Personalized Competency-based Instruction Begins

RRHS Makes Great Strides Toward Personalized, Competency-based Instruction
Posted on 03/17/2022
Marinez Alvarez’s classroom

“I am excited for her class because Ms. Bachner always springs something fun on us,” said Fernanda Borunda, a student of 10th grade English teacher Sabine Bachner. Bachner has been at the forefront of RRHS’s shift to personalized learning.

Another student of Bachner, Regina Martinez also expressed enthusiasm for personalized learning: “She gives us a lot of freedom . . .you don’t have to study something you’re not interested in.”

She also praised Bachner for genuinely “listening to us,” “giving great feedback,” and “pushing us to choose an audience” outside the classroom.

This year Bachner and her teaching partner, Shenecia Bell, have taught a series of project-based learning units: “Passion” Speeches, Slam Poetry, and Photovoice projects, with a Water Conservation project planned for spring to be taught in collaboration with Earth Science teacher Wanda Glenn.  

Bachner appreciates this mode of learning because students are the ones who drive the learning.

 “I can't predict where it goes. It changes with every class.”

She said this was an ideal time to engage in some of these projects because students could express social/emotional concerns after all of the difficulties that resulted from COVID.

This is the first year Bell has tried project-based learning. Although she was used to a more structured approach to teaching, ultimately, she has liked the personalized approach. 

She thought the Slam Poetry project went especially well.

“They were writing about what they wanted to see, so it went great.” 

She said she even spoke to parents who were pleased because their kids were sharing their poems at home.                                                            

Math teacher Marinez Alvarez has been implementing personalized teaching strategies in Algebra 2 for some time now. She believes in giving students “voice and choice on how they navigate their learning.” 

She creates a welcoming environment in her classroom with a flexible seating arrangement that includes a variety of furniture from high top tables to foam chairs. 

Rather than  implementing a one size fits all approach, students progress at their own pace. 

In Alvarez’s class, students learn “through videos, reading and writing notes independently, completing practice problems independently, or the more conventional route which is going through a lesson with the teacher and completing practice problems together.”

She allows additional opportunities for students to demonstrate proficiency with “reteaching and retesting” and provides options for the final exam.

Several students praised her methods. 

Alexander Johnson stated, “Our grades are reliant on what we know rather than what we do . . . we decide how much practice we need.”

 Monique Duran said her method is “great” and she appreciates that she is  available to provide individual help.

Matthew Lichter said, “It is the best class. I learn a lot.”

Recently Alvarez attended a three day conference at Kettle Moraine High School in Wisconsin along with several other teachers and administrators to learn more about personalized learning. 

Alvarez appreciated the trusting environment at Kettle Moraine, which she said is essential because “students learn best in an environment that fosters their learning.” 

After attending the conference, Alvarez plans to give “students the opportunity to be the driver in their learning.”

She said,  “I want to be more of a facilitator.”

Assistant Superintendent Stephen Schadler, who also attended the conference, said, “It was extremely helpful for me to see how core content can be shared into the areas of student’s greatest interest. In Fine Arts, for instance, not all math instruction has to look like an art class but simply allowing students to use a Fine Art application to their math learning can be a powerful enhancer for learning.”

For the future of personalized learning in the district, Schadler’s vision is to “increase student agency for every single student.  That’s the best (and only) way to unleash all of the power of our population.”

RRHS Principal Hector Estrada  observed of the visit to Kettle Moraine: “It was great to see . . . how excited teachers were to implement some of the strategies we witnessed.”

He is looking forward to seeing “student agency” and more of a “student-centered” approach in classrooms.

“It’s one thing to have a student-centered culture outside of the classroom; it’s a major shift to have it in all of our classrooms.” 

Estrada is encouraged to see not only strides towards personalized learning but towards competency-based instruction through the campus-wide book study of Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman.

He stated, “I’m excited for our continued efforts and work, we REP!”


 Students enjoy personalized learning and flexible seating in Marinez Alvarez’s classroom.


Photo courtesy of Czarina Lucero

Photo: Marinez Alvarez’s classroom