HOUSTON – Feb. 12, 2020 – Students at Beneke Elementary School were fully engaged, on-task and politely indifferent to the grownups who visited their classrooms on Feb. 6 as part of a tour to see the district’s Empowered Learning Model in action.
“The students are really so engaged in their work, that they can tune out their environment,” said Beneke Principal LaTracy Harris, “and that’s why we really know that we have something special.”
Almost 50 educators, including principals from other Spring ISD campuses and representatives from two other school districts, got to see first-hand what the district’s Empowered Learning Model looks like in first and third-grade math classes at Beneke, Ponderosa and Reynolds elementary schools and in grades six through eight at Roberson Middle School.
With the Empowered Learning Model, students engage in critical thinking and problem solving through meaningful experiences, which they may connect to knowledge they already have. Teachers are no longer the primary facilitators of instruction, although they do provide one-on-one and small group lessons, working with them on skills that they need. Instead, instruction has shifted to being more student-led and student-driven. Working independently and in small groups, students are taking ownership of their learning. Rotating through different stations, they are also getting targeted instruction in various formats, including technology.
Third graders in Melissa Tejada’s bilingual class at Beneke were busy working either collaboratively or on their own at different stations during the tour using a variety of math manipulatives and technology, while Tejada provided face-to-face instruction to a small group.
One group of students was busy at the video station recording an explanation for how they had solved a problem. Tejada routinely assigns students a problem for which they use a problem-solving map, designate roles for each other, choose steps to follow and use a math manipulative to show their strategy.
“Once they go through all those steps, they go to the video, and they explain it as if they were teaching it to someone,” Tejada said. She is then able to look at the video and assess what level they are on. The students knew where to go and what to do to accomplish their task on their own.
Carlos Quevedo, one of Tejada’s students wants to be an environmental engineer and scientist when he grows up, and he believes blended learning, which is part of the Empowered Learning Model at Beneke, is going to help him accomplish that goal.
“We use blended learning. We don’t just use worksheets,” Quevedo said. “We use computers, we use papers, and sometimes we can mix them all together. I love it.”
The classroom tours were coordinated by the Spring ISD Curriculum and Instruction Department along with the participating campuses and engage2learn.
The district teamed up with engage2learn a year ago after receiving a Math Innovation Zone grant from the Texas Education Agency, which provided funds for developing the Empowered Learning Model. Engage2learn has assisted with the implementation and provided monthly coaching for campus principals, math coaches and teachers throughout the year.
“It’s exciting because about a year ago we were in planning meetings and drafting all of these ideas. So to see it today come to life, it’s more than just a picture on a page, or a plan, it really is students and teachers interacting and collaborating and communicating,” said Chief of Curriculum and Instruction Khechara Bradford. “These high-yield best practices are implemented to positively impact student achievement.”
Plans are already underway for the Empowered Learning Model to be rolled out in second and fourth grades next year with kindergarten and fifth grades to follow in year three. In addition, Bradford said the district hopes additional schools will adopt the model next year after seeing it in action during the recent classroom visits.