Setting Reading Resolutions: Celebrating Readers!

We are ringing in another New Year! Throughout 2016 I enjoyed reading so many amazing books. As a school, we established a Little Free Library, Free Will Bookshelves, and added over 100 new titles to our library. It is clear when you walk through DGS and see teachers sharing what they’re reading on posters outside their doors, shelves of books in the hallways, and even a bathtub full of books, that literacy is important to our school. Not only is creating a culture of readers a school goal, but it is a deeply rooted value and belief of the staff. More than reading achievement, my goal is and always has been creating learners that LOVE to read. That love of reading with spark lifelong learning and reading enjoyment!

So, as I have done in the past, I set my own reading resolutions to model reading for my staff and students. In the past, I have set goals to read a professional book a month and blog about it, read a particular series or author, or maintain a good reads account. That has all become standard for me, so my reading resolution this year is to promote reading in fun and unique ways with my students and staff. I am starting by having them set their own reading resolutions and I am harnessing the power of social media to do just that.

On our school facebook page, I posted the graphic below (Created in Canva). I am encouraging parents and families to set reading goals with their students! Readers grow on the laps of their parents! As an added incentive, I am gifting a free book and certificate to any student that establishes their own reading resolution! Let’s get out their and ring in the new year with books!


Parent Lunch and Learn: Sailing the Seas of Literacy

literacy-lunch-and-learnDunlap Grade School hosted its first “Lunch in Learn” of the series on November 16, 2016. The topic of the month was focused on literacy and fostering a love of reading at home. 2nd Grade Teacher, Mrs. Pitzer, facilitated a parent discussion on essentials of reading, ideas, and resources. This event was intended to engage parents in a learning opportunity to extend teaching practices in the home. In addition to the resources shared, parents were given copies of several books to support reading at home! You can view the Facebook LIVE Video HERE

We will continue the Lunch and Learn series in December with the topic of “Educational Gift Giving” on December 14th at 11am.






Friday Focus: Great Things I’ve Seen This Week at DGS

  • 4th grade uses read alouds as an opportunity to model proficient oral reading for their students. I have a great book, “In Defense of the Read Aloud” if you are interested in reading the importance of consistently modeling reading across all grade levels.
  • Mrs. Zarko created a video to communicate how her feedback form works for parents. This tool builds parents’ capacity for understanding 2nd grade expectations and their student learning. You can view it at
  • Positive Office Referrals are being shared when they come in. I love to read these to our students and showcase the positive behaviors. It provides a great model for other students and builds positive rapport and relationships with the students and their parents that receive them.
  • Kindergarten completed a team work activity in PE that required them to exercise their communication and problem-solving skills.
  • Some third grade students were observed correcting their own understanding in math, but moving from the concrete to pictoral to abstract levels in a flexible and supported environment.
  • Our strong and cohesive team came together to support each other and a student in need on Thursday.
  • The Hallway number line was observed being used as students recognized number patterns and continued to develop number sense.
  • Having Mrs. Cranford in our building has been a great asset. She’s been able to support our students so much already with various nursing needs.

Friday Focus: Great Things I’ve Seen This Week at DGS!

There’s been a lot of buzz around the building as our staff and students get into the groove and steady pace of the new school year. Classrooms are settling into routine and we’re one week away from progress reports already! This is not a comprehensive list of all the great teaching and learning that occurs on a daily basis, but check out a sliver of what great things happened this week:

  • Mr. Wright introduced sketch books to some of his students that will be used to document their growth and learning in art class
  • Caterpillars are growing, evolving and soon will be chrysalises. This hands on science project is always engaging and fun for the students.
  • Students revising their personal narratives in 5th grade provided fantastic, authentic, and constructive feedback to each other. You should have heard their suggestions for improvement and focus on growth in their writing.
  • Students in PE working in collaborative groups while developing stamina, balance, and communication skills in crab soccer
  • A life size number line with chalk in the back parking lot to develop number sense for multiplication and repeated addition in 3rd Mrs. Lanser used her megaphone to cheer on her students as they made giant leaps down the number line!
  • 4th grade really does a great job with their read alouds. There is a lot of research that supports the power of an effective read aloud and how the modeling by teachers supports student learning and development of fluency and prosody.
  • First Grade started number bonds with a simple but impacting craft that will allow students to visual the concept
  • Web-Based classroom review of a read-aloud models connected learning, social reading, and aligns with our Regie Reading beliefs

Purposeful Development of Character

Dunlap Grade School staff understands that a comprehensive approach to educating the whole child is important to ensuring academic success. As a building leadership team, we have invested in a goal that strives to ensure we develop both academic and social/emotional elements of the child.

Our goal is:

DGS will develop learners that have empathy, can manage their emotions, develop skills for learning, and problem solve as evidenced by implementation of the Second Step Curriculum with Integrity and Fidelity during the 2015-2016 school year.

Our core mechanism for teaching social behaviors is Second Step. As indicated on their webpage, “Social-emotional skills—like math skills—build on each other. Our universal, classroom-based program is designed to teach children how to understand and manage their emotions, control their reactions, be aware of others’ feelings, and have the skills to problem-solve and make responsible decisions. Each grade-level kit includes easy-to-teach, short weekly lessons, engaging songs and games, and daily activities and take-home materials to reinforce learning. Watch video overview.”

Teachers use Second Step on a weekly basis to teach skills that target the core competencies of social and emotional learning. In addition to weekly instruction, We have developed several strategies that recognize students for their performance of these skills.

The positive office referral is submitted to myself, as the principal, from a teacher or other staff member. These narrative recognize students for going above and beyond expectations. These students are then celebrated at morning announcements in front of the whole student body, their picture taken, their parents given a personal contact by me, and given a copy of the referral. It’s a joy to see students beam due to their accomplishments as well as reinforce exemplary behavior to the students in the schools. Parents appreciate the positive contact. It’s a win-win-win-win for teachers, students, parents and administration!

positive office referral

We recognize that teachers may not see all the wonderful behaviors our students are exhibiting so we offer a student shout out that are completed by their peers. Children have the opportunity to recognize their classmates as well!



For those times that behavior in the hallway in the classroom should be acknowledged quickly or at the point of occurrence, students may earn at second step sticker. These stickers may be given in the hallways for following expectations, in the cafeteria, or in the classroom when students show a kind deed that aligns with the values of second step.


Finally, on a monthly basis, one student from each class or content area (art, music, PE, technology, world language, resource) are selected by their teachers and named a Royal of the Month.

To be selected “Royal of the Month, students must meet the following ROYAL criteria:

Respect Others

Respect Yourself

Respect Learning

Criteria also include, but are not limited to:

  • Demonstrating Second Step Skills for learning, empathy, emotion management and problem solving.
  • Students show progress and improvement in subject areas.
  • Students make contributions to the community through service.
  • Students display exemplary leadership skills.
  • Students show positive attitude toward classmates, school staff, learning and school.
  • Students have good attendance.
  • Students demonstrate appropriate behavior.
  • Students encourage others to do their best.
  • Students work up to their ability.
  • Students exhibit good character, hard work, and honesty.



Students will be recognized with:

  • Recognition at Morning Announcements
  • Certificate of Achievement
  • Photograph displayed on the foyer bulletin board
  • Rock Star Trophy from the Principal, Mrs. Ellis


Fostering an Environment of Numeracy Across All Settings

A school goal of ours is to foster an environment of numeracy. Our action plan includes references to school data and ties to our curriculum and standards, but math instruction needs to be thought of as an element of instruction that should be embedded across the school day and across environments. This thought process has required some outside of the box thinking so that students are exposed to numbers and math concepts throughout their days.

This has led to the math facts written in the bathroom stalls, angles drawn outside the gym door, vocabulary displayed along lines in the hallways, and access to math resources outside the classroom.

There is a consistent focus in education on embedding literacy across the school day in all content areas. At DGS, you will see a well-established culture of reading through book shelves in the hallways, healthy classroom and school libraries, and the focus on reading activities across the grade levels. We know that creating a literature rich environment supports students as developing readers, and the fundamental principles of establishing a literature rich environment apply to mathematical instruction as well.

As indicated in Lainey Simmon’s book Guided Math, ‘As students see numbers and math-related materials  throughout the classroom and participate in real-world, meaningful problem-solving opportunities, they begin to see the connection math has to their own lives.” The author continues to explain that a numeracy rich environment promotes mathematical thinking and that math is a constructive process. That being said, embedding elements of math in the bathroom, in the hallways, or in other unique locations set the stage for fostering an environment that supports students acquisition of number sense and math concepts. Math is not to be seen in isolation, but across environments and elements of the child’s life. We look forward to embedding more examples through DGS to support classroom math instruction for our Royals!





 11891446_1012848925413628_830648250120812964_o“Math Fact Graffiti” in the bathrooms!


Bar Models from a Teacher’s Perspective

Bar Models

Submitted by: 2nd Grade Teacher, Mrs. Pitzer

This is my third year of teaching Math in Focus and it has been the year of Ah-HA moments.  I am now understanding why this curriculum and the Common Core is teaching things like bar models to help students in math.  It is important to know though, that my journey didn’t begin that way.  With all the negative attention Common Core is receiving it is hard to be positive about it and when there are positives, they get lost or go unnoticed.  The most common statement is always; I was never taught math that way and I turned out fine.  Being a student who struggled with math though, I have found that I am wishing I was taught this way.  And that is the honest truth.  While any set of standards have opportunities for improvement, I have come to learn there is a purpose to the methods and strategies that reinforce the Common Core Standards.  Bar models are a tool, that when used correctly and practiced enough can help students tackle even the most complicated of word problems.  Bar models have not only helped me with word problems but have helped my brightest students think more critically and helped my struggling students know what to do and why.

The first thing taught when bar models are introduced is the concept of a bar representing a number.  Instead of drawing 58 apples, you can just draw a bar to represent 58.  Bigger bars represent larger numbers and smaller bars represent smaller numbers.  Next, students are introduced to the part-part-whole concept.  Basically when you put two parts together you have a whole.  This means you are going to have more and the operation that gives us more is addition.  Sometimes though you are given a whole and just a part which means you end up with something smaller.  The operation that gives us less, is subtraction.  Second graders were even taught hand motions to further help them move from memorization to mastery.

Once we understand this, we then work on finding the parts and a whole in the word problem.  This is different in years past, where students were trained to look for key words and complete the operation that was associated with that key word.  Struggling students would not read the problem, see the word more, and immediately add.  However, that might not be correct and if it didn’t work, they didn’t understand why.  This year, I’ve noticed that by teaching students to draw and label a bar model first, they can know instantly whether they are adding or subtracting and know why.  Again knowing the why part helps students move in to mastery.

After a lot of practice with the part-part-whole model, we move into the comparison model.  This is where the word problem is comparing things and using the words more, less and or fewer.  Yes those are key words, but the key words are only used to let students know the type of bar model to draw instead of what operation to solve.  These types of bar models are two bars, one on top of the other.  Now when students look at a problem they try to label the bar with either the name or the object the problem is about.  They are determining what is more and what is less.  Once they know who or what each bar represents, they can plug in the numbers and see if they have a whole and a part or a part and a part.  The bigger bar is always the whole, the smaller bar is a part and the difference between the two (labeled with a bracket of sorts) is the other part.  By taking what they learned about the part whole concept, they can select the operation that matches.

Once students have had practice with these types of models, we then apply what we have learned to two step problems.  Two step problems are often extremely difficult but by using bar models, it doesn’t seem quite as overwhelming and more solvable.

The goal of second grade is to only introduce and practice using bar models not to master them.  As students continue the year, they receive more practice in using them to solve problems involving measurement and multiplication.  This will prepare them for the upper grades where word problems become more abstract.  Bar models become a necessary part of problem solving.  By teaching students what, how and why to visualize while practicing using the visual, students can move this skill into mastery.  Instead of drawing a bar model they can picture it in their head and use mental math to solve it, which is more of a real life skill.

I understand the backlash of this method and empathize with parents who aren’t sure how to help their child, so they teach them a shortcut. If there is anything I have learned by teaching this curriculum though, it is that teaching shortcuts before a student understands why, doesn’t always equate to mastery.  Students often don’t understand why they are using a shortcut, how to use it and or which shortcut they should pick.  The missing link that Common Core is trying to provide is understanding why and how those shortcuts work.  By understanding the why and how first, students can then be introduced to shortcuts and pick the one that works the best for them.  It is with deeper understanding that they can become more independent, transition into higher level thinking, and master skills instead of memorize.

It took me three years to get here, and it wasn’t easy, but bar models have allowed me to solve word problems more easily and think more critically.  I have seen students have less anxiety and tackle problems that they wouldn’t have been able to because of bar models.  It is also helped me realized that if it took me three years of practice, mastery will not happen overnight.  My goal is to introduce and provide my students with as many practice opportunities as possible so they can have a strong foundation.  As students move through the grades and continue their learning, they can then build on that foundation to become master mathematicians with stellar critical thinking skills.

If you are interested in knowing more about bar models, Mrs. Zarko and I have created several videos to help students and their families at home.  Please feel free to check them out below:


Coffee and Common Core Session #1

On November 4, 2014, parents joined Principal Mandy Ellis and teacher leaders, Sam Mahrt and Natalie Lanser for a foundational information session on the Common Core Standards in the Dunlap Grade School Royal Cafe. Mandy, Natalie and Sam have been engaged in high level professional development focused on Common Core shifts in Math and English Language Arts through the Peoria Regional Office of Education at the PROE Center. They integrated their knowledge to communicate these shifts with parents.

Coined “Coffee and The Common Core,” parents gathered together to hear information about the Common Core and engage in conversation to gain a better understanding of the shifts in Math and English Language Arts. The goal of the session was to provide an overview of the Common Core and its applications in the classroom. Future sessions will be offered to provide further information on Math, English Language Arts and the PARCC Assessment. The presentation can be viewed below.

Classroom Meetings

A component of the Dunlap School District’s Vision is to create students that are effective communicators and skilled collaborators. A key strategy in ensuring that vision comes to fruition is the development and implementation of classroom meetings.
Classroom Meetings are a vital part of any classroom learning community. It is the time of the day when the class comes together to set goals, problem solve, engage in critical thinking and hone their communication skills. Classroom Meetings can take many forms, but have key components.
In classroom meetings, students review their classroom mission and ground rules. They will reference their classroom data center and review any data that has been collected regarding classroom goals. In addition, students may review classroom feedback from a quality tool that has been placed in the classroom data center.
Key in any classroom meeting is student ownership, accountability and participation. Classroom meetings are best implemented when control is gradually released to students and then facilitated by students. The process may take teaching modeling as the class learns the process. Using the Optimal Learning Model of “I do, we do, you do” can aid in relinquishing control and ownership to students.
Once implemented completely, classroom meetings have several benefits. Students that participate in classroom meetings cite a more positive classroom learning environment, improved abilities to problem-solve and communicate, and analyze performance and growth on key goals.


ISAT Updates

District Strategic Goal #1: Continuously Improve Student Growth and Achievement

ISAT Updates

The ISAT data collected in Spring 2013 has been analyzed for school and district accountability determinations using the new performance level cut scores. Statewide data will be released at the end of October. Check out a helpful fact sheet at:

The higher performance levels for the ISAT will result in a decrease in the number of students whose 2013 ISAT scores meet or exceed standards. This declide does not indicate that students know less or are less capable than they were in previous years. It is also not a reflection of teacher performance. The Illinois State Board of Education has raised the bar to increase rigor to provide a better indication of how well students are prepared to meet college and career readiness benchmarks. You can learn more about cut scores at

Individual ISAT reports will be distributed to parents later this fall when they become available. 20% of questions from last year’s ISAT test were from the Common Core Learning Standards whereas the previous year, there were no questions from the Common Core. This year’s tests will be 100% Common Core.

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