Visiting Total Learning

Elaine Larson and Ms. Coyne's 2nd graders jump rope!

Elaine and Ms. Coyne’s 2nd graders jump rope!

“Imagine a classroom where children are actively, happily engaged in their learning…” begins the Overview section of Total Learning.

This week I was fortunate to see happy engaged children in the Total Learning Classrooms at Cesar Batalla School. What fun I had observing children that were using the Total Learning strategies in lessons and studios. Some children were making self-portraits Picasso style; others were creating words to a melody; still others were having lots of fun creating new verses in a circle game. Oh, yes, I even got to jump rope on the playground with second graders!

I decided to make a stopover in Bridgeport on my way to Greece for a month-long vacation, a gift to myself as I recently retired from a 36-year career teaching music. I especially wanted to visit teachers at Cesar Batalla, because many of these teachers have been involved with Total Learning for many years. My goal was to see how TL works in their classrooms and to talk to teachers about why they like it. A common theme in their response was “because children are so engaged.”

One might think that my students in Alaska are different from students in Bridgeport, CT. Certainly their backgrounds are different; however, the bright shining faces of happy children are universal. Thank you to Sue and Allison and all of the teachers who willingly let me observe their classrooms.


We’re All Artists!

You are an artist!

Pablo Picasso famously said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.”
We are the model for our students. Whether we think we are artists or not, we all have the ability to draw, sculpt and visually represent our world. When we act the role of an artist, we give the children permission to continue learning. When we act the role of a learner, we give them a vision of life-long pursuit of knowledge and on-going skill development.
If we say that we are always learning as artists, we open the door for them to continue learning and growing.

Acting the Role of Excellence


Back to School TL Bulletin Board

Parents at Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport were greeted with an amazing bulletin board as they walked toward the classrooms last Thursday evening! Candice King-Sadler and Allison Logan created a display that, following the request of principal Hector Sanchez to keep it simple and clear, describes Total Learning in very few words, and plenty of pictures. Allison sent the file along, so it’s attached. This display is a great reminder of WHAT Total Learning is, and WHY it is important. We can use it as a backdrop any time we have visitors. And it shows that the whole school supports Total Learning, because it’s what is right for kids and learning. “It’s perfect,” said Mr. Sanchez.

We Love Total Learning!

We Love Total Learning!

Batalla Bulletin board

Does Total Learning Reduce the Achievement Gap?

Comparisons – State Mastery Tests 2013

One of our goals is to reduce the achievement gap for students in urban and low-income neighborhoods, using research-based strategies that engage the child, teacher, family and community.
We have been fortunate to have evaluators who help us document our successes and refine our practice, so that Total Learning can have the greatest impact on student success.
The CMT (Connecticut Mastery Test) results were just published. Attached is a preliminary analysis of the results for Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport, CT, compared to a control school, the district and the state.
We’re feeling quite proud!

Comparisons – State Mastery Tests 2013

Video Chats

When you log on to the Total Learning Digital website, you can click on the Video Chat Room in the left menu, to sign up for a video chat, or join one already scheduled. The Dearborn team has proactively schedule several chats for their ‘late start Wednesdays.’ The picture above is a screen shot of my screen as we chatted and solved problems together. This part of the site is now up and running, so try out scheduling a chat on a specific topic, or to get some help with a specific question. We’re excited to get the TL Video Chat Room up and running – it’s here for you!

Dearborn, MI teachers at two locations video chat with  Sue Snyder in her CT office.

Dearborn, MI teachers at two locations video chat with Sue Snyder in her CT office.

Jump Ropes and Learning


One of many sources for jump rope rhymes and other games that build essential learning skills and pattern the brain for learning.

At parent’s night last Thursday, in between parent visits, a group of teachers discussed what kids do outside of school. One teacher said her kids never jumped rope; they only played video games. The neighboring teacher said her kids knew how to jump rope, and would do it at recess if any ropes were available. She mentioned a colleague down the hall, who did jump rope ‘all the time.’ Upon visiting this teacher, she pulled out the Anna Banana book, 101 jump rope rhymes ( and a few others by the author, Joanna Cole. She does jump rope and rhyming games a lot, and the kids love it! She’s very playful about delivering her curriculum.
Why do jump rope in your busy day?
• Jump rope is movement that gets the blood moving, and therefore increases oxygen in the brain. This leads to more attention and increased learning.
• Jump rope requires attention – or you miss! Kids who have little attention span in traditional classroom settings will play jump rope for long periods of time.
• Jump rope rhymes are traditional literature that includes the syntax and flow of the language, and often includes rhyme – a key to word families, spelling, and reading success.
• Jump rope rhymes are timed, moving the reluctant or hesitant speaker along. It builds oral or verbal fluency.
• Jump rope is done with a steady beat. We’ll be discussing steady beat multiple times during the year. Research indicates that the skill of keeping a steady beat is essential for learning and living.
• Jump roping can be done to any rhymes or songs, including those that you invent to deliver important curriculum concepts.
• Jump rope is learned by watching others, and then trying again and again, improving through self-paced challenge. This process increases perseverance and resilience.
• Jump rope is social, teaching skills such as working together, self control, taking turns, collaboration, self-efficacy and empathy.
Who knew?
I’m going out to get jump ropes for these classrooms, so the children can build all those skills!
What jump rope stories do you have to share?

About Repetition

I’ve just recorded the voice over for the Classroom Management Module Kinesthetic Lesson and Studio Prep. There is some repetition in it.
Educators are very busy, so some of us will be asking, “Why the repetition?” as others are just beginning their first module. So here are the reasons for repetition:
• For those of us who are movement or PE teachers, this is our entry point, so it is the first time we are experiencing this information.
• For those of us who heard these ideas for the first time in the Auditory CMM, it is reinforcement. We know that it takes more than once to remember.
• For those of us who already knew it before the auditory lesson, it is a reminder of just how much we know, and how very smart we are.
• For those of us creating the program, we know that even though there may be repetition, we are providing extraordinary information to exceptional teachers. We will do our very best not to waste your time.
• For all of us, in every module, the repeated information surrounds module-specific information that is new and game-based. And each set of four lessons will replace all repeated information with new ideas to explore.
By the way, it’s really fun to do the voice overs, and I learn something new about the information and myself every time I read it, speak it, or hear it.

Catch them doing something right

Creativity and imagination grow when children feel safe, valued and confident.

Creativity and imagination grow when children feel safe, valued and confident.

Allison is a master teacher. It is the second week of school, and she is teaching some model lessons for teachers who have no Total Learning training, just so they could see what it looks like. We are in Grade 1; the lesson’s goal is self control.
Entering the classroom, a very cute 1st grader that we’ll call Shawn catches her eye – he’s looking for attention. In the span of two minutes, the teacher reprimands this child six times to direct or correct.
As Allison begins the lesson, the children join her on the carpet to play the name game with voices. Shawn is rolling all over the place. Allison chooses children all around Shawn who are sitting quietly and in control. She compliments them on their self control. The Messenger Game begins, and again, children all around Shawn are chosen as his behavior is ignored. At one point, Shawn sits up for just a moment, and Allison catches him. “Shawn, you’re using self control!!! Give yourself a pat on the back!” Now Shawn waits and watches for his turn. He waits a long time. At one point, he starts to fidget, then catches himself, and silently gives himself a pat on the back. Finally he gets a turn, and does a unique and creative ‘messenger walk.’
Cute kid, big smile, happy teacher, great learning environment.
This lesson could have been at any grade level. We have seen the same dynamic over and over. Kids want attention, and some clever ones start acting out when they don’t feel noticed. Call their name and it immediately reinforces negative behavior without giving any idea of what is expected. Ignore negative behavior so it is not reinforced, and catch the kids doing something right. Reinforce the behavior you want. It’s simple, but needs to be consistently practiced. Give it a try!

Why do a pretest?

Multimodal assessments are in the assessment tab in the left menu.

It seems totally logical to do a pre-test . . . until you see your students struggling.  They don’t know the vocabulary; some don’t follow directions very well, and some just flash the ‘I’m trying, but I don’t have a clue’ look.  Most are scoring 1 or 2 out of a possible 7 points on the checklist.  Why do it?

Some reasons:

  • The test is comprised of those strategies, concepts and skills that students will be learning during the year.  If they do really well in September, you need to adjust your content to be more challenging!  The pretest tells you that you are going to be teaching new information.
  • You cannot demonstrate that children have actually learned the content at the end of the year unless you show that they did not know it at the beginning.  The pretest should provide a baseline for growth.  It’s OK if the children don’t know everything yet.
  • Often, the children who do well on the pre-test are a surprise to the teacher.  Because Total Learning is active and engages the senses, those children who may not be compliant have the opportunity to show their imagination and ability in multiple ways.

The reasons for a doing a pretest, then, are to set a baseline, to assure that your instruction will be challenging and meaningful, and to learn more about your students and their learning styles.

The multimodal assessments are located in the first module, in the Assessment tab.  Take a look – they’re activity-based, and really fun to do!  REALLY!  Modify them to meet your specific needs.

100% Engagement!

I just spoke with Julie Schmidt, the arts-integration coordinator and Total Learning Digital point person for Pine Elementary School in Michigan City, Indiana. Julie reports that Ann Gano, 4th grade teacher, jumped right in last week and did the CMM Auditory lesson. Ann said that this is totally new for the 4th graders (and for her), so she thinks they would be fine with the intermediate (2nd and 3rd-new) lessons as well – she’s going to look at those for ideas.
The Studio lesson was done in groups without sticky boards, all working on the same thing, learning the basics of group work. They did this activity to regroup quickly right after coming in from recess. Ann will add the Kinesthetic studio next week, so then there will be two different activities to rotate through. After four weeks, all four studios will be available, and Ann will modify the studio content to address curriculum content. She’ll introduce the boards when students are ready.
This is the great news: By Friday, Ann reported 100% student engagement during Studio time – even the students who are more difficult to engage! Awesome! And Brava, Julie and Ann!