Curriculum & Instruction

Common Instructional Policies and Thinking Routines

Using the process described above, our teachers also develop common instructional practices for student and teacher. Please review this document to learn more about our late work, make-up work, and similar policies. Please also click here to see the syllabi for each class to see the curriculum at a glance. Included below is a document that we provide to our students for their use in Advisory. This document can help explain the instructional protocols that all teachers utilize to help students make their thinking visible in class and to provide for differentiation and formative assessment during class as the teacher leads the students in a culture of thinking together towards a deep understanding of content.

In his book Creating Cultures of Thinking, senior research associate, Ron Ritchhart describes a culture of thinking that these policies and practices create, "People often mention that in a culture of thinking , they feel committed to the learning of others and not just to their own. It is this commitment and the recognition of the symbiotic relationship between one's individual learning and that of other group members that help create a sense of community." To learn more about the educational philosophy behind these instructional practices see the books in our Resource Library



Home Thinking & Helping Students Access Resources

In order to focus on thinking and learning in all aspects of education at IVA we have changed the name of homework to home thinking. Some classes call it HoT for short. This name change helps remind teachers, students, and parents that the purpose and value of assignments at home is thinking. Home thinking is a great place to practice intellectual autonomy, a capacity for self-directed , since the students classmates and teacher are not there to support the learning. When parents are able to help, the document below can offer some questions to guide the thinking process. We hope this document can be useful for our parents! We want our students to have the opportunity to struggle through complex learning and feel the reward of figuring it out for themselves. We also provide resources for students. Our families can help equip your children by apprenticing them in organization and troubleshooting so that students know how to use the resources that teachers provide. This apprenticeship into self-advocacy and intellectual autonomy, to think and reason for oneself, is part of the foundations of a love of learning. 

To learn more about how to use resources at home see the following video and links to helpful handouts.




Grading Rubrics

Working together, IVA teachers created "Criteria for Marks" -- a guide for assigning letter grades while upholding IVA's mission to foster meaningful growth in intellectual virtues. This guide is also a resource for feedback language on benchmark, or summative, assignments and daily, or formative, assignments. We encourage our students to see struggle and challenge with a growth mindset -- in which they believe they have not learned it, yet -- and our grading rubrics are crucial to this approach. We also encourage students to live within the daily expectations of deadlines, so that they may practice the virtues of an attentive, intellectually careful, and intellectually thorough student. For more information on grading practices and to see the foundation document for our teachers' rubric creation, please review the document below.


  • Art +

    Students in IVA art classes will think deeply about how humans use art to communicate. IVA creates a meaningful approach to recognizing and understanding what and how artists communicate by offering an art-centered curriculum where students study examples of art throughout history and from many cultures.

    Students develop understanding by creating their own art, using and experimenting with the elements of art and design principals. For example, students look at artists who communicate through Geometric Art. Using thinking routines and classroom activities, they will create a  working understanding of how artists communicated their ideas. Students then use attention to formal design to communicate their own ideas. In this way, they come to understand recognized artists and their work and also develop an open-mindedness about the nature of art and their own ability to act as artists.  

    There is no textbook used in the art classroom. Rather, the California State Standards and Common Core State Standards are covered though curriculum designed with IVA’s mission and vision at the forefront. Art projects and the study of recognized artists act as a means to develop the students' creative communication and offer an opportunity for their own thoughtful response to the art of others.

    Art Syllabus:




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  • English +

    Novels make up the bulk of what students read, discuss, analyze, and write about in English class at IVA. Guided by the teacher, students engage in activities and thinking routines to explore each novel. These thinking routines serve as a launching point for discussion, when students share their ideas with partners as well as the whole class. The teacher creates frequent opportunities for students to ask meaningful questions and seek thorough and thoughtful answers to questions in the novel. Students, encouraged by the teacher and IVA's classroom culture, offer comments, observations, and wonderings – habits they come quickly to enjoy and take pride in. Through the novel, students in IVA English class have explored themes such as what it means to be human, how race and racism can affect a community, the meaning and value of friendship, how an adventure can change you, what makes beautiful language beautiful.

    Some novels students may take on include:

    Grade 6

    • The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkein,
    • Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, 
    • The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg, 
    • The Dream Keeper and Other Poems by Langston Hughes. 
    • The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
    • Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle

    Grade 7

    • The City of Ember by Jeanne Dupreau
    • Robinson Crusoe by Daniele Defoe
    • Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
    • The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More by Roald Dahl
    • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
    • A Midsummer Nights Dream by William Shakespeare

    Grade 8

    • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    • Enders Games by Orson Scott Card
    • Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
    • To Kill A Mockingbird  by Harper Lee
    • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelo
    • Macbeth by William Shakespeare

    Much, but not all, of classroom language and grammar development is based on Sentence Composing for Middle Schoolers by Don Killgallon and Sentence Combining by William Strong. Students learn to be better writers by studying good writing. Students analyze excerpts of sentences taken from well-written classic and current novels, break the sentences down into meaningful parts, then write ones of their own imitating the styles they see in the book. Over time and with this practice students grow into their own voice and style.

    Through deep and practiced analysis of novels and the elements of strong writing, IVA's students can expect to be able to demonstrate all the English Language Arts skills in the Common Core State Standards.

    Home thinking is primarily reading from the current novels. Students will be encouraged to read a certain number of chapters each week and think about/write down one question and one concept or connection.  

    English Syllabus:




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  • History +

    In order to think like historians students will be encouraged to continually practice all of the intellectual virtues during various points throughout the year. The Intellectual Virtues share in an important partnership with historical study and ultimately form the basis of what it means to think like a historian. Understanding different interpretations, analyzing challenging texts, and asking provocative questions requires a growth mindset that can be traced directly back to each master virtue. Class discussions, activities, and thinking routines will require students to push their thinking, practice open-mindedness, and form strong connections. Historical projects and writings will further provide students the opportunity to think carefully and critically about what evidence to include, what to exclude, and how to frame a concise argument about the past. These types of assessments will require students to practice intellectual attentiveness, intellectual carefulness, and intellectual thoroughness. Although students are not separately assessed on the virtues, the practice and awareness of them help to continually develop the personal qualities of an exceptional thinker and learner. Therefore, such virtues as curiosity, intellectual humility, intellectual courage, and intellectual tenacity will also be practiced in the IVA History classroom to further encourage students to embrace and overcome intellectual challenges and struggle.  

    Students will be using the History Alive! textbook created by the Teacher’s Curriculum Institute as a basic framework for content information. However, this book is meant as a curriculum guide and will only serve as one source from students to learn. Throughout the year students will explore, discuss, and analyze secondary sources, primary sources, maps, data, and visuals in a meaningful way by utilizing thinking routines. These thinking routines are tools that will promote a deep understanding and questioning of the content. It is through the different sources presented to them and the daily practice of thinking routines that students will explore the unit-aligned essential questions and the daily Central Historical Questions.

    The subject matter of historical study is immense, encompassing all of human affairs in the recorded past. Historians must rely on the fragmentary records that survive from a given time period in order to develop as much of a full picture as they can. In order to help do this, historians create questions to frame the inquiry at hand, a practice occurring in this class as well. Students will use effective questioning methods in order to study the past and form their own inquiry-based arguments. While an initial place to start, these essential questions may change or be added to as new authentic lines of inquiry arise through class discussions and activities.

    History Syllabi:




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  • Math +

    IVA's math curriculum, Connected Math Project 3 (CMP3), presents students with robust and real-life problems – like deriving a formula for maximizing profit of a bike rental company. Students, not the textbook and not the teacher, do the high-level thinking about numbers and numerical relationships to come up with the problem's solution.

    Students are also challenged with a Problem of the Week, which sometimes takes more than one week to complete. A POW requires more sustained thinking to solve -- often, students won't find an answer the first day. To see a real-life example of a POW that have puzzled and mathematicians check out this quick article on NPR. For a slightly longer explanation of the sort of mathematical practices that these home thinking assignments encourage read this article on seeing math students as sense-makers rather than mistake-makers. A POW write-up includes five sections: problem statement, process, solution, extension, and self-reflection. POWs are an opportunity for students to not only find a solution that works, but also to write about their thought process and explain their thinking.

    IVA's math teacher's role is to lead students to discover patterns and formulas in the topics being explored. Students are given the space and encouragement to make conjectures, find counterexamples, and discuss other perspectives. Mental engagement and discussion is encouraged over note-taking. The aim is for students to develop a deep understanding of the topics through engagement, rather than writing down steps to memorize later.

    Through practice, writing, deep thinking and problem-solving, students grow not only in the intellectual virtues, but also toward demonstrating mastery of Common Core State Standards in mathematics. Sometimes is it hard to imagine what a math classroom might look like that has such a mixture of deep conceptual understanding and practice. See our video, Math in a Minute at IVA, to step inside the classroom. 

    Home thinking will mostly take the form of the POW but students will also periodically have more traditional problems to practice skills. Read more about the POW directions and grading: POW_Directions_and_Rubric2015.pdf

    Math Syllabi:










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  • Physical Education +

    IVA students learn Physical Education through a Teaching Games for Understanding approach. Under TGfU, students take part in different categories of activities that encourage movement, engagement, and thoughtful applications of skills and strategies. Each year of physical education focuses and builds students in their development of a greater understanding of strategies and skills as they make their way through cooperative activities, individual and dual activities, and sport-focused activities. Each lesson and activity is designed to develop students’ physical and cognitive abilities and challenge students’ understanding towards themselves as thinkers and movers.

    Students are also challenged in their application and understanding of health-related physical fitness skills and concepts. Daily activities push students to practice autonomy and tenacity in the way that they strive to achieve goals and learn how to apply principles that can allow them to become lifelong movers. The combination of health-related and skill-related physical fitness gives students an opportunity to develop a more holistic understanding of Physical Education. 

    A variety of assignments are given to students throughout the year. Class learning assignments involve formative peer assessments and activities that require students to apply their knowledge of skills by giving feedback and using movements correctly. Home thinking assignments might include reflective journals and other tasks that will set up for and expand on thinking that is addressed during class time. Students will also be assigned 2-3 performance tasks per semester (individual and group) that will connect to the specific units that students are involved in and require students to demonstrate their knowledge and application of skills. 

    Our Physical Education Curriculum is well summarized in one 8th grade students' end-of-unit Performance Task reflection: "In PE class we don't just exercise, we learn how to exercise, how to play games and think about the components that help us succeed in physical activity, the skills and strategies we learned while playing these games and thinking about these skills and strategy help us play more games and be more successful."

    Physical Education Syllabus:




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  • Science +

    IVA's science curriculum, It’s About Time Project-Based Inquiry Science, carefully leads students to a deep understanding of science topics. Lessons begin with a lab, where students actively explore the topics through hands-on experiments or demonstrations before reading the text.

    An important component of the curriculum is writing explanations: students are presented with a question to explore in each lesson and each unit. Students make a claim about the question and support the claim with science knowledge, from the text, evidence from experiments, or personal experience.

    Students take on real-life issues -- planning erosion control around a basketball court or writing a proposal for a potential asteroid strike on Earth. This hands-on program draws students into the material and gives them the opportunity to explore the topics on their own, creating interest in the text, which also becomes more meaningful as they seek additional information.

    Home thinking might include 2 assignments a week that allow students to think autonomously through the days lesson or to prepare for the next class. The HoT will be in the form of a short activity or reading followed by a writing reflection. Students will also work on their science fair project at home throughout the year by carrying out a procedure, analyzing their data, and putting together their display. 

    Science Syllabi:




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  • What is the curriculum at IVA? +

    Fostering intellectual virtues is not an alternative to a rigorous, standards-based curriculum. On the contrary, it is through active and reflective engagement of core academic knowledge and skills that students learn to practice the intellectual virtues. In selecting IVA's curriculum, the school's founders and teachers searched for existing published curricula in core areas that (1) aligned with the Common Core State Standards, (2) aimed at deep understanding, and (3) provided opportunities for the practice of intellectual virtues.

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