Curriculum & Instruction

How is the writing process taught at IVA? 
We utilize a varied approach to teaching writing at IVA. As school we have not adopted any official writing curriculum. Throughout each unit students read a variety of texts, discuss them as a class, and eventually write about those texts. Although it may seem strange, the readings and conversations are in many ways the first steps of the writing process. As students get comfortable with the texts we are reading and develop their understanding of what the authors are saying, they are better situated to write about those texts. 
Each unit, teachers generally assign a quiz with a few questions about the current novel. Students are asked to write a few paragraphs using evidence from the text as they respond to the question. These responses are collected, graded, discussed allowing students to see one or two sample student essays, and then passed back to students. 
A similar process happens at the end of each unit. Students are generally asked to write an analytic essay with introduction, body, and conclusion responding to a specific question about the book. They are given tips on what to include in their introduction, body and conclusion, but they are necessarily assigned a specific outline for their essays. The hope is that as students continue to write, see other students' writing, reflect on their own writing, and ultimately rewrite (see below) portions of their essays they will gain an understanding of the elements of powerful essays. 
Two other elements of the writing process are staples in the Literature and Composition classroom: Timed Writes and Sentence Composing/Combining. 
Every three weeks (usually on Thursdays), students are presented with a quote or question and asked to write a mini in-class essay arguing a particular point (or thesis). We first look at a few articles, TedTalks, news stories, or other "sources" to collect evidence about that day's question or quote. After reading and discussing the "sources" students write a brief four paragraph essay in the last 15 minutes of class. These essays do have a suggested outline. Students are only graded for these timed in-class essays based on their participation. They only need to give a genuine effort and attempt to write for the full 15 minutes to receive full credit. The essays are placed in the students writing portfolios (kept in class). Toward the end of the semester, students will take one of these "Timed Writes" and, using their original essay as a rough draft, develop a full 4-6 paragraph essay. These essays are read carefully and graded for content. 
With regard to language development and grammar, our main source for exercises is Sentence Composing by Don Killgallon for 6th and 7th grade. 8th graders use a similar workbook called Sentence Combining by William Strong. Both of these books push students to create different types of sentences by studying effective models. Students are asked to look carefully at components of a sentence and create sentences of their own that are varied, creative, and powerful. These exercises are generally done once a week in class. About once a month one of these exercises will turn into a "quiz" in which students turn in their sentences and they are graded using a rubric. 
There are, of course, other elements of the writing process that take place in class, and in other classes as well, but hopefully the brief sketch outlined above will at least give families a small picture of some of things students are asked to do in class with regard to writing
How is writing graded at IVA? 
Writing at IVA is generally graded based on rubrics. While each teacher may vary the rubrics based on the particular assignment, in general each rubric measures students' content and ideas, word choice and syntax, and grammar and spelling. For a list of each rubric, see Illuminate or Google classroom for the given assignment.
Handwritten responses, such as quizzes, are read carefully and given a grade based on the rubric. Specific comments and feedback are generally not given on handwritten responses (see below for more information on feedback). Typed responses, such as performance tasks and take home writing projects, are read carefully, given specific comments and feedback. Following these larger assignments, students are then asked to rewrite some aspect of their response taking in the teacher comments and feedback. 
It should be noted that although handwritten responses are generally not given specific teacher feedback, students are always welcome to bring their writing to office hours to get a better understanding of the areas they are doing well in and the areas for improvement with their writing
What is your process on giving students feedback on their writing? 
As noted above, handwritten responses such as quizzes are generally not given specific feedback. Specific feedback is reserved for larger assignments such as performance tasks and take home writing projects which are generally typed out using Google Docs and submitted on Google Classroom. 
There are several reasons for this decision regarding when feedback is given. One, students are asked to write A LOT throughout each unit. Providing specific feedback on every written assignment is unfortunately not always possible. Two, often the setup of paper documents can make it difficult for teachers to write exactly what they are trying to say. There may not be enough room on the page, or, if the page is somewhat messy or disorganized, the feedback can be confusing or unclear for students. Three, a good rule of thumb in education is to not provide students with specific feedback unless you are going to provide them with an opportunity to put that feedback into action immediately (i.e. rewriting). Each time specific feedback is given on performance tasks and take home projects, students are asked to rewrite and put that feedback to use. This helps students grow as writers. 
Retaking tests and quizzes is encouraged!
In Literature and Composition as in many other classes, students have the option to rewrite. If a student so choses, she could rewrite the same essay or quiz response a dozen times to try to improve her score. The reason for this is the belief that rewriting is one of the best ways to grow as a writer (see above). The best writers will all acknowledge that their first draft of any project is rarely their final product. 
One common condition on this freedom to rewrite is that the rewriting of tests and quizzes needs to happen at school during office hours with teacher supervision. This condition is in place to ensure that the "testing environment" is secure and students are only relying on their own skills and knowledge to rewrite. 
How can I support my child at home with writing
There are a number of ways parents can support the writing process at home. The most important way is to encourage your child to read as much as possible. While reading and writing are by no means the same thing, the two processes are intimately connected, and generally speaking, students who read often have a decided advantage when it comes to writing
The performance task and quiz writing prompts will usually be posted on Google Classroom and Illuminate a few days before that actual test or quiz. You could encourage your child to look over the questions, make sure he understands what they are asking, prepare a few ideas of things he would like to write about in his response, and collect any quotes from the book that might strengthen his response. Quizzes and performance tasks are almost always open note and open book. Having ideas ahead of time can make the test or quiz day a bit more manageable. 
There are a few writing tutorials posted on Google Classroom in the Literature and Composition classes that provide students models of writing in addition to some general feedback and tips for strong writing. Within those classes you can view these videos by searching for the "Writing Tutorials" topic on Google Classroom. Students could view these videos at home, take note of a couple elements of good writing as well as the types of mistakes to try to avoid in their writing
Finally, a good way to support your child is by checking Illuminate on a regular basis to see how your child is doing. If you notice your child is missing a test, quiz, or project encourage him to come to office hours to make up or finish that assignment. Thanks to all of our families for their time and support! Please feel free to contact teachers by email or set up an appointment with additional questions. Our IVA teachers look forward to continuing to work with your child as they grow as writers!

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.

The Music class at IVA is a semester-long course designed to introduce students to music history, analysis, and vocal technique and performance. Students will think about how music has functioned historically (and functions today) in culture. They’ll begin learning music theory, with a goal of better understanding how composers communicate with performers. They’ll also be performers themselves; we’ll learn choral music together and talk about vocal technique and how we can sing well together. The goal is that students engage deeply in each unit’s specific topics and periods in music history, rather than attempting a broad and thus shallow overview of music history.

Music asks us to grow in our Attentiveness—students will practice noticing and attending to detail and nuance, both when looking at music, and when listening to it. They’ll also pay attention to what they are doing with their bodies while singing, and how the whole class sounds singing together. The performance of music requires Intellectual Courage—students will need to persist in thinking, participating, and performing in spite of fear of embarrassment or failure. Opportunities to self-assess and reflect upon their performance let students focus on growth.

Syllabus for Art & Music Classes:





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:





In order to think like historians and social scientists 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 and social scientist. 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.

Syllabus for Social Science Classes:






Syllabus for 8th Grade Social Science related Elective Classes:  



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. 

Syllabus for Science Classes:






Novels make up the bulk of what students read, discuss, analyze, and write about in Literature and Composition (LitComp) classes 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 LitComp classes 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, 
  • A Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston
  • 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.  

Syllabus for Literature & Composition Classes:






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.