Located in El Paso, Ysleta Independent School District serves over 41,000 students. In 2015, as members of the district leadership team recognized significant gaps in reading levels, they sought the Raising Blended Learners opportunity to redesign learning and improve reading outcomes for all students. The district’s pilot is designed to facilitate a shift from whole group, traditional instruction to student-centered, personalized learning to improve academic outcomes, increase ownership, and build lifelong learners.
“The students are confident. The students can communicate what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how they are making progress.” – Norma Osuna, Principal at Ysleta Elementary School
Ysleta ISD observed chronically low reading levels from the elementary to secondary levels. The gap is particularly wide among English Language Learners, who are simultaneously learning both English and Spanish languages. Campus leaders are also concerned about student engagement and students’ ability to articulate the purpose for why they are learning. In their blended learning pilots, the district is increasing data transparency with students and providing differentiated and timely support in reading through a personalized station rotation model in K-5 reading classrooms and increased personalization in 6th grade reading classrooms to drive improved academic outcomes and an increase in student progress ownership.
The districts’ vision for blended learning embraces data-driven instruction and rigor and is guided by the the Ysleta ISD Strategic Plan (supported by the district’s Technology Plan.). In addition to closing gaps in reading levels, Ysleta ISD’s pilots focus on building student agency through increased ownership and engagement to build lifelong learners who are prepared for success beyond their time in Ysleta ISD.
With a strong track record of data-driven instruction and strong centralized district leadership, Ysleta ISD set out to address the literacy challenges and foster student success at the elementary level. In year one, two elementary schools piloted blended learning in nearly 20 K-5 reading classrooms. In year 2, the pilot expanded to four total elementary schools in 76 K-5 reading classrooms and one middle school in four 6th grade reading classrooms. Initially, the pilot was only in reading but other teachers noticed changes in the classrooms around them and the pilot organically spread to math and science classrooms. In the Ysleta model, students receive an on-grade level mini lesson for the day, then engage in a combination of individualized station work, collaborative standards-based activities, strategic small group lessons with the teacher, and self-directed work on online content. Students choose their own station work based on their current mastery of standards and the goals they have set with teachers.
In year two, the pilot expanded to two additional elementary schools and one middle school. The middle school pilot in four 6th grade reading classrooms includes daily flexible instructional groups based on data, weekly goal setting, and student choice in station activities. These elements, in addition to the tracking their progress throughout the year aim to increase academic achievement in reading and foster authentic student engagement and ownership of the content in the class.
Flexible Instructional Grouping
Design pillars are used among all Raising Blended Learners sites to identify the essential design elements upon which each site’s student experience in based. The Ysleta design pillars are: Data-Driven Instruction/Flexible Instructional Grouping, Rigor, Student Agency, and Competency-Based Learning.
Data-Driven Instruction is the backbone of the entire Blended Learning Model and drives the use of Flexible Instructional Grouping to remediate individual standards for students on a daily basis. Data also drives the creation of stations that students choose in order to fill in gaps from previous grade levels or to move on to content that they are ready to master.
In order for small group instruction and independent to be effective, all work must be aligned to the Rigor of the standards and be relevant so that students see the purpose in the work.
Student agency refers to the level of control, autonomy, and power that learners have in their experience at school. To foster choice and develop ownership, pilot teachers develop systems, and strategies to build students’ capacity be responsible for the learning process, monitor their progress, and set learning goals.
Competency-Based Learning ensures appropriately challenging experiences that push students to practice standards and skills when they need them. Through stations, adaptive software, and formative assessments, students are provided with work that maximizes their academic growth.