The Five Pillars of Teaching and Learning at KM Explore - Aurora Institute (2023)

This article is part of a series on personalized skills-based education in Wisconsin and the third in a ten-part series on Kettle Moraine. Please read thefirst commentin Kettle Moraine before continuing to read this post, as it will prepare you to make the most of the ideas and resources shared in this series.

The Five Pillars of Teaching and Learning at KM Explore - Aurora Institute (1)

The Kettle Moraine School District has introduced personalized learning at the elementary school level. Of the district's four elementary schools, one is fully adapted and the other is beginning the transition. We visitedExplore km, a charter school authorized by the district to create a space for innovation and share a campus with Wales Elementary School. There are currently 148 K-5 students and 6 teachers.

The KM Explore team transitioned to personalized learning in 2015 after spending four years investing in building its formative assessment capabilityshirley clark. They established a new mission and vision:

  • Mission:KM Explore's mission is to engage a community of learners through authentic learning experiences, empowering them to be self-motivated thinkers, creators and contributors.
  • Vision:KM Explore's vision is to personalize student learning through an integrated learning framework that encourages authentic collaboration, engagement, and reflection.

They then organized their personalized learning approach around five pillars related to teaching and learning:

  1. Generative and interdisciplinary curriculum
  2. Cross-age learning community
  3. habits of mind
  4. location based learning
  5. Cooperative Teaching and Learning

This approach is based on the idea that personalized learning and in-depth learning experiences can be fully integrated, with students working at different levels, receiving differentiated support and developing lifelong learning skills.

Generative Interdisciplinary Curriculum

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The discussion of the generative and interdisciplinary curriculum was fascinating, as it proposed an entirely new way of organizing learning. KM Explore explainedgenerative curriculumwith the understanding that students, community and teachers work together to develop or create “in the moment” learning experiences.

  • Encouraging voice and choice in learning difficulties
  • Flexibly learn which content areas are connected throughout the day
  • Create an experience that empowers a student to ask questions, engage, and build community based on class initiatives or individual student interests.
  • Learning paths grow organically

location based learningit is the belief that learning takes place both within and outside the 'school walls' and that the community and its members are part of the learning environment at all times and in all places.

Redefine learning spaces outside the classroom walls

Leveraging the community as a resource, including students, community professionals, and family members sharing their experiences with our students.

the termgenerative curriculumwas new to me, says director Laura Dahm offered the Popcorn Project as an explanation. Earlier this year, students visited a farm where they talked about plants, including corn. This site visit was chosen to implement another pillar of KM teaching and learning: site-based learning. The students' interest jumped from corn to popcorn. Thus, they got to know the different types of corn and which ones were suitable for popping. Then they started to learn about the science that made the corn pop. So they started a small business selling popcorn to high school students. Teachers could never imagine that the visit to the farm would end with a little shop selling popcorn. KM Explore was designed to be highly responsive to track students' interests and generate questions that would lead to teaching various knowledge and skills.

Assistant Superintendent Theresa Ewald explained, “There is a core belief that the teacher is not an expert and that our students should have the opportunity to learn from others from different backgrounds outside the walls of the school. The teacher's ability to learn collaboratively with students, while facilitating learning practice and inquiry, is fundamental to this practice.

I realize that there are a number of conditions that allow schools to use a generative curriculum. First, teachers need to be fully aware of patterns all along the continuum of learning across all academic fields, as well as just below and above the age groups they teach. Second, teachers need to have enough planning time to absorb students' experiences on any given day and think about where projects and learning can go next. Third, the time of day should be flexible enough to get projects done, especially those that might take longer. Fourth, teachers must be able to provide formative assessment and feedback while students are learning and doing at the same time. Misunderstandings can easily arise, and teachers need to be vigilant and absolutely receptive to dealing with these misunderstandings before they take root..

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Cross-age learning community

I sat down with Lisa Welch and Wanda Richardson, two teachers who have taught Kindergarten and First Grade classes, as they talked with me about the implications of organizing cross-age learning communities to ensure that students receive the support they need and writing development. Capabilities. (I know absolutely nothing about teaching young children to write, so this was instructive. In case you're interested, KM Explore uses thewrite manualde Serravallo to teach younger students how to write.) Carol noted, “Moving to multiple age groups has helped us meet students where they are, rather than offering a grade-level curriculum. You need to focus on where each student is developing their literacy and numeracy skills, as students could be in kindergarten, first, second, or even third grade.

Alearning between agesThe structure is designed to connect students from different grades of K-5. Cross-age learning offers students opportunities to develop respect for the differences of others, develop their own identities, and work together to create meaningful learning experiences for everyone in the classroom and school community.

1. Create an environment that encourages empathy

2. Recognize learning as a process over time, everyone has strengths and weaknesses

3. Build stronger bonds between grades and within the school community

4. Frame student goals around competencies, not grade levels

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Students are divided into age groups with flexible groups throughout the day based on different criteria. Clusters are not just organized around specific skills or patterns that students are working on. Groups can also be organized around destinations chosen by students. Loose math groupings are usually organized around the skill or goal the student has chosen or currently needs. Richardson explained, "It's not about what class you're in or how old you are. The only question that matters is what do you need right now? Welch continued, "We don't do a lot of sessions. We tend to focus on what students need. Units can be useful, but they can create the feeling that you have to complete the unit. The focus is placed on the unit and not on student learning.

Students value the freedom to choose their goals. Teachers explained that students advance to the next level just because they can. Richardson explained: “Children feel the freedom to strive. We encourage you to spend time writing what you want. Of course we can pressure them, but they do it to please the Master. We want them to take on new challenges because they want to." They also found that when students can choose a learning goal or objective and use a rubric to work on one thing at a time, stress levels can decrease. Welch said, " We value the learning process and the effort involved in it. Students will feel fulfilled and begin to build their skills to build one learning experience at a time."

As students develop their social-emotional skills and show that they are developing a growth mindset, they are coached to set long-term goals. KM Explore organizes thinking habits around persistence, dealing with impulsiveness, flexible thinking, empathetic listening, and striving for precision. Students grow up reflecting on their own habits. Please note: All K-8 students at KM work to understand and develop thehabits of minddeveloped by Costa and Kallick. Goal setting involves identifying the goal and the indicators of what is needed to achieve it:

  • I work at
  • I know when I reached my goal when I see

For example, when students are learning to write a story, they use rubrics to let them know they need an introduction, add important details, and have an ending. Teachers then bring students together working on the same goal for a mini-lesson.

One of the ways that KM Explore teachers need to be fully prepared to be flexible is that it can be difficult to predict how many students will be in a group when students are selecting their goals. In one example, Welch explained how she knew five students needed extra help writing different types of endings. However, twenty students joined their small group for a mini-lesson, as fifteen chose them as their next destination. She reflected: “It's our job to be fully prepared. Whether it's five or twenty students, we have to be ready to pick them up wherever they and their interests are. The real trick is making sure the five students who were still working on a previous goal get the help they need.

In other cases, teachers may introduce a new skill or concept to an entire group of students. For example, in the Kindergarten and First Grade track, students can work on writing with the ability to craft a narrative of information or opinion. Students can see examples of how kindergarten writing competency compares to first grade competency. (Remember that the process by which teachers agree on this is the calibration process, which creates a shared understanding of competence for standards at different levels of proficiency.) Richardson and Welch also believe in the power of peer teaching. When a student sees a peer striving for accuracy and deepening their learning, they say to themselves, "I can do this too!" It is the power of example.

The rubrics are designed to show what it means to be competent in kindergarten, first, and second grade. Students mark in green when they have demonstrated proficiency, in yellow when they have done something, and in red when they have not performed at all. Students whose tests are all green learn how to take their skills to the next level.

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Teachers work with students who receive Yellow and Green to provide feedback and strategize. Sometimes students simply review work. First graders are already learning the editing process. Others may need to change to revise their goal of building their skills and confidence. I was told the story of a student who simply did not write or was willing to try to write the information or opinion pieces. Then they listened to him tell a story about his interaction with a cow on a farm. By having him tell stories that were meaningful to him and that made him feel successful, he helped to strengthen his identity as a writer. By writing an important story for him, sentence by sentence, the student began to feel comfortable and successful as a writer.

Fiction was his passion and he was encouraged to write fiction until he was confident in his abilities and then he was hired to write other types of products.


Co-teaching is a crucial element of the KM Explore structure. Obviously, having two or more professors helps to use a generative and interdisciplinary curriculum. It will also bring more educational experience to help students develop their skills. It can also, but not necessarily, be helpful in challenging bias, as teachers may understand students from perspectives other than their own.

I was only on the KM Explore for about an hour, so I wasn't able to delve into the lessons learned and the structures that support teachers. A clear mission, vision and shared understanding of the teaching and learning principles used throughout the school indicate a highly focused and aligned educational system. There is so much more to learn with KM Explore.

Read the entire series:

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