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.


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 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 to get started. What do you think?

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

Found on the Web

NCTM SmartBrief articles echo Total Learning strategies as they identify paths to successful teaching.

In the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) SmartBrief today (
4EDF-9C13-2F74CD21FDFF&sid=6b062cca-2789-4f0a-b0c2-6a97dc94e21a) , the articles include the following titles: How a Wisconsin school uses songwriting to enhance learning; Canadian students combine fitness with academics; Beyond Twitter: How students are using technology; Study: Strong reading skills are linked to higher math, science performance; How a Florida school uses project-based learning in STEM; and What can be done to crack down on student truancy?
The mathematics curriculum contains math concepts, skills and dispositions. The Total Learning ‘curriculum’ contains the strategies for delivering the mathematics, science, social studies and language arts curriculum content.
When we use music (auditory), art (visual), movement (kinesthetic), drama (linguistic), technology (digital), and project-based learning (studios) strategies to deliver other curriculum goals, students are engaged in hands-on experiences that encourage them to come to and stay in school.
However, students (and teachers) need to understand the Total Learning strategy and skills before they can apply it to learn other things. Our PD and Lesson Prep prepare the teacher, and the model lesson prepares the students. Your music, art, PE/movement and drama/literacy teachers provide on-going support as well.

If you find articles that relate to Total Learning strategies, find the relevant module and enter your link in Found on the Web so we all can read it.