Mountain Lakes: Music Education and Social Emotional Curriculum

I’m headed for a bi-annual symposium of treasured music education friends and colleagues, perhaps among the wisest educators I know, at Mountain Lakes, VA. Mountain Lakes is a bit remote (spotty cell phone connections), rural, and very beautiful. Long and short walks through green, wooded trails are expected. I’m expecting to catch up with friends, learn about new trends, and facilitate a lunchtime round table on music education and social emotional learning.
Roundtable Thoughts:
The main ideas about the intersection of music education and social emotional curriculum that I plan to share are outlined in a set of PowerPoint slides. I hope to reflect on the ways in which music educators (and arts educators, and educators in general) can positively or negatively contribute to social emotional skill development in small and large ways. We’ll identify possible elements of the music, arts, and social emotional curriculum – and how they interweave to create a foundation and delivery system for all learning. We have an opportunity, in a time of flux, to become amazing educational leaders, and intentionally plan for music and the arts to become the center of education.
Attached Documents:
Attached are the Power Point presentation, a bibliography of resources to get you started, and a compendium of Preschool Through Elementary School Social Emotional Learning and Associated Assessment Measures.
Please be in touch with your thoughts about this, and let me know if you would like to schedule a keynote address, symposium presentation, or several-day course.

Mt Lakes – Social Emotional Curriculum

Bibliography – Social-Emotional Curriculum

compendium of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) assessment tools Bibliography – FAAE – final Mt Lakes – Social Emotional Curriculum

Kennedy Center VSA Arts Intersections, 2016

I attended and presented at the Kennedy Center VSA Arts Intersections conference in Pittsburgh early in August.  It was a most extraordinary gathering of professionals, with an energy that represented the many abilities and ideas shared.  I was fortunate to present a session entitled “Arts Education and Social-Emotional Curriculum:  Meeting Special Needs in the Elementary Classroom.”  The PowerPoint presentation is attached here, and I encourage you to be in touch to further discuss this topic, and how the content is meaningful to you.  I’m at

Arts Education and Social Emotional Curriculum – Meeting Special Needs in the Classroom

Operation Extraordinary

Every child and every teacher can be extraordinary.

Every child and every teacher can be extraordinary.

Today, I met with a group of teachers who were exceptional in their dedication to their work.  When I asked them, individually, about their students, they each had a variation of the theme, “They’re OK.”  “They aren’t too bad.”  “They’re good.”  When we did a hands-on activity designed to build cognitive and social-emotional skills, one teacher said, “My kids would be slapping each other.”  We went back through the activity and discussed how to scaffold the activity for success, and modify it to match a class’s maturity and self control.

Many teachers shy away from the very activities that teach students self control and make learning engaging.  It’s part of the teacher’s job to bring students from where they are to where they need to be – choosing appropriate activities to build skills, scaffolding for self control, and encouraging the very best.

Every student has the capacity to learn, and some special gift that makes her or him extraordinary.  When students are acting in ways that negatively impact learning, how about telling them that they are extraordinary.  They are capable of doing great things, and that this activity is an opportunity to show and grow their abilities.  It’s a chance to build skills and understandings.  They deserve extraordinary education from an extraordinary teacher like you, and it is their right because they, too, are extraordinary.

And when someone asks about your students, you can then say, “They’re simply extraordinary.”  Because you’ve made sure they are.

Creativity from the Start

DSC01469In Total Learning Digital Grade 3, there are two sets of Classroom Management Module lessons: one set for those who have not experienced Total Learning, and another for those who started Total Learning in an earlier grade.

Those children who have not experienced Total Learning need to establish the basics of self control, moving through space safely, listening, representing through different modalities, and sharing ideas comfortably. This requires strong teacher guidance and establishment of general guidelines for a positive learning environment.

For those who have already assimilated these skills, the beginning of the school year opens the door to imagination and creative thinking. There’s not a moment to waste, as these first lessons introduce useful skills, then introduce STUDIOs (creativity centers) where the students work collaboratively on a task to apply their new skill to classroom curriculum.

By teacher request, the STUDIOs allow you to plug in your classroom curriculum content, concepts and skills. It could be a math skill, a comprehension activity for a passage from current events or reading texts, or a science concept. Not only are students challenged to apply their knowledge creatively, the teacher is likewise challenged to deliver classroom content in a way that engages the child.

Start teaching for Total Learning from the very beginning!

TLD is Ready for You!

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After many years of curriculum development, synthesizing best practices and evidence from across the education spectrum, Total Learning Digital is developed, tested, and joins other arts-integration approaches for the primary grades as a powerful way to engage students and develop teacher and student skills.

  • The content is engaging.
  • Social-emotional skills are built along with academics.
  • The platform is rich and innovative.
    • There is PD to build teacher skills.
    • There are grade-level specific lessons and STUDIOs, so teachers can practice delivering arts-infused instruction.
    • A social network allows each teacher to build a unique network with anytime, anywhere peer connections, trainer support, and digital team teaching.

Choose your level of interest: one set of four lessons, or a robust year of 24+ modules.

The cost is ridiculously low. Now’s the time to act! Let’s work together to enrich your teaching and engage your K-4 students!

Contact to get started, or purchase your license(s) at

Why Multi-Modal and Arts-Infused Education?


Elliot Eisner (1934-2014)

Elliot Eisner (1934-2014)

Sometimes it’s possible to step back and ask the big question, “Why are we doing this?” The “this” is arts-integrated curriculum. Specifically, we are creating and sharing the Total Learning Digital curriculum that includes (1) teacher professional development, (2) student multi-modal or arts-infused learning across the curriculum, and (3) focus on positive and powerful teacher-student interactions.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been cleaning out piles of important papers, articles, notes, etc. from many years of work. I’ve also been teaching and videotaping 4th grade lessons, which will complete the more than 500 video segments that accompany the Total Learning Digital whole-group lessons at 5 grade levels. With only four lessons now left to videotape and edit, this component of the platform will be complete! The intersection of these two activities – cleaning and teaching – has offered a unique reflection opportunity.

After teaching two lessons of the four that comprise Grade 4 Lessons 4, I asked the students, who had just been totally engaged in identifying night characters in “I Love the Night,” by Dar Hosta – then making shadow puppets of these characters and exploring the characteristics of light that make shadow puppetry work –

“You just spent a lot of learning time doing this activity. Do you think it is worth the time, with all the things you need to get done during your available instructional time? The first child responding said, “Yes, because this is fun and we’re still learning.” Ah, the F word – FUN! This child realized that the fun needed to be focused on learning, or it could not be justified. A second child responded, “I like it, but I don’t think its worth the time because we have to learn a lot in reading, math, science, and history – I think this way takes too much time.” This child seemed very focused for a 4th grader, with a grasp of the daily and yearly objectives, and time management.

At the end of the next pair of lessons, completing the four-lesson unit, this second student made an unsolicited statement, “Now that we’ve completed all the lessons, I can see that we explored a lot of ideas through different lessons, and then pulled these ideas together to really understand the ideas in the book. Everyone had a way to learn, and I learned in lots of different ways that made me think. I think the way these lessons were put together was brilliant. (Honest, this was her language!) Everyone was so busy learning, and we made lots of interesting connections. I DO think it’s worth the time to learn this way!”

That same afternoon, I ran across a quote by Elliot Eisner, who was a professor of Art and Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, and one of the United States’ leading academic minds, recognized for his contributions to shaping educational policy that reflects the potential of the arts in educational development of the young.

Eisner’s quote was this:

“In the end, the arts make three thing possible.

First, they develop the mind by giving it opportunity to learn to think in special ways.

Second, they make communication possible on matters that will not take the impress of logically constructed language. Poetry, after all, was invented to say what prose can never say.

Third, the arts are places and spaces where one can enrich one’s life. Such outcomes are not educationally trivial. When taken seriously, the arts have much to teach educators; they could provide the models needed to create schools that genuinely educate.”

Elliot Eisner in “Opening a Shuttered Window”,

Phi Delta Kappan (Vol 87, No. 01, 9/05, pp.8-10)

I would humbly add that one reason the arts are so important in education is that in the arts there are multiple solutions to problems, rather than one right answer. There is an abundance of theory and evidence to recommend Total Learning and other arts-integrated approaches. Eisner is only one of the many articulate advocates for teaching in and through the arts. Our student’s aha moment is an example of what happens every day in Total Learning classrooms – opening doors and windows to learning.

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If you’re already using arts-based strategies, you’re doing something that we know works. Hooray for you! If you haven’t yet tried it, it’s time to get on board. Start with a year-long Total Learning Digital license at!


Grade 4, Lessons 4 – The Video Shoot

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Two weeks ago, we shot video for Grade 4 Lessons 4 over a two-day period with 28 4th graders. Four 45-minute lessons – auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and linguistic. Each introduces a strategy that builds student multimodal skills, which then the teacher uses to deliver other curriculum concepts. All four lessons explored elements of a piece of literature (“I Love the Night,” by Dar Hosta), each through a different lens.

On Day 1 we did the auditory and visual lessons, learning about pitch and Orff instruments, and about improvisation as a critical element of communication. The students created a melody to a “Welcome Night” poem, and added an accompaniment with a bit of guidance. The visual lesson explored characters and setting in the book, especially focusing on character outlines, and creating shadow puppets by following a prescribed, sequential set of directions.

At the end of day 1, as we closed the visual lesson, I asked the students to consider the amount of time they had spent on the visual task, and whether they thought it was worth the time, when there were so many other demands academically. One very thoughtful young lady said she thought it was worthwhile because it was engaging and fun. Another very thoughtful young lady said it was fun, but not worthwhile in the end because it didn’t teach her to do anything important like reading or math. (Honest – these are her words and not mine.)

On Day 2 we taped the kinesthetic and linguistic lessons. The kinesthetic lesson started with Zudio, and pairs “walking down the avenue.” You’ll see from the accompanying picture that the kids finally loosened up a bit and started having fun. They explored several formations and ways of moving, then improvised in groups to create a dance to their Welcome Night song. During the linguistic lesson, we took all the parts and put them together with narration, improvising a LOT.

At the end of day 2, the young lady who the day before had shared her skepticism about the worth of the activities, raised her hand without prompting. She said that she had really enjoyed the day, and that she had rethought her answer from the day before. “I think it IS worth the time to do Total Learning, because everyone has a different way of learning, so we all had a chance to explore in all those different ways. We learned to understand more about each other, and about the information in the book. The way you put those lessons together, Dr. Sue, it was brilliant! I can see how this kind of learning really helps us see the connections.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

We videotape lessons 5 in just a few weeks!2015-04-09 21.53.34 2015-04-09 22.16.42 2015-04-09 22.16.56

Measuring Success as a Teacher Educator

I’m cleaning out some older files, and scanning pages to make space for new work. I ran across a journal I wrote to a class at Hunter College, toward the end of the semester. I wrote: “The results of this class will not be known today or tomorrow. Grades will be given which reflect your work thus far. But true evaluation of a course is reflected in the change that’s made in the lives of children in the classroom. When you teach, if you use music and the arts to enrich the life of your classroom, and teach with joy and excitement, my success will have been moderate. If you get books, recordings and instruments for your classroom and use them on a regular basis, you and I will be more successful. If you integrate music and the arts into your teaching, and truly teach through the arts – my success will have been somewhat better. If you become an advocate for music and the arts in your school, and work to be sure every child has access to music, art, movement and drama every week with a trained specialist who works with a developmentally appropriate curriculum, then I will consider myself a success. Probably I will not know these results. I just set the goals, do my best to build your understanding of the essential nature of music and the arts for children, and we are done. I know I have earned my pay, but hope I have earned your learning, and a place for music and the arts in your classroom.

The best to you in your teaching career. I hope you remember that teaching is the most important job in the world, and your charge is to never be less than excellent. If you use the richness that I have seen within our class, and open yourself to all the wonders of the world and its children, you will be a critical different in shaping the future.”

Talk worth your listening time

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Sir Ken Robinson is a smart man with a clear and compelling message about how to escape education’s death valley.

“In some parts of the country 60% of children are dropping out of high school.  In Native American communities it’s 80%.  If we were to halve that number, the net gain to the U.S. economy would be nearly 1 billion dollars over 10 years.

It costs an enormous amount to mop up the damage from the dropout crisis.  But the dropout crisis is only the tip of the iceberg . . . .”

Listen to this smart and compelling talk:



Influencing the Future of Education – An Article Worth Reading

I’m working on a competitive analysis for Total Learning and Total Learning Digital, which means surveying “what’s out there” that is similar in one way or another. Of course, there’s LOTS to document, because Total Learning Digital addresses so many of the features that make education great. I just ran across this validating article, and thought you would enjoy it as much as I did.   The major sections are The Future of Education, Social and Emotional Development, Brain Based Strategies, and Best Tech Tools. There are lots of good ideas here, such as “We know how kids learn. We know what classes should look like. And yet our classes look almost the opposite.” Give it a read! Shot 2015-01-30 at 6.23.12 PM