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    Early Success with Blended Learning: From One-Size-Fits-All to Student Agency and Personalization

    This blog is one of a series of updates from the Raising Blended Learners field. Kim Tunnell (featured in the photo below) is the superintendent of the Mineola Independent School District. Here, she explains how blended learning has helped her district transition from a one-size-fits-all structure to one that empowers students to take charge of their own learning.

    In August 2016, we launched a student centered blended learning pilot in our Middle School sixth-eighth grade math classrooms. In looking at our plateau of math scores and the lack of growth in the numbers of students prepared to be successful in high school, we recognized our current one-size-fits-all instruction covered the content, but it did not give students opportunities to wrestle with instructional concepts in real world contexts. We wanted to provide our students with a more personalized experience that would eliminate existing proficiency gaps, improve attitudes toward mathematics, and develop student agency in all areas.

    The Raising Blended Learners pilot has allowed Mineola ISD to do just that. As a result of this effort, we are seeing the needle move on student agency and personalized learning for our middle school math students.

    When visiting a sixth grade classroom recently, I asked a student if she was enjoying math this year and how it was different from last year. She smiled and said, “Last year I did ‘teacher’ work. This year I am doing my own work.” That statement was expressed with a sense of joy and pride and she went on to share what she was working on and why she was learning it. This student response exemplifies why Mineola is embarking on this journey: To create more meaningful, personalized learning experiences for students that result in them taking ownership over their learning.

    Designing & Implementing a Student-Centered Solution

    The shift in perception from “teacher work” to a personalized focus for our students has been one of the most significant early successes in our pilot and a sign we are headed in the right direction. But, it has not been without some difficult conversations, moments of confusion, and wondering if we were in over our heads.

    From the summer work by our three middle school math teachers in understanding the blended learning approach, to digging into the problem and root causes (the why behind what we were doing), to developing and then implementing the student experience design pillars of the pilot this fall, our teachers have come to realize that personalization of learning is messy work and there is NO one right way! Even that realization goes against so much of what our teachers have learned in a traditional school setting and especially in math where there is usually a right and a wrong answer – a clear “this is how it is done.”

    Educators from Mineola ISD at a blended learning workshop in Clear Creek, Texas.

    We are learning that personalization requires knowing the details of what each child needs and then developing scaffolded supports to let the learners themselves play a big role in their education. Implementing a national growth assessment and learning to trust and utilize that data continues to be an area of focus for our pilot project as we strive toward a more personalized student experience. Having real time, standards-level data and developing processes to understand and respond as the teacher to bring students into a more clear understanding of their learning so that they can set goals has required significant effort. But the effort has resulted in notable changes in student learning and behaviors.

    In addition to utilizing student growth data, we are also seeing student agency increase as learners have more voice and choice and are beginning to “own” their learning. Students are keeping track of their goals and their progress in their “yellow folders” and can have a discussion about what they need to accomplish next. Technology is being integrated into the learning process to support opportunities for flexibility in student pacing – for example, allowing students to work through teacher curated flipped and online content to either support or extend student thinking and learning opportunities. Teachers are deepening their understanding of the TEKS, as they have considered and explored both the level of rigor the standard is speaking to and the potential microstandards, or bite-sized pieces, students can work on that build up to mastery of a standard. The development of standards mastery maps, based on the national growth assessment data, provided an increase in data transparency for both teachers and students.

    Mineola ISD’s Standards Mastery Map.

    What’s Next For Mineola ISD

    Our blended learning design pillars have led a rich discussion across the district and community on the most important elements of our instruction and our student and teacher experiences. We have wrestled with the question, What type of learners will graduate from Mineola ISD? This pilot has become the foundation for establishing our theory of action for curriculum and instructional practice in Mineola ISD to ensure the growth of every student. While it has been a continual process of review, adjustments, setbacks, and celebrations, our efforts and the support of Raise Your Hand Texas are leading toward revolutionizing how we see our students and how we interact with them by creating their learning environment.

    I look forward to the expansion of our pilot to each campus in our district next year and the student-centered culture we are creating here in Mineola ISD!

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