Last spring, Gloria Stratton, principal of Niños Heroes Academy in South Chicago, gave her teachers the option of staying with their classes for a second year. “I felt that they would be able to develop a strong instructional program and strong relationships with the children that would be beneficial to both,” she explains.

Eleven of the school’s 42 teachers accepted Stratton’s offer and launched multi-year teaching, or “looping,” last September.

Supporters say the practice makes it easier to track students’ progress and that teachers are more accountable as well. When teachers work with students for a second year, they reap the rewards—or failures—of the first year.

Multi-year teaching also means more instruction time. At the beginning of the second year, for example, time that normally would be spent setting ground rules can be used instead for other activities because classroom expectations already have been established.

“When we started [this year], we were way ahead,” says Joyce Westmoreland-Jones, who is now teaching 8th grade to her 7th-graders from last year. “It is so much easier if you have children you already know.”

Multi-year teaching also gives teachers more freedom to develop programs that meet students’ needs. Teachers have more time to become familiar with those needs and to experiment with individualized and small-group lessons. “Normally, by the time the school year ended, we were just beginning to feel comfortable with these programs,” Westmoreland-Jones says. “Now, I can do much more.”

Students in multi-year classrooms develop close relationships with their teacher and with one another. This helps reduce discipline problems and increases class participation and interaction. But it also makes parting at the end of the two-year cycle difficult. Morgan Patton, an 8th-grader in Westmoreland-Jones’ class, says leaving at the end of the year “is going to be very hard.” Says Westmoreland-Jones, “I feel like I know them very well. I can already feel the anxiety building. It’s going to be very emotional.”

Parents at Niños have been supportive of the idea, Stratton says. They do not have to readjust to a new teacher every year; instead, they have time to become familiar with a teacher’s style and expectations. As in a regular classroom, parents of children in the multi-year program have the option of transferring their children to another class if there is a conflict with the teacher or the program. None has to date.

Of the eleven classes involved in multi-year teaching at Niños, three are bilingual, three are gifted, and four are part of Envisions, a school-within-a-school. The grade levels range from 2nd to 8th.

The multi-year program will be evaluated at the end of the year using Iowa test scores and other test results in math and reading. Stratton already plans to offer teachers the option of looping again next year, and expects the program to expand.

“Our goal, truly, is to try to do multi-year teaching throughout the school,” she says.

For more information about multi-year teaching, contact Gloria Stratton at 535-6694.

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