Looping: Focusing In, Rather Than Stressing Out

It became apparent to me in late September that trying to teach at the same pace of a “regular” school year was NOT plausible, even if I had the world’s most responsible and eager students. My district is currently still fortunate enough to be able to teach using a hybrid model (students attend school two days a week in-person, 3 days a week virtually). The hybrid model has given us the opportunity to still have class discussions, the students time with friends, and have some semblance of normal during these restricted times.

This model does not, however, give teachers enough time to cover the same material with students, as it would place an enormous amount of learning on the shoulders of my middle school students. Even with posting YouTube tutorials on class topics, expecting all students to be able to manage their own time when working virtually was quickly becoming a train wreck. Some students didn’t even bother to log in to our school platform and watch the videos I had made at home the night before, so I was having to re-teach the concepts in class. There isn’t much that is more frustrating to an educator than spending their off-contract hours creating content that students don’t even bother to watch.

At the beginning of October, I decided to make a change. We had only been in school a month, and I was already feeling burn out. (Relatable? I’m sure).

As we all say, we know our students best. And I knew without a significant shift in my teaching and my mindset, neither I nor my students were going to make it through the year.

So, I trashed the expectation that I could cover everything. I took that impossible standard and threw it right into the hypothetical basement of my mind and I narrowed down my focus to the few skills that I KNEW my students needed most to function in the following year’s English course. On their in-person days, we covered specific, new material. They wrote notes on it, we looked at examples of great writing samples connected to the topic, and they had lively discussion on the topic as a class.

Then, I started looping.

What is looping? It is a WONDERFUL technique where students learn an initial topic on an in-person day, and do group practice as a class. Then, on virtual days, I would assign either weekly or biweekly, an assignment that retargeted what was learned in class. In the month of October, I introduced four concepts to my 7th graders (Characterization, Plot, Simile and Symbolism). Over the course of the month, I would rotate between those four concepts and give them engaging assignments that had them (unknowingly) looping back to those four topics.

When I noticed that all of my 7th graders had simile DOWN, I didn’t reassign it the last week of October – instead, I looped the other three concepts in its place. In November, I added Conflict to their loops. December I will add Theme. Each month I try to add one or two additional concepts, continuing to loop the previous concepts until I notice that the students have mastered them.

We may not be covering even CLOSE to the same amount of material that we once did – but my students are really GETTING the concepts. The students aren’t feeling overwhelmed by new information, and I am not pulling my hair out when they come to class having not consumed the required material. Everybody wins!