Located northeast of Fort Worth in Tarrant County, Birdville Independent School District serves roughly 25,000 students. In 2015, as members of the district leadership team recognized literacy challenges across schools, they sought the RBL grant to redesign learning in the district while addressing a key academic priority. The district’s ensuing pilot is designed to facilitate a shift from “one-size-fits-all” instruction toward student-centered, personalized learning. In addition to targeting English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) outcomes, the program is designed to increase student ownership of learning.
To address these challenges and foster student success, Birdville’s pilot has focused on 9th grade ELAR classrooms across the district’s three traditional high schools. Reading proficiency is the primary focus of the personalized learning efforts underway in these settings. In the initiative’s second year, “Project 2” will focus on post-secondary readiness at the district’s alternative high school, where students in high-risk situations can obtain the credits they need to graduate using accelerated quarter terms.
The district’s blended learning strategy is guided by the Birdville Portrait of a Graduate, a vision for student characteristics that will foster success in college and the workplace. With the goal of academic and career excellence, the Portrait of a Graduate presents a commitment to providing learning environments that produce “empowered learners, responsible citizens, global competitors, and innovative entrepreneurs.” These principles are integrated into the initiative’s key design pillars, which have set the foundation for innovative and responsive classrooms that provide personalized learning pathways for Birdville students.
During the first year of implementation the Birdville team launched the district’s pilot focused on English I at three traditional high schools. The pilot targeted a pressing need in literacy across these schools. In response to this problem, Birdville designed a pilot to increase personalized instruction and cognitive rigor, while also providing students with opportunities to develop specific learning objectives, monitor their progress, and participate in more engaging experiences.
Across its three pilot high schools Birdville is pursuing station rotations, along with other blended strategies, including flipped lessons, to personalize learning for students. Since pilot teachers are afforded autonomy with classroom implementation in accordance with the district-level student experience design pillars, each classroom looks different. Pilot classrooms are generally organized around multiple stations where students are clustered with small groups of peers. Learning modalities include individual and collaborative projects, self-directed work through online programs, reviews of flipped lessons, individual study, and direct instruction. Teachers also introduced instructional playlists and individualized learning pathways. Over the course of the year, the model expanded to include one-on-one teacher-student conferencing to foster goal setting and progress measurement. To support the new blended classrooms, pilot teachers have been equipped with access to online tools including Google Classroom, Canvas, Ed Puzzle and adaptive grammar and vocabulary content to enable students to access appropriately leveled content and learning activities.
Flexible Instructional Grouping
Design pillars are used among all RBL sites to identify the essential design elements upon which each site’s student experience is based. The Birdville design pillars are: Flexible Instructional Groupings, Data-Driven Instruction (DDI), Student Agency/Data Transparency, Rigor and Relevance, and Competency-Based Learning.
Through Flexible Instructional Grouping the district is using several instructional arrangements based on student mastery and progress data (e.g., small group, whole group, partner, 1:1) to improve student performance. This approach fosters personalized instruction, enhances peer collaboration, increases engagement, and increases accountability through group learning.
The district’s second pillar of Data-Driven Instruction is a systematic approach to assessing, analyzing, and acting on student progress throughout the year. This method supports flexible, personalized instruction that uses data to develop purposeful progression for students.
Student Agency refers to the level of control, autonomy, and power that learners have in their educational experiences. To foster choice and encourage ownership, many pilot teachers introduced classroom strategies to help students become responsible for more aspects of the learning process, monitor their progress, and set learning goals
The pillar of Rigor and Relevance refers to students having the competence to think in complex ways and apply knowledge and skills they have acquired.
The final pillar of Competency-Based Learning includes systems of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting that are based on students demonstrating that they are meeting learning expectations based on key academic milestones.
To learn more about the demonstration sites’ areas of progress and challenges, as well as how they define and track success, explore the reports from FSG.
Rigor and Relevance