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Why looping works
Model helps teachers become grounding forces in their students’ lives
Miller Photography Merisha Estephane, a teacher at PS 446 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, didn’t spend the first few weeks of the school year learning her students’ names and introducing classroom routines. She didn’t have to.
That’s because Estephane’s 3rd-grade students had also been her 2nd-grade students.
“I was excited to see them after the summer. They were comfortable with our rapport and routines already, and then we took it to the next level,” says Estephane.
Principal Meghan Dunn, who founded PS 446 in 2012, designed the school to facilitate “looping,” in which a teacher stays with the same group of students for more than one grade.
Evidence suggests that looping can have academic benefits for students, particularly for students of color. In a 2018 study of North Carolina students in grades 3–5, researchers found “small but significant test score gains” as a result of looping.
They also noted that there was an advantage even for students who were new to the class but among peers who had looped with the teacher, making it a “beneficial and relatively low-cost policy that should be given due consideration,” according to researchers Andrew Hill and Daniel Jones.
PS 446 is one of several schools in the city in which looping has become a formal practice. At PS 212 in Manhattan, for instance, teachers loop in grades K–1, 2–3 and 4–5.
But PS 446 has embraced the looping model with exceptional fervor, with some teachers looping with their students for four or five years.
For teachers at PS 446, the benefits are more than academic. Looping allows them to become grounding, guiding forces in their students’ lives.
“I love developing relationships with kids and watching them grow,” says Chapter Leader Christine Battiloro, who looped with one class from prekindergarten through 2nd grade. “As teachers, we know that relationships aren’t built over a week or a month; sometimes you’re just getting off the ground by the time students are ready to move on to the next grade. Looping bolsters that relationship. Even when students move on from you, now they have an adult in the building that they feel close to. It provides a tight-knit community.”
At PS 446, where a high percentage of students live in temporary housing and many families struggle with poverty, looping has given students “continuity and a sense of predictability,” says Battiloro.
It has also allowed teachers at the school to form closer relationships with students’ families, which can be crucial for supporting struggling students.
“We don’t enter into relationships with families presuming they’ll immediately trust us. We have to respect families and work with them collaboratively as partners. Looping has given us a lot of space for that,” says Battiloro.
Tawana Vasquez, the school’s upper elementary coordinator, looped with a class from 2nd through 5th grades and built a relationship with the mother of a student who often acted out in anger. That student is now an 8th-grader who still keeps in touch with her.
“Many of our students lack trusting relationships with adults,” says Vasquez. “When they jump from teacher to teacher, it’s difficult to see what that student could be.”
Looping does have its drawbacks. For many teachers, the excitement of kicking off a new school year with a fresh crop of students is too captivating to pass up — and so is the confidence that comes from remaining in the same grade.
Teachers at PS 446 who have looped multiple times with the same class acknowledge that it can be challenging to tackle the curriculum for a new grade year after year. Conversely, when students find themselves in the same classroom with the same teacher, it can be tempting for everyone to lapse into complacency rather than rise to meet the new grade’s instructional demands.
On the other hand, teachers have a number of advantages heading into the second year of a loop.
“You normally spend the beginning of the year trying to figure out where kids are academically, and those assessments may not be truly reflective of their capabilities,” Battiloro says. “The second year you’re with a student, you know where they ended up. You can teach to their potential. You’re gaining a lot of instructional time back.”
Latisha Henson-Williams now teaches 4th-graders that she began looping with in 2nd grade, when one of her students was reading at a kindergarten level. That student is now reading on grade level.
“We’re fortunate to see so much academic growth, and that’s refreshing,” she says.
Learning Curve is a bimonthly column by Rachel Nobel that focuses on educational issues and practice.
What is your favorite movie about a teacher?
Dead Poets Society
Stand and Deliver
Mr. Holland's Opus
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