For most third graders, the start of a new school year is spent adjusting to the rules of a new teacher's classroom. When should I sharpen my pencil? When is the best time to ask to go to the bathroom? For the teachers it's an adjustment too. Who needs to sit at the front? Which students need more one-on-one attention?

For most third graders, the start of a new school year is spent adjusting to the rules of a new teacher’s classroom. When should I sharpen my pencil? When is the best time to ask to go to the bathroom? For the teachers it’s an adjustment too. Who needs to sit at the front? Which students need more one-on-one attention?

However, third grade teachers and students at Layne Elementary School in Denison skip that step and go straight into their normal classroom routine. That’s because for the past six years, the second and third grade teachers have been “looping.” The second grade teachers move up to third grade with their students, so they’re already familiar with the students and vice versa.

“It’s easier,” said Andrea James, who is teaching third grade this year, her second year with most of her class. “When you get them at the beginning of the year they already know your class rules and your expectations, and you know what level they were on when they left you. … You don’t have to get to know your kids all over again.”

This familiarity makes the start of the year easier for students and teachers, allowing them to more quickly move into the routine and make quicker progress on the skills that need to be learned.

Julie Muirhead, whose daughter Laney Muirhead is in James’ class for the second year this year, said looping has made the start of school easier on her daughter.

“For her it’s been a great start, of all my children she’s probably got the most anxiety each year starting school,” Muirhead said. “This has been a very smooth first half of the school year for her.”

Layne Principal Ginger Brawley said when she instituted the looping for the two grades she had read about all the benefits, but she had another motivation.

“I could see that there was a big gap between second and third grade, the curriculum the expectations,” she said. “The second grade teachers were working hard, they just didn’t get what was expected of third grade. Until you do it you don’t get it.”

Part of the reason for the gap is that standardized, state testing doesn’t begin until the third grade, and Brawley said it’s just a challenge to understand the rigor of the required skills in third grade without having taught them.

She explained it like this: “I can watch a cooking show all day long, but until I do it, and cook it and experience and try to get those ingredients and put it all together, the timing and the amounts — it’s not going to be the same as me watching (the show). … I wanted the second grade teacher to understand and know what was expected of third grade.”

The approach seems to have worked. James and her fellow third grade teacher Jana Wood have adjusted what they teach in second grade. They said they’re pushing their students beyond the state-prescribed, second grade skills to better prepare students for third grade. Whether that’s working with larger numbers — ten-thousands instead of thousands — or requiring more supporting points in writing — two instead of just one.

The practise, with all its advantages, has still posed challenges for the teacher. During the first year it was learning new curriculum. After that, looping back down to second grade can be challenging because of the difference between the students leaving third grade and those entering second grade.

However, both Wood and James said they wouldn’t have it any other way. “You’ve heard other teachers on other campuses talk, especially the third grade teachers, saying that when they get (the students), they weren’t coming prepared,” Wood said. “And now, with us looping, we are their second grade teacher. We know where they need to go. … Even the kids, coming back to the third grade with you, we already have the connection.”