Unlocking the power of student-led learning

Last school year, Harlingen CISD began implementing blended learning throughout the district.

Blended learning is a model of teaching that provides students with voice, choice, and an opportunity for instruction that is tailored to each individual student.

Student-led conferences are a big part of blended learning.

“Really, the purpose behind student-led conferences is to empower students to take academic ownership of their learning,” Blended Learning Specialist Jessica Hruska said. “To give them a voice within their learning and really have them understand why they are learning what they are learning, and so it’s really an empowerment thing and a self-advocacy thing for kids.”

In 2021, Bowie Elementary and Stuart Place Elementary were selected as the first two model campuses for blended learning.

Now, there are a total of five blended learning studios in HCISD.

“This year we added on three other blended learning studio schools which are Zavala Elementary, Bonham Elementary, and Memorial Middle School,” Hruska said. “These campuses have started student-led conferences at really more of a rapid pace, but it has also been a district-wide focus for us this year.” 

Throughout the school year, teachers and staff members from across the district have gone through professional development sessions about student-led conferences.

“We don’t just expect our kids to automatically start talking about their data and taking ownership of their learning,” Hruska said. “But really giving them that scaffolded approach to student-led conferences will help to get them there.”

Data trackers are the foundation of student-led conferences. They provide students with something to reference during their student-led conference.

“Step one was implementing data trackers,” Hruska said. “Step two was having student-teacher conferences where the teacher is really the lead facilitator, but the purpose of that step is to get students used to talking about their data, where they are, what their strengths are, what their areas of opportunities are.”

The third step of the scaffolded approach to student-led conferences is to then switch the student and teacher role to where the student is the one leading that conversation.

In the fourth step of the approach, the goal is to have students be able to have a conversation about their data with anyone in their learning community.

“The pinnacle of where we want to be is where the student can share that data with their peer, their parent, or whoever in their learning community really,” Hruska said. “We want them to be able to take ownership of their learning and really understand where their areas of opportunities are, what the goals they set are, and really empowering them with their own learning.”

Blended Learning Stories: How a district transformed its approach to early literacy from The Charles Butt Foundation on Vimeo.