Looping: Familiarity Breeds Contempt?

Should classes stay with their teacher?

For anyone who has ever taught primary, you will know that the bonds you make with your class are special. You spend all year with them, you share some real ups and downs and by the summer term things can get emotional.

The interactions you have and the relationships you build over a year can be intense and children often start to ‘mourn’ leaving your class in the final term when it suddenly hits them that next term they will get a new teacher. It’s an unsettling time and many teachers miss their classes just as much.

There is a new study by Hill and Jones (2018) that suggests assigning pupils to the same teacher two years in a row may improve academic performance because teachers get to know their pupils and are able to adjust and target their teaching styles accordingly.

I don’t think anyone will be particularly surprised by this given the special relationship you can have with a class as stability is everything when the conditions are right.

As with all research, we have a label for this and it is called ‘looping’.

Great relationships can make for great learning because pupils are more relaxed and trust is well-established. So does it make much difference to test results?

They found that looping results in a small but statistically significant increase in pupil achievement and the effects are largest for minorities. Pupils who spent a second year with the same teacher scored higher on end-of-year tests (on average 0.123 of a standard deviation) than those who weren’t matched.

Overall, our findings indicate that there may be potential low-cost gains from the policy of “looping” in which students and teachers progress through early school grades together, and may explain the recent experimental evidence that teacher specialization has negative effects on student achievement given that this likely decreases student-teacher familiarity.

The research raises a few eyebrows and raises a few questions.

First of all, hold your horses. Looping isn’t new and there is research to say that it isn’t effective. Ten years ago Meeks says something quite the opposite:

Overall, the conclusion of this study shows there was little to no significant difference in standardized scores of students who looped compared to those who did not loop over the period of one year.

Some children don’t gel with their teachers and vice versa. To think that you might have the same teacher again next year could be really great news…if you get on with them. It would be rare for everyone in a class to love their teacher and experience the school year in the same way.

Looping has its supporters but I’m not so sure. I’ve had the same class for two years in a row and yes it’s great for classroom management, relationships with children and parents, trust etc but it’s too much of a comfort zone, for everyone.

Continuous learning leads to some major attachment issues for some children. If relationships with children and parents aren’t that good then over two years they can become strained.

Some children will be quite happy to move on and it can be beneficial to get a different teacher. Familiarity isn’t always a good thing.

My experience is that children can tell you that you are amazing and wonderful etc but within a couple of weeks of being with a new teacher then you are soon forgotten.

This isn’t a popularity contest. Some think they might be indispensable and well deserving of their ‘best teacher in the universe’ mugs but children are fickle and adaptable. Clinging onto each other might be good for tests (in a small way) but how good is it for moving on?

By looping we can be creating bigger problems further down the line especially when children have to move into a different school – this makes transition incredibly difficult.

The authors point to teacher specialisation having negative effects because children spend less time with their class teacher. Again, some children won’t mind and some will and the influence of specialised teaching depends on the effectiveness of the teacher and the effectiveness of timetabling.

Looping can work but it can also be a nightmare when teachers and children don’t ‘fit’. Children need to move on and so do their teachers but in opposite directions.

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