All RHS classrooms use a combination of rotational models, flipped learning, individual and small group instruction, play lists, and online programs to promote student agency and increase efficient use of teacher-student time. RHS is intentional about ways for children to collaborate using technology and leveraging technology to meet individual student needs.

Students at all academic levels can be taught higher level thinking skills through individual, small group, and whole group activities, both online and face-to-face. A student who masters a concept before the rest of the class does not need to wait until the end of the unit to move on. Students who need extra time move ahead at their own pace, greatly improving the chance that concepts are understood and the skills are learned.

We believe that personalization can be a powerful vehicle to close the achievement gap. We will do this by:

  • Using data strategically to design learning pathways based on what a child truly needs;

  • Implementing targeted small group instruction;

  • Leveraging adaptive online programs that complement teacher instruction;

  • Strengthening student choice in place, pace and pathways towards learning.

We also know that for education to be truly personalized, we must ensure that RHS educators have an awareness of implicit bias and a deep commitment to see the promise of every child. Thus, we offer ongoing professional development to our teachers on all aspects of personalized learning, including how to create Identity-Safe Classrooms.

We are excited to take our personalization work to scale with a new vision that incorporates everything we've learned for our school.

My goal is to have all students setting goals, working at their own pace, moving through the curriculum as they master content, and making important choices about when, where, and how they learn. We are transitioning from teacher-made groups to student-chosen groups and are developing personal learning plans.” – Theresa Sanders, RHS 3rd Grade Teacher


We have been studying and practicing personalized learning since 2008. This journey led in 2014 to RHS receiving a grant from the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) initiative, a national effort supporting innovation in personalized and blended learning approaches.

While participating in a national cohort of NGLC schools, RHS explored new ways of personalizing education for students, including:

  • Station rotation and blended learning to differentiate instruction, support students to work at their own pace, and allow the teacher to spend more individual time with students

  • Involving students in setting goals, monitoring progress, using digital portfolios and personalized learning plans, and Makerspace.

  • We established pilots in six classrooms from Kindergarten through Grade 3, including Special Education. All classrooms are currently using some form of personalized and blended learning to meet the needs of diverse learners.

In 2015, we were one of five elementary schools to receive a 3-year, NGLC "Breakthrough Model" grant to launch a full-school personalization model.


1. Develop self-directed and emotionally competent learners with critical and creative thinking, agency and skills to succeed in the 21st century.

We are continually updating our inquiry-based curriculum to include more 21st century content, skills, and opportunities for students to apply what they are learning to real-world challenges – especially in STEAM areas. Through this strategy, students will take risks, embrace ambiguity, envision complex projects to solve problems, learn from failure, develop confidence, build community, and have collaboration and conflict resolution skills.

In addition to core curricula, we are integrating Makerspace, interdisciplinary project-based learning, and Personalized Learning Plans (PLP).

2. Accelerate student growth using multiple blended learning models.

Teachers leverage technology to provide accessible, differentiated instruction to meet the needs of diverse students, increase efficient use of teacher-student time, and strengthen academic achievement across the school.

All classrooms use core instructional software including ST Math, Lexia, and myON, blending strong teacher-led small group instruction at the Common Core level of rigor along with online learning that is truly self-paced.

3. Implement competency-based instruction.

Using the Common Core standards, RHS is developing a learning progression for each topic so that children are able to show proficiency of each learning goal before progressing – thereby preventing students from falling behind.

Data are visible in classrooms and the school, helping students to be clear on their learning pathway and progress. We are currently exploring a Learning Management System to enable this complex type of learning to be successful.

4. Create Identity-Safe Classrooms that integrate personalized education, social-emotional learning, and the equity-focused framework of identity safety.

RHS is implementing a pilot program to strengthen teachers’ use of child-centered teaching to cultivate diversity, facilitate positive student relationships, and establish orderly, purposeful classrooms to increase equity and improve academic achievement.

Through an intensive program of professional development, classroom activities, and family education and engagement, we will have increased cultural competence and all students will know that their social identities are an asset rather than a barrier to success.


RHS is collaborating with Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas, co-author of Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn, in an innovative pilot program that integrates personalized education and the equity-focused framework of identity safety. In Identity-Safe Classrooms, teachers use child-centered teaching, cultivate diversity, facilitate positive student relationships, and establish orderly, purposeful classrooms to increase equity and improve academic achievement. Teachers display cultural competence, understand implicit bias and actively counteract discrimination.

“Identity safe classrooms are those in which teachers strive to ensure students that their social identities are an asset rather than a barrier to success in the classroom. And, through strong positive relationships and opportunities to learn, students from all backgrounds feel they are welcomed, supported, and valued as members of the learning community” (C.M. Steele and D.M. Steele).

This evidence-based model was the subject of a research study, “The Stanford Integrated Schools Project,” conducted in 84 diverse elementary classrooms. The study found evidence that when teachers used identity safe teaching strategies, students felt more identity safe, achieved at higher levels, performed better on the state-mandated testes, and liked school more.

Identity-safe classrooms are student-centered, so they work well in the context of a personalized and blended learning environment. Teachers develop a framework for assuring each student’s voice is heard and that their identities and backgrounds are acknowledged and they are fully engaged in classroom life. Without deeply disrupting and countering the negative stereotypes that permeate our society, many students of color and other students from stigmatized groups do not feel they fully belong and do not reach their academic potential. Without drawing from each child’s unique identities, students cannot fully thrive in the classroom. By developing the framework of identity safety, a personalization model can better reach all students.

At Redwood Heights, all educators are engaged in ongoing efforts to examine their practice and identify and practice these strategies for creating identity safe classrooms.


Identity Safe Schools

Teaching Tolerance Three-Part Series (gives background on bias and identity safety as an antidote)

Tackling Implicit Bias

Countering Stereotype Threat

Identity Safe Schools


What is Maker-Centered Learning or Makerspace?

We believe that kids learn best by doing.

RHS teachers are exploring new ways to do hands-on learning that emphasizes making, design, engineering, and tinkering. Research shows that Makerspace is a “responsive and flexible pedagogy that encourages community and collaboration (a do-it-together mentality).”

RHS has a large Maker Space in the RHS Art Studio with low and medium workbenches, tools, and raw materials. Several classrooms have built a designated Maker Space with support from families.

In terms of learning, creative and critical thinking are mental processes that are different yet inseparable. Creative thinking is the process of generating ideas/information (fluency, flexibility and originality) and elaborating on them. Critical thinking is the process of reflecting on the merits of information generated and forming a judgment about it to suit a situation. Both types of thinking are involved in creative problem solving. We believe that students need to manipulate their environment to understand spatial concepts.

RHS teachers have participated in Maker-Centered Learning professional development training offered through Agency by Design:;;

“Our classroom has a culture where failure is a positive.  Making is such an authentic learning experience where students take charge of their learning, solve their own problems and share how they solved them. They create challenges like building sturdy towers from newsprint and creating super slow marble runs.” – Theresa Sanders, 3rd grade teacher

Maker-Centered Learning Resources

Agency by Design Oakland

Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds (Book)

The Maker Mind: Jen Ryan TEDx Talk (Video)

Maker-Centered Learning and the Development of Self: Preliminary Findings of the Agency By Design Project (article)

Thinking Routines – Parts, People, and Interactions

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RHS experiments with redesigning classrooms and other spaces on campus to find creative ways to optimize personalized learning.

We have begun to transform classrooms to create alternative seating and multiple learning spaces for self-directed and small group learning. This was accomplished with a relatively small budget by removing desks and bringing in bean-bags, pillows, and low tables to make the room more child-friendly. Results have been impressive. Every classroom has some type of alternate seating. Children are more able to move around without so much furniture in the space. Children can choose where they’re going to sit when they work – and it’s usually not at a desk!


Some of the online and offline programs we use to increase student mastery include:

 English Language Arts (ELA)

Offline: Reading Horizons, Words Their Way – phonics (spelling)

Online: MyON, Lexia, Newsela


Offline: Math Expressions

Online: ST Math, Reasoning Mind, Khan Academy


Offline: Makerspace, Engineering Extravaganza!


Offline: California Visual and Performing Arts Standards with Studio Habits of Mind, Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), Field Trips, Community Arts Events

Social Studies

Offline: Rethinking Schools (lessons and resources)


Offline: FOSS Curriculum and Next Generation Science Standards, Field Science and Gardening Program, Field Trips