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. 

Self Directed Learning – Scientific Support

“Cognitive Neuroscience research shows active, self-directed learning engages the brain better than sitting in rows listening passively to instruction. New technology is also changing how and where students learn, offering more opportunities for active, student-directed learning inside and outside the classroom.”

So begins the conference greeting from Learning and the Brain. I’m looking forward to this three-day conference in Boston, MA, and hope to find new ideas as well as validation of the principles and practices that underlie Total Learning Digital.
Just as in Total Learning, there is an effort at this conference to acknowledge and even synthesize science and humanities – valuing both and finding their places and relationships in our educational plans and practices.

When we are immersed in the every-day process of creating and implementing Total Learning Digital, it will help me to step back for a moment and get a gut check I know that what we are doing is right, and that it is based in copious research. Given the first statement above, I am often amazed at how slowly some educators are embracing active, self-directed learning. Total Learning bridges the theory and practice, providing ‘how-to’ models and a roadmap to change.

I’ll be posting more ideas from this conference. Here is the link to the program:

Poverty and Learning

Total Learning was created to serve and enrich the learning of all children, regardless of socio-economic status. The Total Learning philosophy is explicit that every child can and does learn, and when they struggle it is our responsibility to engage, motivate, and delivery effective, developmentally appropriate instruction.

Total Learning has attracted interest in areas where children live in poverty – where ‘business as usual’ is not successful. The highest gains for Total Learning have been with children who start the lowest, and English Language Learners.
The Total Learning Full Model includes factors that researchers have identified as barriers to learning for children growing up in poverty: smaller adult-child ratio, high quality and robust curriculum and teachers, mental health support, and family support. Our research indicates that we are having success, and recommends that we implement consistently over several years to realize the cumulative effect of Total Learning on a cadre of students.

This is expensive. We make every effort to stretch our dollars, and Total Learning Digital will help reduce the cost of teacher training and in-service support. Having PD and curriculum all in one place is a start; on-line delivery is also cost effective and allows us to reach more teachers and children each year.

We spend valuable time raising funds to continue our work. Whether it is lobbying legislators, informing funders, or writing grant proposals, it is a large job.
It is affirming when we find media and research support for our work. The attached article, ‘Teachers were Never the Problem,’ offers some cogent thoughts on the topic.
Teachers were Never the Problem

Video lessons!

This week we tried video lessons on an Interactive White Board for the first time. Yes, the teacher was on the Smart Board, guiding the teacher in the classroom! We did a Grade 1 Kinesthetic 1 Lesson, a Grade 2 Visual 1 Lesson, and a Grade 3 Auditory 1 Lesson.
When we first discussed creating Total Learning Digital, we wondered how we could ‘keep the magic’ of TL trainers’ personal involvement with teachers and children alive. Until this week, I thought we might lose some of it.
Even though we were a bit rough around the edges, the response from teachers and students was fabulous, and there is a warm buzz around the school. The kids and teachers want to try it with other classes on the screen, too!
What did we learn?
• You need to think through the lesson from a delivery perspective – how will you teach do-si-do to first graders when you’re not in the classroom? How do you show visual demonstrations? How do you call on students when you don’t know their names? How do you guide teachers to extend the learning? How will visuals be presented and manipulated?
• Students are confused for about 2 seconds, and then totally get the interactivity with the person on the Smart Board. They are intrigued even after the first novelty wears off. They love to see themselves, and to have a visiting teacher.
• Teachers and other adults in the classroom are essential and are part of the teaching team.
• I also learned how to record these lessons, and then how to encode and archive them, so you can watch!!!
Thanks so much to Allison Logan (who has played the role of techie most of the week), our wonderful teachers: Ms. King-Sadler, Ms. Curran and Ms. Council; and the paraprofessionals: Ms. Bolharino, Ms. Rodriguez, and Ms. Campbell.
We did it!
Some of the raw footage is up on the website: Video Chat Room>View Previous Chats.
Have you had any experiences with doing video lessons on the interactive board? Please post any recommendations for making our on-line lessons the best they can be! Thanks.

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. (

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 to get started. What do you think?

Happy Jump-o-Ween!

Trunk or treat - the treats (jump ropes) are in the trunk!

Trunk or treat – the treats (jump ropes) are in the trunk!

Everybody's jumpin'!

Everybody’s jumpin’!

Some jump hard, and some are just cool!

Some jump hard, and some are just cool!

Jump roping makes you smile!

Jump roping makes you smile!

As a follow up to the jump-rope conversation that began on parents night, which has triggered an outbreak of jumproping on the playground, and many a discussion about the benefits of jump rope activities, we participated in Trunk or Treat yesterday at Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport. We put 200 jump ropes in the trunk, and a sign on the car. What a hit! 200 jump ropes in the hands of kids in just under 30 minutes! And lots of students, young and old, joing in jumping right there!
Thanks to Denisa Rodriguez, our Grade 3 paraprofessional, for compiling a list of jump rope games from around the world.
Here are a few benefits of jumping rope:
• Physical exercise that brings oxygen to the brain and energy to learning;
• Bilateral coordination – both sides of the body at the same time;
• Moving with a steady beat, which is required for reading success; and
• Assimilating the flow of the language and rhyme through jump rope rhymes.
Do you have favorite jump rope rhymes from when you were little? You can share them here, and we’ll all enjoy them! Put one in print, or make a video to post!

About spanking . . .

When my son was 2, he had a temper tantrum. I swatted him, then watched a welt grow on his back. I felt so guilty to have lost my cool, to revert to physical punishment in a moment of frustration – I never hit him again.
This week, findings were reported that spanking may leave a lasting impact on children, well past their initial punishment.; and
In a discussion with teachers yesterday, we pondered whether spanking is viewed differently by parents in different cultures, and whether it actually works. One teacher said her mom spanked her brother a lot, until she realized that it didn’t have any positive impact at all. Still, she said, it is a ‘cultural thing.’ My observation is that it is a cultural thing where the spanking takes place and how public it is. But spanking is cross-cultural.
If it doesn’t work, and has negative results in the long run, then as professionals we can make suggestions for change. I suppose it depends on whether we see ourselves as change agents, and advocates for children and for our society. When I watch those 4th graders being so aggressive with one another, and see the lack of civility all around us, it would be a small thing to bring the research to the attention of parents we encounter. It might make a small difference to society, but it could make a big difference in the life of a child.
What do you think?

Here is a summary of key findings, summarized by Scott Bilstad:
• Children who were spanked often early in life by their mothers were more likely to be aggressive later in childhood compared to kids who weren’t spanked at all.
• Being spanked by dads was also linked to vocabulary and language problems in kids.
• Mothers who were still spanking their child by the age of 5 — no matter how often — were more likely to have a child who was more aggressive than his or her peers by the time they turned 9.
• Mothers who spanked their child at least twice a week when they were 3 also had children more likely to have these problem behaviors.
• Children who were spanked at least twice a week by their fathers at the age of 5 were more likely to score lower on vocabulary and language-comprehension tests.