Benefits of ‘looping’ kids with teachers for multiple years

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Mark Rogers with a group of students he is looping with. Photo courtesy of Mark Rogers.

(NewsNation) — The practice of “looping,” or pairing teachers with one class of students from grade to grade, is sometimes informally used to address school staffing issues, but research shows there are benefits to the students who keep their teacher for more than one year.

Austin, Texas-based math teacher Mark Rogers has been looping for about a decade, starting when he agreed to continue teaching his eighth-grade students the following year as ninth graders.

“Everybody knew everybody’s names. I had all their parents’ contact information. I knew what their strengths were. I knew how to help them …” he said. “So we basically squeezed in an extra two to four weeks of instruction in that year just because I already knew them.”

Looping has been used in American schools for decades. As with Rogers’ first experience, most looping is unintentional as students move through grade levels and schools need to fill teaching slots.

But some education professionals believe looping provides benefits for students and should be used more intentionally.

Leigh Wedenoja — a senior policy analyst at the Rockefeller Institute of Government — was part of a team looking at the impact of looping on students in Tennessee and found that having a repeat teacher was associated with small increases in academic achievement.

The group also found improved behavioral outcomes, such as fewer suspensions and absences, especially among African-American boys.

“There’s evidence that Black boys are more likely to be suspended for the same behaviors as other children, right? So seeing that just having a single repeat teacher in high school or in middle school can decrease your probability of being suspended, even by a small amount, really says something positive about what these relationships (with teachers) are doing,” Wedenoja said.

The research team didn’t find any negative effects on academics or behavior.

But looping with the exact same set of kids through multiple grades can be challenging. Students frequently move in and out of schools, making it difficult to maintain a completely stable cohort of kids. And teachers who want to loop have to add new content to their curriculum each year.

“So if you want to start a second-to-third-grade loop … that second grade teacher who follows their kids into third grade in that first year is going to have to learn all of that third grade curriculum from scratch,” Wedenoja said.

Rogers, though, has become an avowed advocate for looping, starting an organization dedicated to promoting the practice among teachers.

He also decided to commit himself to a lengthy loop. During the 2018-2019 school year, he began teaching kindergarteners and has been teaching the same group ever since, hoping to teach them through high school.

“I’ve got 17 out of the original 22 kindergarteners who I’m now still teaching in fourth grade,” he said.

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