Looping (also called teacher/student progression, multi-year grouping or persisting groups)1 is the term for when a grade school class has the same teacher for more than just one year. The practice was described by the US Department of Education in 1913, under the name "teacher rotation."3 Usually done with grades K3, looping is rare in America but more common in Europe. In Germany's Waldorf schools (established more than 70 years ago and brought to America in 1928), teachers are looped from grades 18.1, 2 Other schools in Germany loop teachers for as many as six years.2 Italian preschools (considered the best in the world by some) practice three-year student-teacher assignments.2

Advantages:1, 2, 3

Disadvantages:1, 2, 3

The above points are supported by several studies on the practice and reports from teachers: Mazzuchi & Brooks, 1992; Jacoby, 1994; Zahorik & Dichanz, 1994; Checkley, 1995; Hanson, 1995; Shepro, 1995; Burke, 1996; Haslinger, Kelly & O'Lare, 1996; Hampton, Mumford & Bond, 1997; Lincoln, 1997.1, 2

The most common concern among experts, teachers and parents is the possibility of a bad match between a student and teacher, or that students may be "stuck" with an ineffective teacher for a long period of time. In order to account for this, schools which implement looping usually have ways to overcome any difficulties that arise and frequently monitor looping teachers. Other solutions include midyear transfer requests from teachers or parents, and reviewing student placement at the end of each year.3 Despite possible problems, the majority of those involved feel the advantages greatly outweigh any disadvantages.

Variations on a Theme:2, 3

  • Dividing large schools into cross-disciplinary units with teachers that stay with students for several years (Oxley, 1994)
  • Teacher-advisory groups which remain together for grades 79 (Ziegler, 1993)
  • Musti-year teacher-student assignment throughout middle school (George & Alexander, 1993)
  • Summer component to looping classroom, somewhat similar to year-round schools (Grant et al., 1996; Lincoln, 1997)
  • "Interbuilding looping" can ease the transition from elementary to middle school (Forsten and others, 1997)

Statistics:2, 3

  • A study of two elementary schools without major problems in similar socioeconomic situations found that students of the loop-organized school were less likely to dislike school or call it "boring," and performed better on basic skills tests than students of the traditionally-organized school. (Milburn, 1981)
  • 70% of teachers in a studied three-year loop reported they were able to use more positive appraches to classroom management. 92% of teachers reported knowing more about their students. 69% of teachers said students voluntarily participated in class more often. 85% of teachers reported that students had a stronger sense of being an important part of a group. 84% of teachers reported better relationships with parents. 99% of parents, when asked, requested that their child remain with the same teacher. (George, Spreul & Moorefield, 1987)
  • The Attleboro, Massachesetts school district, where looping is implemented from grades 1–8 (often in two-year loops), reports "improved attendance [average 97.2% daily, up from 92%4] and test results, fewer discipline problems and special education referrals, and reduced retention." (Rappa, 1993; Steiny, 1997)
  • East Cleveland Schools and Cleveland State University's Project FAST, in which multi-year teacher-student assignments were a primary focus, reported "substantially higher reading and mathematics achievement scores on standardized tests than [those of] students in the traditional grade organization, even when both groups were taught by the same teacher" (emphasis in original). Teachers felt more effective because of their increased decision-making autonomy for students. Parents said they "[felt] more respected by teachers, [had] more confidence in their children's teachers and administrators, and [were] more likely to seek the school's assistance with their children." (Burke, 1997; Hampton, Mumford & Bond, 1997)

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1: NPIN: http://npin.org/pnews/2000/pnew1100/int1100d.htmlhttp://www.everything2.com/index.pl
2: ERIC·EECE: http://ericeece.org/pubs/digests/1997/burke97.html, information in the public domain
3: ERIC Digest 123, December 1998: http://eric.uoregon.edu/publications/digests/digest123.html
4: The Education Alliance at Brown University: http://www.alliance.brown.edu/pubs/ic/looping/Section8.shtml
My cousin Pam, a third grade teacher

Looping is a term used by Erving Goffman1 to describe a Catch-22-like situation in a total institution. The inmate is forced into a situation where any response he can make is wrong and everything leads to punishment. This is part of a process that Goffman refers to as mortification of the self, an attack on the inmate's selfhood and identity. Any response to a direct attack on the self is then attacked, creating an unpleasant feedback loop that ultimately leads to obedience. Looping can be simple or complex, but even in its complex forms any apparent freedom is an illusion.

This, like much sociological jargon, sounds dry and formal. The reality is an utter mess.

Someone creates a situation around you that forces you in only a limited number of directions for action. You are told that doing these things is the only way to be good, the only way for the punishment to stop. You do them. You are told you are doing them wrong. That you are doing them for the wrong reasons. That you are doing them with the wrong attitude, or the wrong way. That you are doing them to please and not because you believe it. That you're a liar. Anything. Then you are punished again. Told to do it differently. But no matter what you do, there's no escaping that your every move and thought is treated as bad behavior.

The mother who founded one human rights group for autistic people describes two phenomena in the autism field that often fall under this category. The first is called Infinite Regress to Danger (IRD), and is essentially a terrifying cascade reaction:

Autistic child is restrained for a minor incident of non-conforming behavior (ie. gets up from a chair, throws a toy) which panics him and causes him to fight. He is then restrained more forcefully which increases the panic level. A survival instinct accompanied by rage then engulfs the child. Restraint reaches the danger level for the autistic child. He is frequently traumatized, injured or even killed with IRD.2

The second is called No Tolerance Compliance, and is less physical in nature but can be equally damaging:

Done in some ABA programs, psychiatric institutions and group homes. Autistic child/adolescent is coerced to do something that is very difficult or impossible for him to do (unnecessary for reasonable a level of safety, ie. forced to sit in a chair beyond his ability, not reach for a favorite cookie, etc.). When he is "non-compliant" he is treated brutally with "touch that hurts", humiliating requests, loss of privileges, isolation, punishment that is unbearable for him, or has basic human needs withheld.2

The subjective experience of all this is of growing self-loathing, uncertainty, and terrified obedience. You forget that you can do anything right, no matter what you do. You internalize the punishment so that it wraps around your thoughts as well as your actions, and captivity enters your mind as well as your body. You may forget who you are. You might swing between passivity, withdrawal, and rebellion, but all of these have an odd quality of being controlled by your captors. Which is usually the point in the first place.


1 Goffman, Erving. Asylums: Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1961.
2 Anonymous. "Terms and Definitions". Children Injured by Restraints and Aversives. http://users.1st.net/cibra/TermsDefs.htm. Accessed March 22, 2005.

Loop"ing, n. [Cf. D. loopen to run. Cf. Loop a mass of iron, Leap.] Metal.

The running together of the matter of an ore into a mass, when the ore is only heated for calcination.


© Webster 1913.

Loop"ing, p. pr. & vb. n.

of Loop.

Looping snail Zool., any species of land snail of the genus Truncatella; -- so called because it creeps like the measuring worms.


© Webster 1913.

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