Stacy Sims, teaching Kindergarten in Stockton, CA, sent this report this week.  So proud of Stacy for hanging in there through the beginning of the year, and finding a way to make things work!  She is using TL strategies in integrated units around her curriculum and writing requirements!  Some of these activities are connections, some correlations.  And the Messenger Bag is always a hit!  Teachers use it flexibly, and the kids are surprised when there is something new inside!

“I had the staff meeting in my room Tuesday and I showed them the mini unit I created on elephants. I told them about the books we were reading, learning color words with Elmer the elephant, showed that charts we did for what elephants are/have/can and the writing that came from that info., and told them about comparing 2 pieces of music both about elephants. It was well received.

Today I was at a district TK training and one of the teachers talked about having a letter carrier bag that she uses for a game. Then she started singing, ‘Messenger, Messenger’. I asked where she taught and she said King – that Barbara Williams had taught it to her. Just thought you’d want to know.”


STEM: Incredibly valuable, not sufficient – We need STEAM!

“The arts being the major brain booster and spark behind creativity is overwhelming and shouldn’t be a complete shock. It should be obvious, the arts need to take a seat at the table in this national education reform effort.” Total Learning was created with this innovative spirit in mind, and we are ready to help craft and educational policy and design deserving of our children and democracy.”  Read the full text at this link:

Creative Collaborations to Address Funding Cuts

Can collaboration lead to new funding?

Can collaboration lead to new funding?


I love creating PD and curriculum to make learning rich, engaging, and powerful! I can talk about it all day! Along with the opportunity to do the work comes the need to fund it. We’ve been fortunate to have sufficient funds to keep Total Learning going for several years. Now the funding is harder, and so more time is spent planning and seeking.

Today I spoke to a prominent scholar at the CT State Department of Education. His programs support multicultural education, gender equity, and anti-bullying. These all overlap with and inform Total Learning’s philosophy and practice.

He told me it’s a terrible time to seek funding. SDE funding has been cut for several important programs, including a multicultural conference that drew 1800 attendees a year, a 3 day summer institute on bullying, and Title IX training.

A few thoughts:

  1. Funding for multicultural, equity and anti-bullying efforts are particularly needed now, as our world is rife with hatred and dogma, and interpersonal skills and understanding are so underdeveloped! Education without a moral compass is dangerous, but also ineffective. The social issues eventually lead to a weak learning environment where children sabotage learning.
  2. Those of us who are seeking funding for initiatives that make a difference must become advocates for and collaborators with others who are also doing good and related work. Through partnerships and collaborative efforts, we can construct systems that might be more likely to find the funding we need.
  3. We ask our students to learn more about others they do not know, because once you have learned about someone it is harder to objectify them. We need to do the same as educational leaders, so we understand where there are synergies. We may be stronger together than separately.

If we all are spending so much time finding fewer available funds, that means we also are spending less time creating the approaches that are needed to move education and society forward. Finding like-minded collaborators seems like a smart step.  I can start with my new colleague at the SDE!

Visual 2 Lesson Prep – feedback request

Please provide feedback for Visual 2 Lesson Prep.  Thanks!!!

Please provide feedback for Visual 2 Lesson Prep. Thanks!!!

Hi, all.

Please help!

Please go to the Total Learning Digital website and review Visual Lesson 2 Lesson Prep. It will be posted sometime Saturday, December 10.  In your comments, tell IF you like it, WHAT you like, WHAT suggestions you have, if any.

Thanks so much for helping to make Total Learning Digital fabulous!


Stacy Sims – a Total Learning teacher in Stockton, CA

Stacy Sims is a Total Learning teacher. She is the only Total Learning teacher in the Stockton, CA school district. Stockton is in the ‘valley’ to the east of San Francisco – where much of the produce is grown that feeds the United States. Many children in Stockton’s schools are from migrant families.

Stacy started the year as a Grade 1 teacher, then was moved to a different school and assigned a Kindergarten class after a few months. Without the summer workshops and preparation, she has struggled to keep up with the new curriculum in the district and school, and still serve her students well.

One program the school is promoting is AVID (Achievement Via Individual Determination. This approach recommends a WICOR wall – writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading to learn. This approach has much in common with Total Learning!

Today when we spoke, Stacy spoke with pride about starting her new unit on neighborhoods through an I see and I wonder with Phillip Evergood’s Sunny Side of the Street.

The inquiry began: Where is it? I see lines. Where? What kind of lines? I see shapes. What kind of shapes? What relationships are represented? Who else might live or work in this place? How is this scene the same and different from where we live and work? Could we show our neighborhood this way?

Stacy said, “[Teaching this way] feels right and I know I can do it – it covers all the standards that I’m supposed to be hitting. I should do what I know how to do, and we’ll get there. We are told in workshops to get the kids involved and do hands-on stuff – all the way to 3rd grade.”

Congratulations to Stacy for making the challenges into amazing teaching and learning for her classroom in Stockton, CA!  Let’s support her in any way that we can!


New Year Focus on STUDIOs

How do we know kids are using studio time effectively?

How do we know our students are using studio time effectively?

Happy New Year!

I hope you and your class are settling in for January, one of the few months that is not broken up with vacation time, and your class can really get into a flow.

If you haven’t started studios yet, or only have one open at a time (normal in K and 1st grade), this is a great time to plan the progression from 1 to 2, then 3 and 4 studios open if students are ready.

Studios are introduced after the whole group lesson is taught. The whole group lesson introduces at Total Learning strategy, which then is used in the studio.

Let’s remember Bridgeport Grade 1 teacher Candy King-Sadler’s question, “How do I know that the groups are actually doing what they’re supposed to in those studios?” as we go about introducing them, and look for opportunities to collect evidence beyond “I was Here” and the self assessment. The studios are crafted so students apply Total Learning strategies to new situations, often related to the literacy or math curriculum. They are models from which you can adapt or generate your own applications of a TL strategy.

What are the ways that you can check for compliance, but more important, check for understanding? Are the journal entries providing some evidence? Are the students creating products that can provide evidence? Are there discussion topics that can give you more information? Will random checking help (for example: everyone stop, look up, and then ask one child to explain what she is doing)? Are there skills students are lacking that need a reminder or re-teaching?

I bet you have some ideas for keeping independent learning activities on track. There is now a general “discussion” button on the home page of Total Learning Digital. Put your ideas, and any new year’s questions, there!  And enjoy the hum of active, independent learning when students are engaged in STUDIOs!

Thoughts on Emotional Literacy

The NPR report link below describes a persistent and real problem that is evident in most schools and classrooms across the country, and spanning socio-economic groups.

Teaching and learning are complex, with many perspectives represented in the comments at the end of the report. Here’s mine.

In order to learn school curriculum, there are certain conditions that must be met. Children must (1) feel safe (not hungry, not feeling threatened), and (2) be engaged and motivated. Without these, learning is hampered, not only for the disengaged child, but for the entire group. Children learn coping and social skills early, based on interactions with the adults and others around them. If the adults are positive, set clear expectations, model mature behaviors, and generally follow cultural norms that match the school’s expectations, the child will most likely adjust well. If there are different norms in the home or community than in the school, the child or school will need to adjust.

Turning to content, the curriculum is the “stuff” that is deemed important to teach. Hopefully it is developmentally appropriate for the child – sometimes it is not. Over the past decades, the curriculum has been inappropriately narrowed to include reading (not literacy – mostly leaving out speaking, listening, and even writing) and some mathematics. Programs that taught these skills in context, applying them to real life or interesting problems, have been out of favor. Arts programs (music, visual arts, dance and drama) have been eliminated in many places, from large school districts to small rural schools. Why? The arts were seen as less important frills, rather than core curriculum. This is just wrong. The arts are core curriculum, unique ways of knowing and communicating that are essential for brain development and all learning. They build auditory, visual, kinesthetic and linguistic skills, and they have the significant benefit of engaging self-expression, imagination, and emotional understanding. The arts provide the social-emotional outlet for students, and strategies for learning across the curriculum.

When the arts were removed from school curriculum, the opportunities for learning self control, self regulation, collaboration, and learning how to learn disappeared.

The PATHS program addresses a real and persistent problem. However, that problem would not exist if sequential, quality, integrated arts programs were reinstated. Slapping on a huge band-aid that takes time away from learning, in place of filling the gaping wound with nourishing, powerful, engaging core educational experiences is not an answer. Education’s decision-makers have cause the problem, and they can solve it by allocating funds to essential, core, arts curriculum. There’s plenty of data that supports this perspective. And don’t be fooled just because kids love the arts – learning that brings joy, engagement, and positive interactions will build those social-emotional skills not by labeling, but through experiencing them. Once there is love of learning, good things will follow.

When children are safe and motivated, they will achieve.  The arts are essential.

When children are safe and motivated, they will achieve. The arts are essential.

4th grade getting ready . . .

Our 4th graders are coming along!!! To complete Total Learning Digital this year, we have 8 more 4th grade lessons to videotape. Already done – 24 lesson for each grade level: K, 1st, 2nd, 3rd – and 16 complete for Grade 4! Yes, a lot of work!!!
This year’s 4th grade class came in very chatty, with some tensions between individuals. All fall the teacher and support team have been working hard, and this past week the class did an amazing job working on story sequence through the strategy of tableau! I’m really proud of them, and know the videos this spring are going to be fabulous! Check out the fun!

Using pantomime to explore story sequence.

Using pantomime to explore story sequence.

02 positive interactions 2014-12-19 03.41.58 03 partner activities, explore character2014-12-19 03.37.50 08 2014-12-19 03.38.14 2014-12-19 03.37.05