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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Same again: Does teacher 'looping' improve learning?

Keeping teachers with the same cohort of students for two or three years, known as "looping," would build connections, improve learning -- and cost nothing, argues psychologist Adam Grant in the New York Times.

Harry Potter and Ron Weasley had Severus Snape as their teacher for several years at Hogwarts Academy.

"With more time to get to know each student personally, teachers gain a deeper grasp of the kids’ strengths and challenges," he writes. "The nuanced knowledge they acquire about each student isn’t lost in the handoff to the next year’s teacher."

Children might be more likely to show up at school if they felt a stronger relationship with their teacher.

In North Carolina, economists discovered that students who'd made significant gains in math and reading "happened to have the same teacher at least twice in different grades," he writes. A different study of nearly a million elementary and middle schoolers in Indiana also found benefits. Parents worry their kids will be stuck with a bad teacher, Grant writes. But looping "had the greatest upsides for less effective teachers — and lower-achieving students."

"When students have a teacher for more than one year, they benefit academically and behaviorally, reported Madeline Will in Education Week in 2022. She cited a working paper using Tennessee data by Brown's Annenberg Institute.

“Student-teacher relationships are a key and core feature of a successful school, and one way to help develop those is by giving teachers and students more time to get to know each other,” said Matthew Kraft, an associate professor of education and economics at Brown University and a co-author of the paper. “These relationships aren’t just about academic achievement. These relationships help students to show up to school and have a relationship where they’re not getting suspended as frequently.”

Having the same teacher for a second year was "linked to slight increases in students’ test scores in math and English/language arts across all grade levels," researchers found. High achievers and white girls gained the most academically, while male students of color gained the most from a slight reduction in absences and suspensions.

The 2018 North Carolina study found repeated student-teacher matches' benefits were greatest for students of color, possibly because teachers see more potential in students once they know them better," writes Will.

Surveyed on social media, teachers gave looping mixed reviews, reports Hayley Hardison on Education Week. "Some see it as the cost-friendly solution to improving student-teacher relationships and minimizing learning loss across grade transitions."

“We gained so much time because relations were previously established with students and parents. . . . I entered a year full of energy, understanding of my students’ abilities, and able to pick up where we left off the prior year.” — Laura McKean

Others said looping can turn a single bad year into two. Emily Crum suggested "an option to opt out if you don’t mesh well with the teacher or they do not adequately teach to your strengths!”

Everybody's had a teacher they were eager to escape as soon as possible, and every teacher has had students they never wanted to see again. I'm thinking of my seventh-grade social studies teacher: We were happy to be rid of each other.

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