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22 July, 2016

Looping: Students and Teachers Progressing Together

Looping is a situation wherein a teacher moves with his or her students to the next grade level rather than sending them to another teacher at the end of the school year. This was initially advocated by early 20th-century Austrian educator Rudolf Steiner and since has been used successfully for years in Europe. Regardless of the successful experiences of European school systems, looping is still uncommon enough in the United States to be considered innovative.

“I like to be with the same kids year after year,” said John Van Valkenburg, an eighth grader who has also been with the same teachers for two years now. “I feel closer to this group than some of my family because we have shared so many of the same experiences.”

Like Van Valkenburg, many educators see clearly the advantages of looping — for themselves and for their students.


  1. the promotion of stronger bonds between parents and teachers, teachers and students, and students and students;
  2. greater provision for children who need stabilizing influences in their lives;
  3. a greater knowledge of students’ strengths and weaknesses, allowing for increased chances for teachers to tailor curriculum to individual needs;
  4. more opportunities for shy students as well as others to develop self-confidence;
  5. reduced anxiety about the new school year
  6. unnecessary transition time, which provides more time for learning


  1. an inappropriate match — a personality conflict between student and student or teacher and student;
  2. the probability of having to put up with a poor teacher for multiple years;
  3. the possibility, in this day of teacher mobility, that the teacher will not be there through the looping cycle;
  4. less exposure to new students and teaching styles;
  5. the challenges faced by new students who enter a class that has looped;
  6. the difficulty of adjusting to large school environments after being used to cloistered ones; and
  7. separation anxiety, something that can be difficult for both teachers and students.

Why Target Students in Middle Schools?

The main reason for this is that early adolescence can be an especially difficult time, a fair amount of research has targeted this age group as one that could benefit from looping.

JoAnn Brennan, a paraprofessional who has worked with middle-school looped classes, lauds the practice. “When you’ve looped, you’ve already established ground rules, you’ve already established relationships with parents, and you’ve already established trust. The returning students have met success; they’ve had a taste of it, and want it again. You already understand their strengths and weaknesses,” she told Education World, “so in a very short time, you can pick up where you left off last year. You can begin work almost from day one.”

More Research Is Needed

Writer Michele Kurtz explored the quality of research available on looping for a 1998 Charlotte News-Observer story, “Teachers Plot to Give Students a Loop.” “Research on looping’s effectiveness,” she stated, “is somewhat limited, in part because it’s not used on a widespread basis in most school systems. Rather, individual schools instinctively decide to try out the method with small numbers of teachers.”

Many of the studies that do exist, Kurtz concluded, are not recent and many rely on personal evaluation. Additional high-quality experimental research not dependent on personal evaluation is still necessary in order to determine whether, as many contend, looping really has a positive effect on student performance.