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.


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

It’s Dr. Sue from the Smart Board!



Second graders work on line     2013-11-06 23.53.43
Second graders work on line!

Last week we started video lessons as part of Total Learning Digital. I’m in my office, or in a quiet space somewhere, with my computer and a prepared environment. The teacher and students are in the classroom. I’m connected to the classroom over the Smart Board. The children’s reactions are very interesting. In Kindergarten, I’m not sure they’ve got it yet – we need a few more sessions. The first graders thought they were seeing a video until I started describing their movements and actions, and calling on them to answer questions! Second graders watched a demonstration of creating an art print following specific directions. It was quickly interactive because they were quickly telling me what to do next! We’ve only started, and I’m sure to get better at demonstrating skills and interacting with students and teachers. But it’s REALLY fun! And the kids are REALLY engaged!
Yesterday I was in the hallway at Cesar Batalla School as the kindergarten class was returning from lunch. “Hey, There’s Dr. Sue from the Smart Board,” said one child. “Hi, Dr. Sue!” the chorus rang out. Then one young man asked, “What are YOU doing HERE? You’re supposed to be in the Smart Board!”
Ah, progress. One more way to confuse our children?
It surely has made me rethink my practice once again.
Signing off now –
Dr. Sue from the Smart Board
P.S. You can see some of these early attempts in the Video Chat Room. Click the View Previous Chats button. 

Speak and Let Speak

Total Learning provides learning strategies that foster positive verbal interaction.

Total Learning provides learning strategies that foster positive verbal interaction.

Young children and classrooms are often judged by how quiet they are. And yet, study after study shows that adult-child and child-child spoken interaction is a key ingredient for successful learners. Total Learning lessons and studios are designed to foster this verbal interaction through speaking, listening, reading, writing and thinking. Whether in whole group of small group experiences, Total Learning classrooms are places where all voices are welcome and respected.
This topic is part of a larger conversation on literacy and linguistic development that will be explored in upcoming blog entries. To get started, read the information in the attached article, and then send your thoughts! Are you comfortable with this idea, in general? What do you do in your classroom to foster dialogue (speaking and careful listening)?
Language-Gap Study

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.