Elementary School Academics

Students at Dunn Preparatory will be both challenged and supported on their academic journey.  We use a variety of multi-sensory techniques to meet the needs of all our learners.  


Reading Workshop
We utilize a balanced literacy model that emphasizes student choice and authentic literature, along with high quality direct instruction that is delivered in both whole group and small groups.  Time is built into our day for independent reading, where students choose “just-right” books and teachers conference with the children about their reading lives.  In addition, students talk about books during whole group read-alouds and during small group guided reading instruction or book clubs in the upper grades.


Making Meaning
Our classrooms use a program called Making Meaning for our whole group reading instruction. This program teaches reading comprehension strategies through high quality literature.  The students have an opportunity to talk to their partner, which helps them develop conversation skills while also practicing their comprehension skills.  


Orton-Gillingham
Orton-Gillingham is a highly structured approach that breaks reading and spelling down into smaller skills involving letters and sounds, and then building on these skills over time.  This approach helps our students to learn the rules of language, which they can apply when they read, write, and spell words.  All staff members are Orton-Gillingham trained.  Orton-Gillingham is a multi-sensory approach to reading. That means that educators use sight, hearing, touch, and movement to help students connect and learn the concepts being taught.   Originally designed for struggling readers and specifically children with dyslexia, Orton-Gillingham is a systematic, sequential approach to phonics instruction that has been proven effective for all readers.


Writing Workshop
Each classroom provides daily writing instruction.  Children are encouraged to write about topics of their choice while they learn techniques that writers use.  Classes spend several weeks in each unit of study, including narrative writing, informational writing, and opinion writing.  In the upper grades, students also use technology as they develop research skills and present using a variety of techniques including Power Points, speeches, and videos.


Everyday Math
Our elementary school uses the program Everyday Math for our math instruction.  Developed by the University of Chicago, Everyday Math helps children build a strong mathematical foundation in their elementary years.

*Move from number calculation to developing conceptual understanding and problem-solving skills.
*Link math to everyday situations.
*Link new learning to past experiences and provide ongoing review.
*Make considerable use of partner and small group activities.
*Include hands-on activities and explorations.
*Build fact power through daily oral practice, conceptual activities, and games.
*Encourage use and sharing of multiple strategies.
*Encourage home-school partnerships.


Standards Based Grading
Traditionally teachers focus on teaching, the attempt to deliver knowledge. In SBG (standards based grading) they also measure student learning, to understand the effectiveness of instruction. Instead of a single overall grade, SBG breaks down the subject matter into smaller “learning targets.” Each target is a teachable concept that students should master by the end of the course. Throughout the term, student learning on each target is recorded. Teachers track student progress, give appropriate feedback, and adapt instruction to meet student needs. Figure 1 shows example report cards that highlight the differences between traditional and SBG. 

Traditional Report Card
Class 1
Q1
Mathematics
3
Standards - Based
Report Card
Class 1
Q1
Mathematics
3
I can define a number sentence
2
I can solve number sentences that have brackets
2
I can solve number sentences that have braces
3
I can solve number patterns using two rules
3
I can estimate the answers of number sentences
2
I can find the the sum of two 2-digit numbers
3
I can find the difference of two 2-digit numbers
2
I can find the product of two 2-digit numbers
2
I can find the quotient of two 2-digit numbers
3

Figure 1: Examples of Traditional and Standards-based Grading
Traditional grading and SBG also use different grading scales. In traditional grading, students are primarily measured by the percentage of work successfully completed. The assumption is that higher completion rates reflect greater mastery, and earn higher grades. Often 90% achieves an A, 80% a B, etc. 

In SBG, grading is based on demonstration of mastery. Students attempt standards-aligned activities (projects, worksheets, quizzes, essays, presentations, etc.). Teachers assess the student output and choose the appropriate mastery level that was demonstrated. 

In standards-based education, teaching is responsive to learning. When starting a new target, teachers present introductory lessons. As students progress, they are offered more complex material. They continue working and learning until they reach the target.  Teachers regularly provide feedback, reteach, and offer additional opportunities to reach the next step. SBG is powerful because it provides a framework to regularly measure student progress. When teachers have continuous understanding of students’ mastery, they can adapt instruction to better meet students’ needs. This causes education to be more effective and engaging. 

In SBG environments, better feedback accelerates learning. Instead of simply giving scores like 9/10 or 85%, teachers give feedback about the task performed and skills used. This helps students understand their current areas of improvement, and helps them reach the next level. This positive environment speeds learning and students reach higher levels of achievement -- all while being deeply engaged and enjoying school.