The Lawrence Elementary Looping Project (Grades 4-5)

Something Easy That Works Well
Looping allows teachers and administrators to move into a change that produces a minimum of fear, anxiety, anf frustration, not only for children, but for parents and themselves. It begins with the concept of the teacher simply moving with the children up one grade. It involves a philosophical change but not a major school restructuring. It requires no new building or alterations in physical space. Most teachers don’t need a great deal of retraining to begin looping.

Many teachers find this a very manageable change. It is a challenge, but it can be done. We have had several teachers tell us that it was particularly satisfying. Typical of these comments are:

* “It was refreshing, re-energizing to be able to be doing something innovative that works so well.”
* “It made me reflect on my teaching and move in a new direction.”
* “Did I want the same children for two years? Could I create a seamless curriculum? I found out I both liked it and did it well.”
* “I wasn’t so sure when I agreed to do this, because I never thought of myself as a very versatile person. But to my surprise, this brought out a side of me I didn’t think I had.”
* Making a change that works tends to boost teachers’ confidence and open them up to the possibilities that a multiage continuous progress classroom has to offer. Having experience teaching a two-cycle looping program, they know they can bond with a family of children and enjoy having them over a longer period of time. They have had experience in creating a semiseamless, integrated curriculum over two grade levels. They have proven to themselves that they can comfortably handle a multiyear program.

What Is Required to Make Looping Work?

The first requirement is two teachers who want to try looping. Our advice to principals is to start with good teachers and give them the support they need. In practical terms, this translates into enough materials and enough time to plan and organize a two-year curriculum cycle, time to share day to-day planning and, later on, their experience and problems. The looping partnership is one opportunity for teachers to collaborate. Though each teacher is in his or her own room, looping encourages ongoing collaboration and mutual support between teachers.

Communicating with parents can be particularly rewarding in a multiyear program. It takes some parents most of the year to become comfortable with a teacher. Multiyear teachers often find that parents who may have been standoffish in the first year will begin to participate in events the second year, volunteer in the classroom, and help in other ways.

Some Hazards of Looping

Every teacher we have ever worked with recalls times when a whole class was in trouble. We remember one class that we call “the year of the summer-born boys.” The class was top-heavy with males, almost every one of whom was chronologically young. It was an exceptionally difficult, disjointed year. The individual children would not have been problems in themselves but having so many in the same class threw it out of balance.

If, by October or November, there are clear signs that a class is out of balance and is a difficult, disjointed group of children, plan to divide up the class in the second year. It does not help any children in such a class to keep them together for two years.

When possible, teachers should not feel required to keep a difficult child more than one year. However, a difficult child is often one who is particularly in need of the stability and continuity that a two-year looping program offers. There is no one right answer to this dilemma. This is one of those tough decisions!

There is also the occasional problem of the difficult parent who may be endured for one year but should not have to be endured for two.

In looping, the teacher may spot some borderline children who might or might not need referral for special services. There is some advantage in having more time to make these decisions. The down side of that is the risk of delaying referral for special services. A two-year delay could be disastrous for a child who really needs special services. Kindergarten teachers, particularly, need to bear this in mind.

Looping is still a new concept for many. Please share your experiences in the Comments section below, so we can all learn from each other!