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.

Total Learning Summer Camp – It Makes a Difference!

TL Summer Camp Overview and Research Findings

It was always a plan for Bridgeport’s Total Learning Initiative to have an extended year – an additional month of school.  Research told us that if the children were behind their more advantaged peers, they would need time to catch up!  ABCD received funding for a pilot this year.

It was only 18 days in July for 22 rising 3rd graders.  The air conditioning was broken, and it was summer!  And . . . it was Total Learning  Summer Camp from 12 noon to 3:30.

Why rising 3rd graders?  To reduce the dreaded summer slump – the loss of reading skill over the summer break.  With mastery tests in 3rd grade, this was the obvious choice for a pilot program.

Did it make a difference?  The report is attached so you can read for yourself!  It’s pretty exciting what can happen in 18 days!  And if you think about your school year in 18-or-so day chunks, how much could get done?

Most exciting for me was the attitude changes of almost every child.  By the end of July, they were asking if they could come for another month!  Kudos to Allison Logan for creating an exceptional plan, and Rosmarie Marquez and Diane Bolarinho for their support.

Unanswered questions:  Will the gains remain through August?  Will they make a difference in Grade 3?  Will the district notice the findings and plan a larger sample for next summer?  Let’s hope the answers are yes, yes and yes!  Stay tuned to find out!

Total Learning with CLASS!



We used to be SO frustrated that Total Learning’s success was measured only by test scores. Then our evaluators found CLASS: the Classroom Assessment Scoring System. CLASS provides evidence-based characteristics of effective teacher-student interactions and classroom structures. These interactions and structures lead to excellent instruction, and, yes, student achievement.
Since our evaluators are using the CLASS observation, it seems only fair to share the components of this tool with you.

Attached are a few items to review, and then let’s discuss them.  Schedule a videochat if you’d like!

  • The butterfly image is an overview of the correlation.
  • Below the butterfly is a link to an article:  CLASS-Total Learning Narrative that describes the correlation between the two.
  • Finally there are three charts, each with the descriptors for one CLASS domain. As you read through the INDICATORS, think, “What would someone see, hear and feel in my classroom?” As you read through the BEHAVIORAL MARKERS, find one or more that you’d like more information about.

Notice that these documents are confidential – just for us right now. If we like them, we’ll ask for permission to share them more widely.

CLASS-Total Learning Correlation

CLASS-TOTAL LEARNING NARRATIVE 2-5-14


CLASS I - Emotional Support CLASS II - Classroom OrganizationCLASS III - Instructional Support

Let’s Embrace the Evidence!

Students who read music learn to read.

Students who read music learn to read.

Julie Schmidt just sent a link to Using Music to Close the Achievement Gap, in The Atlantic magazine. (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/10/using-music-to-close-the-academic-gap/280362/)

The evidence for the power of multimodal teaching and learning from the early years on continues to grow, and yet educators continue to embrace the politically simple solution of insisting that teachers teach to the test, then being amazed that students do not climb to reach higher and higher, developmentally inappropriate benchmarks.
Living and learning for our complex world requires skills and understandings that cannot be tested with a pencil mark in a bubble, or with a snapshot of a moment. Children who are prepared should see multiple right answers, and be asking questions constantly. They should be learning through their ears, eyes, bodies and words – and therefore be measured in ways that celebrate this complexity.
As articles and new books appear supporting multimodal and arts-integrated learning, I will share these with you. However, when you find a great article or book, please join me in sharing, but commenting either here or on the discussion board.

The Case for Creativity

Ken Robinson quote

Ken Robinson quote

“Children have extraordinary capacities for innovation.”
“All kids have tremendous talents and we squander it shamelessly.”
“Creativity is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
“We stigmatize mistakes.”
“We are educating people out of their creative capacities.”
“We get educated out of creativity.”
Sir Ken Robinson gets to the heart of the matter. With all the testing that has dominated the education scene for several decades, the essential processes required for creative thinking are pushed out. Either we’re going to teach in ways that honor childhood curiosity and inventive thinking, or we’re not. It’s not an either-or proposition. If we teach the concepts and skills kids need to succeed through tasks and processes that develop imagination, we can deliver the content at the same time. But if tests are created with right answers in mind, rather than all possible answers in mind, we do disservice to children, learning, and ultimately our society. Total Learning is taking the logical step of teaching for imagination and critical thinking, as well as delivering the content. We’ve started to create the kind of formative assessments that honor creative thought. Do you think the Common Core assessments will provide formal measures that likewise ask us to build the 21st century skills our kids will need? Listen to Ken Robinson at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY#t=225 to get started. What do you think?