Small but mighty: How a kindergarten teacher at Asbury Elementary amplifies the school's tiniest voices


Kim Magoffin


All Subjects

Asbury Elementary

To give kindergartners opportunities to exercise their voices and make choices about their learning

Goal Setting and Progress Monitoring, Strategic Space, Demonstration of Learning

Introduction to the Classroom


"A person's a person no matter how small." -Dr. Seuss

Kim Magoffin, a kindergarten teacher at Asbury Elementary, is one of many teachers at the school who is committed to implementing personalized learning (PL). She aims to help the school's smallest learners explore different learning options and exercise their voices in their learning.

In designing her classroom, Kim wanted students to be able to make choices about their learning. Students choose where they sit each day and they work with Kim to set individual goals that they'd like to achieve during class. Students also have flexibility with how they demonstrate their learning.  

Kim also uses project-based learning (PBL) to engage students more deeply with their learning. At the beginning of the year, students voted on what kind of class pet they would like and decided to add another guinea pig to their classroom, launching their guinea pig race PBL unit. With the help of guest speakers, students spent the year learning about what to consider when building a race track, broadcasting, guinea pig food preferences, and how to market their race. Using this information, students have designed and tested race tracks, created advertising for the race, and discovered what food works best to lure guinea pigs across the finish line. 

When helping her students take on new roles and experiences, Kim first helps students learn how they like to engage with their learning and express themselves. She then finds roles that fit each student. For example, some of her students like to talk more and share their ideas with the whole class, so Kim created an "announcer" role that students could take on during their guinea pig races.

Classroom in Action

Students have individual and whole class goals. Students can pick from a few whole class goals to work on skills they'll need for first grade.

Students work with Kim to choose an individual goal that is appropriate for them. At the beginning of the year, this might be something like using the monkey bars, but then they move into academic goals.

Each kindergarten class voted on what kind of class pet they'd like to get. In Kim's class, they picked from a tarantula, a turtle, a hermit crab, a mouse, or a guinea pig.

Students cast their votes at a voting booth of their own creation and received an "I voted" sticker to wear for the day.

Last year, the class picked a new guinea pig, who would join the other Asbury guinea pigs for a major race at the end of the year.

This year, Kim's class decided to get two new mice, and after more voting, named them Clemson and Alabama. The mice join a Beta fish, two guinea pigs, an axolotl, a corn snake, and a bearded dragon.

Kim brought in a DU ecology professor (and Asbury parent) to talk to the class about guinea pig food preferences. This helped students understand more about their new pet and how to guide their guinea pigs across the finish line.

To prepare for the guinea pig races, students brainstormed and designed race tracks.

Students took on different roles as part of this unit. Some students became track builders while others were announcers for the race.

A newscaster from Channel 7 news also came in to talk about broadcasting and prepare the race's announcers for the big day.

"Kindergartners are capable of a lot more than people think they are and that was part of why I chose to do goal setting. There’s not a lot out there on doing this with kindergarten so it’s helpful to stumble through and create things with others and build those lifelong practices." 

-Kim Magoffin

Intro to the Classroom

To start, Kim teaches students the different ways to demonstrate their learning so that they can choose for themselves how they like to do this. Students work on whole class goals and pick individual goals. Kim also creates project-based units that allow students to take on new roles and incorporate their specific interests. Kim then uses what she learns about students during these units to design other lessons.

Classroom Culture

Kim creates a classroom culture supportive of personalized learning by creating a safe and welcoming environment. Each day, a different student greets the class at the front door. Class begins with a morning circle. This provides an opportunity for students to share their feelings and learn more about their classmates. 

Student Impact

Kim believes students are learning how to speak up and advocate for themselves. She helps students understand that everyone is at a different place in their learning and encourages them to share information with each other and their families.

Lessons Learned

To do this work, Kim suggests starting small. She sometimes tests new practices with a smaller group of students or with one topic within her class so that students can adjust to the change. She also uses this to learn what works best for scaling the practice. Kim believes that it's important for kindergartners to be involved in personalized learning and to be given the chance to learn more about themselves as learners.

If you want to try this…

  • Don't be afraid to try it with kindergarten. It can be harder to do since there are fewer resources, but by starting small, you can figure out what works best for your class.
  • Trust your students. Give them new opportunities and try new things with them instead of assuming they can't do it.
  • Try new practices on a small scale. Create a "case study" group to test new practices on to figure out what works.
  • Start with one subject. Roll out a new practice within one topic so that you can refine it before trying it in all subjects. 

More about Kim

Kim has been teaching kindergarten for 14 years at Asbury. Prior to that, she taught at Fairview for seven years teaching first grade, reading recovery, and kindergarten. Besides a brief period during middle school when Kim wanted to be a lawyer or the president of the United States, she has always wanted to be a teacher. She is married and has a 14-year-old daughter named Olesya. 


Special thanks to...

Thank you to Asbury teacher Kim Magoffin, PL lead Desi Kennedy, and principal Alicia FaJohn, Imaginarium staff Sophie Gullett and Elisa Bowers, and the students taking ownership of their learning.

A huge thank you to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation whose Next Generation Systems Intiative (NGSI) grant has been instrumental in helping Denver Public Schools design, implement, and study personalized learning.