Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Benefits of Looping

Montessori classrooms are mixed age and students stay with the teacher for multiple years. Usually the span is 3 years (Primary 3-6 years old; Lower Elementary 6-9 years; Upper Elementary 9-12 years) or it can cover 6 years (Elementary 6-12). Waldorf classrooms take a different approach, although they can be mixed age to a point, and the students stay with the teacher for as many as 8 years. The classic approach is for the teacher to take a group of students at Class 1 and stay with that same group until they finish Class 8. This keeps the teacher fresh as he/she prepares for a new curriculum each year, with those individual students in mind each time. The public school system traditionally moves the students to a new teacher every year, but research has been done on the benefits of having the teacher move with the students, which they call "looping."

Trying to convince a school or a parent about the merits of this idea? Although more research needs to be done, it is a technique that has been used for over a hundred years in Waldorf and Montessori, and I think can justifiably be considered developmentally appropriate and research based. And, if you look back at one-room schoolhouses, it's certainly not a new concept! Here are some articles which may help you make the case for "looping":

I've stayed with students for multiple years as a classroom teacher, and I agree that there is very little down time spent in preliminary assessment. Clearly, you also have more time to get to know the students and you can make choices that benefit them and are compatible with their learning styles.

Parent conferences are more productive and parents seem to feel you are more caring and more knowledgeable about their child, as you can refer to a child's development over several years. I also sensed that parents seem to become more comfortable with individualized instruction as they see their own children have come so far from where THEY were, since you are there to facilitate that discussion and make that clear, instead of comparing their children to other children. I see that students can also gain confidence as they see their progression of work through a multi-year portfolio.

In classroom discussions, and the development of lessons, you can help students make deeper connections between what they did last year and what they are doing this year, because you KNOW what they did last year and how it was presented to them, and what to say to trigger that memory. When trying new concepts or curriculum initiatives, you have multiple years to roll out a new idea and to see if it is making a difference. It makes Action Research in the classroom MUCH easier!

When we decided to try a Philosophy curriculum, for example, we didn't have to rush through a new topic every month in order to "do" the whole book.

Students have more time to get to learn a topic thoroughly and benefit from a teacher's consistent approach. And when we entered into our study of the stream behind our school, we could see the richness of the students' exploration of the subject deepen as they returned to the stream over and over through the years and had new questions and more of a depth of experience to build upon. When looking back at the data from previous years, they felt it was THEIR data and they stayed much more engaged.

Lastly, I believe that looping is more of an agricultural model, where you can nurture a child's growth as an individual over time, instead of a mechanical approach where you stamp them PASS and move them along to the next step in the manufacturing process. I love Sir Ken Robinson's talk Changing Education Paradigms.

Do you have personal experiences with looping, or more resources to share? We'd love to hear your comments!

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