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Motivation

I'm a parent of a preschool-aged child in an urban region of the US. He'll be entering kindergarten in a year or two and we have a number of options for primary schools in the area, offering various programs and curricula (e.g., GATE, Waldorf, Montessori).

Some of these programs follow the practice of looping, where students have the same primary instructor from year to year, potentially for as much as the first nine years of their classroom education. I have no direct experience with looping; when I was in elementary school, I attended what I consider to be a more traditional program, with teachers assigned to particular grade levels and students changing classrooms and teachers each year upon moving up a grade.

Problem

I'm not sure how to evaluate looping as a component of the programs available to my son starting in kindergarten. Kids can have better and worse relationships with their teachers—and so can parents. It seems obvious that looping would provide very different experiences, when the student and teacher are together for many years, based on whether these relationships are particularly good or bad.

The potential benefits of an extended positive relationship seem attractive but I had more than one negative experience with a teacher when I was young, where I felt like I just had to survive and cope with the bad relationship until the year or semester ended and we could both move on. Not having the option to do that, short of changing schools (definitely undesirable), seems alarming to me, especially in the first few years of a kid's education.

Looping is particularly emphasized in the Waldorf approach, where students may stay with the same primary instructor for 6 to 12 years. (From what I've read, the latter extreme seems more common in European than in American Waldorf schools.) There's some quantitative research around the effectiveness of Waldorf methods (e.g., examining student creativity1, science education2 or implementation in a public setting3) but, while looping is suggested as an area for further research4, the papers coming up on a Google Scholar search for "education looping" haven't been helpful. Most are not available to me to read and/or focus exclusively on the minimal version of looping, where the term of the student-teacher (and -parent) relationship is extended only to two years total. In our case, there is no real middle option of only looping for two years; either we can choose a traditional program with new teachers every year, or programs with what I'll call "extended" looping of six or more years with the same teacher (à la Waldorf).

How are educational outcomes for primary schoolchildren affected by this practice of extended looping?

My spouse and I consider the cost of changing schools outside of the normal transition years between primary and secondary schools to be very high, based on our own experiences as children. This makes where to start school a particularly important choice we're making on behalf of our child, so we need to consider evidence-based implications for any and all areas of development (not purely academics).

References

  1. Ogletree, E. J. (1996). The Comparative Status of the Creative Thinking Ability of Waldorf Education Students: A Survey.
  2. Jelinek, D., & Sun, L. (2003). Does Waldorf offer a viable form of science education. Sacramento, CA: CSU College of Education.
  3. Friedlaender, D., Beckham, K., Zheng, X., & Darling-Hammond, L. Growing a Waldorf-Inspired Approach in a Public School District.
  4. Oberman, I. (2007). Learning From Rudolf Steiner: The Relevance of Waldorf Education for Urban Public School Reform. Online Submission.
  • Are you including public and parochial options among your education resources, or are those both more or less out of the question? – Stu W May 13 '16 at 3:31
  • Not sure I understand your question; there are both public and private schools in our area that have extended looping as part of their curriculum. I know relatively little about parochial schools. – Air May 13 '16 at 15:28
  • You gave some examples of school systems in your question. Parochial refers to schools taught by religious organizations such as Catholic, Lutheran, and Jewish (full-full-day schools). However, it matters little in regards to your question. I did some digging myself a few years ago...I'll try to track down what I found, but Waldorf had the most data at that time (from my perspective). – Stu W May 13 '16 at 15:45
3

Speaking unscientifically, my wife is an elementary educator who teaches in a combined 4th / 5th grade classroom with divided curriculum. She has seen substantial growth when her kids in these classes retain her for consecutive years. Children who don't play well with their teachers tend to lighten up to them within the first half year they have them. While that may seem like a long time for a student to misbehave or act out against the teacher, once they approve they become much more respective, attentive, and their grades seem to vastly improve over where they were when they first entered. Second year was always easier. She has never had them extend beyond 5th grade though because her school is k-5. I would be curious what the outcome would be if she was able to have them much longer.

Even more curious would be the structure of the teacher. Do they start at one grade level then move up the ramp so they can move with the children or are they teaching multiple grade levels with divided attention? I'm sure the answer to that varies depending on the nature of the program. Public education most likely does not do that, but a private school might.

If 2 years data is any indication, I would say it seems largely beneficial to loop. But I can't speak for extended. Good question though.

3

My experience with looping comes from my own experience.

I attended school in a place where you had the same teacher year after year, in the same subject, but different teachers taught different subjects. Some teachers taught more than one (my Math teacher was also my Science teacher).

Having kids in the US, the one teacher per grade really bugs me. To me it is a huge disadvantage to see the same teacher so many hours per day, every day. There is no mitigating factors if a teacher get upset with a student. There are also no mitigating factor if a teacher is having a rough time (like a personal tragedy)

I am also concerned about the fact that one teacher has to cover a breath of subjects. Where I grew up, teachers usually specialize, they are a Math teacher. My English teacher would not be able to teach math, and vice versa.

IF looping is one teacher only, for all the years of school, every day, I would think that it would make the issues I see with 'one teacher per grade' WORSE. How can they specialize? How can the not grow tired of some of the kids?

However, if you have multiple teachers, I personally found it HELPFUL. I had the same math teacher for 9 years. He was awesome, and he had very high expectations of his students. He knew us all. In the last year, he knew who we was and what we needed to do.

Some teachers only did half the grades (0th-5th, 6-9th for instance), but you still had an extended relationship.

Many of these teachers watched us grow from kids to adolescents, and I think the stability helped.

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