When Rudolf Steiner founded the first Waldorf Schools in Austria, in the beginning of the 20th Century, the idea of building long term relationships between teachers, students and parents was born. The schools were originally designed to accommodate the children of the Waldoft-Astoria factory workers’ children. (LAB 1997. p. 3.) There are different other names of the method of allowing children to stay with the same teacher for two-to three years. The most common expression, used by education professionals is “looping”, however, some call it “multi-year grouping” or “continuous progress”. Although in Waldorf schools teachers stayed with the same students through year 1 to 8, today looping lasts for a shorter period of time. There are different methods adapted in Europe, and in Germany, students and teachers stay together through year one to four. Similarly, in Middle and Eastern Europe, there is a system to assign one key teacher to the class for lower grade (1-4) and upper grade (5-8), while there are some supporting teachers assigned to teach specialist subjects, like sports, music, languages or science.
Providing children with the most supportive environment in school in the years of adolescence has a great importance. Creating meaningful relationships is important, and the more disadvantaged children are, the more crucial role the school and educators would be. Although teaching the same class for more than one year would create extra challenges for teachers, there are many opportunities lying in this method. The transition between classes goes smoother, and – instead of trying to understand other educators’ reports and comments on individual pupils – teachers would be able to take children further based on their own experiences. When extra support is needed, the method would be successful, however, the risks are that if the level of education is low, children would be disadvantaged by not getting enough motivation and stimulation to try and achieve better results.
General Benefits of Looping
When reviewing the efficiency of looping, it is crucial to examine both social and academic aspects. Although staying with one teacher would help children feel more secure, they might miss getting to know other teaching styles and personality types of adults, which would be viewed as a disadvantage. The teacher’s level of knowledge should also be examined carefully, to ensure they can deliver next year’s academic projects as well. Prior to the developments in the beginning of the 1900-s, (Grant, Johnson, & Richardson, 1996) looping was used, but not to enhance performance or student experience. During the 1980-s, looping gained more popularity, mainly in elementary schools. (NMSA, Online.)
The advantages of looping consist of the following elements: (NMSA, Online.) time, relationships, student support and engagement. These advantages are detailed below.
Time can be saved during the second and third (occasionally fourth) years of tuition, as the educator will not have to spend time on getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of every single pupil. Reviewing class transition documents would be hard when getting twenty new class members to teach, therefore, the teacher is able to focus on delivering the curriculum, instead of socializing. The socialization project might continue during the summer holidays as well, to keep pupils engaged and save even more time getting back to the old habits and orders of school life. (Crosby, 1998)
Relationships can be improved between peers, as well as student - teacher and teacher-parent interactions. Working together in the classroom and having more time to build relationships with the teacher would have a positive effect on the sense of security. Social competence can be improved, which is important in the case of disadvantaged and minority children. A greater sense of community can be created for the later adulthood, (Westerfield, 2009)
Support and community engagement can also be improved in schools using looping as an innovative development tool. As during adolescence, the frustration level of students grows significantly, returning to the same classroom and knowing what to expect of the teacher would contribute towards a better atmosphere and increased satisfaction. (Forsten et al., 1997.)
Concerns Regarding Looping
While looping seems to be a simple task in elementary school, in middle schools, like the particular one in question examined by the study, this might be challenging for a teacher, who is used to teaching one subject or particular curriculum. In the school in question, there is an existing shortage of staff, and the number of students did not decrease significantly. This indicates that the stress level of teachers is already high, therefore, a careful consideration should take place, before assigning new and more challenging responsibilities for educators. The staff shortage might mean that teachers need to undertake some additional courses to be able to deliver the knowledge.
The school needs to ensure that they keep the level of underachieving students the same across looping classes, to provide equal opportunities for development and achievement. Some researchers argue that students might feel left out and they would be cut off new experiences. (Hegde & Cassidy, 2004). Conflicts could get worse if teachers and pupils have to deal with issues on a daily basis for longer.
The Implications of Looping on Middle Schools
Many researchers have already proved the thesis that looping is extremely effective in middle schools. It can promote constructive work, higher parent and student engagement, and this is the main reason agencies recommend this restructuring method for underachieving schools in the USA. There is a need for careful planning and research, as well as introduction and laying the foundation of the project to make the implementation of the new structure successful.
The above study was created to examine the implications, development areas and risk factors of implementing looping within urban middle schools. The school examined has not met the required targets for six consecutive years, and a decision was made to reconstruct the system and implement looping throughout year 6 to 8. Although the statistics of the individual school have been analyzed and a careful assessment has been created based on evidence, there is a need for ongoing monitoring of the progress.
The importance of parental involvement and communication has been determined, and the study did take into consideration not only quantitative, but also qualitative data as well. The creators believe that without a supportive and inclusive school environment, there is no space for children to grow. Although looping would provide security and consistency for students, special measures need to be put in place, which are included in the recommendations section of the study. After analyzing the progress and decline in academic results, the study found that looping would be a sufficient and positive step to make a difference. Although it is not a system that is designed to be used by any school and it has its own risks, students, parents and teachers would be able to benefit from the changes.
Certain risks are also associated with looping, and these were examined from the individual school’s perspective to create a guideline for implementation. The framework was developed based on research study results and national statistics. Looping – as it is a fairly new method to be used in large population urban middle schools and statistics are limited – needs to be closely monitored. Looping itself does not improve academic results, parent involvement and staff commitment levels: the way of implementation, effective communication and advanced support system together with looping teachers ready to go the extra mile for children would.