TLD Around the Country – Update

Every day, teachers around the US teach model Total Learning lessons to build student multimodal skills, and then introduce studios where students use their new skills to focus on literacy, math, and other curriculum content. At the same time, classroom management is positively accomplished through motivating activity and engagement – and social-emotional skills are built through guided, small group learning.

Every week I speak to teachers across the country. Here are some snapshots of how it’s going.

Bridgeport, CT: 5 teachers, one at each grade level from K-4, are actively implementing Total Learning Digital. The Bridgeport program is a full model, so these teachers have a Total Learning paraprofessional, a family worker, a mental health worker, and materials provided.

Mary Wasik, Kindergarten teacher, reported: “We played the Messenger Game for name recognition. I put the student’s names in the bag, and when they picked their name out, they were the mailman. It’s a great way to learn name recognition, and if a child doesn’t recognize his or her name, a classmate will recognize it. Their faces just light up. And now, on indoor recess, I took it one step further and put in our sight words.”

Candice King-Sadler, Grade 1 teacher, reported that the children coming up from the Total Learning Kindergarten are much more independent and have more self control – they’re ready to learn. Candice is a pro at helping students learn how to work together independently in studios.

Jill Coyne, Grade 2, is new to Total Learning, and just getting used to the lesson content and flow. She mentioned how much she enjoys a program that helps her figure out HOW to teach, injecting creativity into content delivery. She was adamant about not doing things “the same old way”, and that Total Learning allows her to use her creativity to engage her students.

Marilyn Council, Grade 3, adapts each lesson to tailor it to her curriculum. If the Total Learning concept is a visual lesson on line, students create lines on pumpkins, and measure and analyze the lines they have drawn. She’s helping children learn how to memorize poems, and they say the poems as they walk down the hall – softly.

Andrea Woodman, Grade 4, just started using line to explore birds eye view, beginning exploration of space and point of view. She said the kids are challenged by looking at their space in a new way.


In Stockton, CA, Stacy Sims is a seasoned teacher who has degrees in both art education and elementary education. When arts positions are funded, Stacy teaches the arts. This year they are not funded, and Stacy (whose is a single mom with a talented special needs son) went into the pool to choose a classroom from available positions in the district. She chose a first grade, got started, and then was redistricted out. She now starting again in a kindergarten classroom in a different school, with a supportive principal and colleagues.

Stacy started the Classroom Management Module with her Kindergarten students. “They love the messenger bag,” she reports. “They ask for it every day.” She’s started using sight words in the bag, and I suggested putting the text of a poem or song – one word on each card – in the bag, then after playing the game, putting the song text together like a puzzle, and then singing it! She’s going to introduce the kinesthetic lesson so the children begin using self control. A week ago she stopped because of testing, and now is excited to get back to Total Learning because she says the children are out of control without it.


Maritsa Madias-Kalasz is a music teacher in a school where 3 years ago students were highly successful, with about 75% of children at or above benchmark in reading. Last year, 3 years later, 21% of children were at or above. The reason? “Doing things the same old way!” In a transient population with lots of foreclosures and renters in the neighborhood, there is a lack of trust. There are lots of new children, new teachers, and their heads are spinning with all the things they have do. Maritsa and her art teacher are bringing Total Learning strategies to their 5th grade teachers and classrooms, where there are lots of boys! Their first unit is on details and figurative language. They’re enjoying it, and Maritsa reports that the teachers are also learning by observing, participating, and writing reflective pieces about the process.

“It’s the process that is so powerful in Total Learning,” says Maritsa. “It’s a way of thinking about things, and connect to the classroom curriculum.”


In Kenai, Alaska, all staff at the Kaleidoscope School for Arts and Science are early adopters of Total Learning, and just like all teachers above, are advisors in shaping the product and process. We met by Skype last week. Because many of these teachers were trained in Total Learning several years ago, they are moving ahead quickly. In Kindergarten, the teacher realized that kids who have good phonological awareness are still having trouble with tracking skills when using the Tommy and dog cards in Auditory Lesson 2. Symbol-sound match and tracking across the page are two different skills!

First grade teacher, Nancy Lafferty, asked for all the lessons to be unlocked, so she can read all the lessons. So now all lessons are unlocked, and will remain that way until all Lesson Preps are posted. I can’t wait to see what Nancy does with the Total learning materials, and know she will share with us on the Discussion Board, or maybe write a guest blog!


Now for the challenges. Total Learning lessons are designed to continue pushing students to do well and then do better. Life skills are built, but they don’t just happen. One question that arose was, “What do you do with the kids who aren’t participating?” My answer: There’s always a reason for a specific behavior, and pushing students into something is risky. I’m inclined to have reluctant children sit out as long as they don’t disrupt the class. As they see that they will be safe and supported, and are going to enjoy the learning activities, most children come around on their own.


In general, the teachers are feeling stressed because there is so much paperwork being asked of them. Testing seems to be overemphasized everywhere, and even when testing isn’t occurring, data collection and analysis is required. Our teachers are tired, and working long, long hours. But they know what’s right for kids, and are managing to give Total Learning the time it needs.


Well, that’s a little of what has been shared from around the country.

You can share more in Sharing What Works! Thanks to Candice King Sadler and Andrea Woodman for getting the teacher sharing going!

You can upload word or pdf documents, photos, videos, or audio recordings. If you need a file format changed, just e-mail it to and I’ll convert it.

I’ll share what I can, and you share too!

Stacy Sims from Stockton, CA at the Summer Camp in Bridgeport, learning how to do studios.

Stacy Sims from Stockton, CA at the Summer Camp in Bridgeport, learning how to do studios from Allison Logan.


Parent Engagement – Not one size fits all!


parents-self portrait

parent self portrait

I recently visited an amazing United Way Model Pre-K in Miami. Their goals for parents are to develop advocacy skills, so parents become active in their child’s education. They told me of their frustration that the parents often hit a brick wall when the children go to Kindergarten.

The parent/family component of Total Learning is essential for student success. We are working hard to establish parent/family support in several ways:

  • We work with the school team to assure that the parent and family voice is heard in the school, and that parent engagement is a priority.
  • A family worker is assigned to every 2 or 3 Total Learning classrooms. This individual makes home visits to every family and conducts an intake survey, through which level of risk is determined. When an area of risk is identified, the family worker collaborates with community resources who provide specific support. Our family workers have arranged for everything from socks and adult companionship for a child walking to school, to heating, rent, jobs, and English Language Learning! They are also in the classroom, interfacing with teachers to identify any emerging problems and nip them in the bud.
  • We collaborate with the family resource centers to provide culturally responsive educational workshops and other support for families, including Music Together infant and toddler classes that bring families joyfully into the school, and family events that bring the whole family into the school to build community and trust. Workshops for K-4 parents are a favorite time for many parents, but other times and events accommodate working parents. Sometimes a meal is provided to take that pressure off working families.
  • We work with teachers to engage parents in pro-child behaviors at home, including reading to and with the child, making space for homework, using positive language to increase pro-social behaviors, and setting expectations for respect and self control.
  • We encourage formal and informal parent education throughout the community, with children (museums, concerts, community events) and alone (English Language learning, developmental needs of young children, etc.)

Ideally, the action we take in school lead to parents who learn to advocate for their child, and know what their child is entitled to. When they know what the expectations are, and how they can proactively impact their child’s chances for success, we take steps to creating a community of learners with common goals, and have help to be sure our work results in success.

Attached are a recent document: 2014-44BCultureCountsFullReport, from the Alliance for Early Success; and a Total Learning Parent Guidelines handout for use at a parent meeting.

Share your strategies for parent engagement in comments here, or in Sharing What Works!

Masterful Content and Masterful Teachers

This topic has been sitting in my file for a week. What was I thinking???

Masterful content is determined by a group of teachers who ponder what the core of their curriculum will be – what do we want our students to know and be able to do by the end of the [lesson][day][unit][marking period][year]? This content includes concepts and skills from the core curriculum, which includes language arts (speaking, listening, reading, writing), mathematics, science, social studies/history, music, visual art, physical education/movement, and drama. Yes, these are ALL core curriculum. The content also includes overarching sets of skills, such as social-emotional, 21st century (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity/innovation).

Masterful teachers manage to blend and deliver these content components through

  • planning of meaningful instruction and tasks that build understanding by taking students from the known to the new by connecting the new content to students interests and lives;
  • creating circumstances for frequent, positive, engaging, and challenging interactions with students and between students so the child’s voice is heard; and
  • using authentic, performance assessments that indicate whether students understand and what they don’t understand.

Is the content you are teaching masterfully designed to provide your students with the understandings and skills they will need as a foundation for future school and life? Is your teaching of that content masterfully crafted to develop independent learners who not only learn, but can demonstrate and apply that learning? As you read the Total Learning lessons (lesson, videos, studio and additional resources), notice and explore the way they are constructed, and how many disciplines, concepts, and skills are interwoven in each lesson. Let the lessons and their structure be models for you as you become a masterful teacher. Then think about what happens when this ideal concept is applied in real classrooms. Share your story by commenting here.

The arts or the “core curriculum?”

First students learn IN the arts, then they can learn THROUGH the arts!

First students learn IN the arts, then they can learn THROUGH the arts!

First, this title contains a flawed question, because the arts ARE core curriculum as of ESEA. Music, art, dance and drama are ways of knowing, and are essential for our students to grow as whole human beings. For some of them, the arts will be a career. For many more, the arts will enrich their living, working, and participation in their community and society.

For those of us still working in a traditional school paradigm (most public schools and many charter, magnet and private schools), the answer is “both!” Most smart educators know that the arts are important to enrich the curriculum, and each of the arts provides a different delivery modality for content and skills. However, children can’t learn THROUGH a modality until they have skills IN that modality.

So start by teaching students the arts skills, then use them as a delivery system for other curricular content. The benefits are measured in happier students, deeper learning retained longer, and an engaging and motivating learning environment. Where do you start? Total Learning lessons and studios!

The Power of Our Words

Words Can Change your Brain, Psychology Today

The Power of Our Words, book

The Power of Our Words book

The Power of Our Words book

Everyone smiles in the same language. 
-Author Unknown

I can’t imagine a better resolution for the New Year than to re-commit to powerful, positive communication.
Perhaps you’ve noticed the tone of the words we use in Total Learning Digital to share with teachers or communicate with children, whether spoken or in print.
There are two resources that come to mind:
1. One book that we often share with teachers is The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language that Helps Children Learn, by Paula Denton, EdD.
2. Today, in Exchange Every Day, was the following message: Anger Never Works (see below). There is a related blog in Psychology Today that I’m going to read. I’m also going to get the Words Can Change Your Brain book.
Click respond and tell how you use words positively in your teaching!

Anger Never Works January 6, 2014 (from Exchange Every Day)

In personal relationships, punishment — whether in the form of anger, criticism, or judgment — rarely works,” opines Andrew Newberg in Words Can Change Your Brain (New York: Plume Books, 2013). “But the brain seems to be hardwired when it comes to disappointment. If we don’t get what we want — even if what we want is unrealistic — the brain’s anger center gets stimulated….

 “The best solution to the cycle that we know is to interrupt the negativity by generating a thought that expresses compassion for yourself, the situation, and other people involved. The research is robust: if we deliberately send a kind thought to the person we perceive as having violated our personal space, we psychologically increase our sense of social connectedness and strengthen the neurological circuits of empathy and cooperation.”