a group of students to the next grade level. The students and teacher move as a group through (minimally) two successive or consecutive years and sometimes for multiple years--three or more. Students stay together with the same classmates and sometimes remain in the same classroom (Hitz, Sonners, & Jenlink, 2007; Kenney, 2007). Although it is a relatively simple concept, there has been increasing interest in the practice of looping.
The historical origins of looping are commonly attributed to the German Austrian social philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), who founded the Waldorf School movement in the early 1900s. The Waldorf School movement is based on Steiner's philosophic and pedagogical teachings, particularly his Volks pedagogy, social pedagogy, or "schooling of the people." There are approximately 1,000 privately operated Waldorf schools, Steiner schools, or Steiner-Waldorf schools located worldwide in various countries that use looping (whywaldorfworks. org, 2013). A key feature of the Waldorf approach is continuous teachers: teachers who remain with the same class and teach all subjects throughout the elementary grades 1-8 (Bellis, 1999; Black, 2000; Foster, 1984; Irinyi, 2007; Kenney, 2007; Oberman, 1997; Oberski, Pugh, MacLean, & Cope, 2007; Ogletree, 1975; Ogletree, 1998; Prescott, 1999; Vernoff & Shore, 1987; Von Baravalle, 1963).
Another antecedent to looping was the "family grouping" arrangement of British primary schools. Italian preschools, which are reputed to be some of the world's best, use three-year looping assignments of teachers and students. Some German schools have used multiyear teacher-student groupings for up to six years. Looping is also used in Japanese middle school education (Bellis, 1999; Burke, 1997; Whitman, 1999).
The one-room schoolhouses in the U.S. were effectively looping classrooms (Hitz et al., 2007). Another more recent example of the application of looping is the Attleboro, Massachusetts Public Schools, which experimented with the use of multiyear teaching assignments in the 1980s. Then, in the early-to mid- 1990s, the school district extended the practice and required all grade 1-8 classroom teachers to spend two consecutive years with their classes and students (Hanson, 1995). The practice of looping has been initiated in an ever increasing number of settings and is an increasingly common practice in schools across the U.S. (Little & Little, 2001). It is also practiced in many Montessori schools (Irinyi, 2007).
Theoretical & Philosophical Foundations
The child-centered, educational ideas and principles, pedagogical concepts, and curricular/instructional strategies of Rudolf Steiner, as employed at the elementary school level in Waldorf schools and Waldorf education, form a theoretical and philosophical foundation for the practice of looping. Steiner's views of the natural developmental stages of children constitute an intrinsic basis of the philosophy and the curriculum for both looping schools and their precursor, Waldorf schools. Steiner's comprehensive view of child development attends to the physical, physiological, psychological, and spiritual needs of children (Ginsburg, 1982; Karrow, 1998; Ogletree, 1997; Prescott, 1999).
It is broadly perceived by educators that the short-lived character of single-year learning groups hinders their effectiveness (Wynne & Walberg, 1994). The association of students in small groups exerts a strong emotional influence. Keeping discrete groups of students together with their teachers over long time periods and increasingly using small groups and small-group activities demonstrate the efficacy of group persistence and promote academic learning (Wynne & Walberg, 1994).
Looping can be used from preschool and kindergarten through high school (Gaustad, 1998). The pedagogical practice of looping in the U.S. is generally associated with elementary schools, especially early elementary or primary grades, and middle school grades (Finder, 2005; Gaustad, 1998). Among the practitioners of looping are early childhood teachers and early caregivers. Looping is often used in high-quality childcare facilities for preschool classes and preschool education, including infant and toddler groups (Hegde & Cassidy, 2004). The looping of teachers and the transitioning of students between infant and toddler classrooms, and between toddler and three-year-old classrooms, support existing relationships and facilitate new relationships. The looping process provides for continuity and consistency of care and supports the development of peer groups (University of New Hampshire, 2007).
Looping practices are successfully implemented in the primary (K-3) grades. Learning communities of kindergartners and first-grade students form a common two-year grade combination. Keeping kindergartners through grade two students together creates a three-year grade combination (Chapman, 1999). Figure 1 schematically illustrates the looping of K-2 students in two different classes with one teacher over a six-year period. It is common to loop students for first and second grades and keep them together for two years (Jacoby, 1994; Willoughby, 2004). In the primary grades, the primary teacher remains with the same group of children through the looped period (Albrecht et al., 2000). Looping has been used especially to increase literacy achievement in grades K-5 based on a continuous progress conceptual approach (Haley, 2007).
Loping has also been implemented in the intermediate grades (Forsten et al., 1999). For example, the elementary grades 4-5 and 4-6 are common looping grade combinations (Kelly, Brown,...
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