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!

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

The Best Beginning EVER!

Jim is a Beta tester for Total Learning Digital - thanks, Jim!

Jim is a Beta tester for Total Learning Digital – thanks, Jim!

Jim Walters, one of the most creative, thoughtful and fun teachers I’ve ever met, has been teaching in Dearborn, MI for 28 years. He says this has been the best beginning of the year ever, and that he feels like he did when he first started out! Excited! Energized! Curious! Thrilled!

It’s the studios. Jim says that it’s not the content of the studios so much as the concept of them. “It’s the mindset of studios that has made me rethink my role in the classroom. The mindset shift in my teaching is freeing. I’ve been the leader of the show. Now, I’m the guiding hand of students creating their own show. I always wanted to do that, but never had the path and time to think it through. The kids take more charge of their learning, and I have so much evidence that they are learning.”
Jim is starting to write his own studios now. First he explored a speech piece from Spotlight on Music: Way Down South Where Bananas Grow, and his latest e-mail had a set of FOUR studios to accompany Grade 2, Auditory Lesson 1!!! It’s the best beginning ever!
Jim, be proud. You are the second recipient of a discretionary medal for imaginative application of the Total Learning model – thinking outside the box!

By the way, Jim has an amazing CD and book, Science Through Song, that can be ordered at Mention Total Learning Digital and receive free shipping.


Making Change: Betting on Slow, Steady Success over Time

Total Learning teachers apply hands-on strategies to the curriculum to make every minute count.

Educational change does not happen in an instant.  The Hawthorne effect is well documented, and yet many make millions of dollars selling quick fixes that have a bump the first year, fall flat or fail the next year, and yet are institutionalized for a decade.  These programs are often not child-centered, and lead to elimination of important developmental curriculum, leaving only what doesn’t work.

At Total Learning, we have made slow and continuous growth, and the 2013 CMT scores begin to tell the story of persistent and resilient change-making in the real world.  CMT scores for 3rd and 4th graders at Cesar Batalla reduced the achievement gap more than the control school, the district or the state!  If you had to bet your money on a winning program, Total Learning would be a reasoned bet on a slow but steady winner that delivers what’s right for the child.