Literacy in Many Languages

Over the break, I wrote a short article outlining a broad, multimodal definition of literacy that encompasses and broadens the insufficient definition of the recent past.
It begins:
Understandably, literacy is a major focus of early education because it builds a foundation for all future learning. In the recent past, the education community has narrowly defined literacy as ‘reading’ or ‘reading and writing’. This incomplete definition has done a disservice to literacy, the curriculum, and ultimately to our learners and future citizens. Total Learning shares a broader vision of literacy that encompasses and extends the current definition. Children taught through Total Learning strategies gain the limited skills of the past and much, much more!

As we enter this new year, let’s embrace this broader definition because it will lead to more effective teaching and learning, and ultimately help our students develop the communication skills they need to succeed. The article is attached. Happy New Year!
Literacy in Many LanguagesIMG_0020

Time to Play!

Wishing everyone the merriest, happiest, jolliest holiday, and the happiest New Year. I’m looking forward to working with you to make Total Learning Digital everything that you imagine it can be!
The attached link is an extraordinary reminder that play is wired in, so take some time to Play!  (Click the underlined text to see the video.)

Let's Play!

Let’s Play!

Polar bear at play with husky

Matching Teaching Goals with Beliefs

What do you think?What do you think?

3:30 AM – I should be asleep. There was a request for proposals that crossed my desk yesterday for a higher education conference. RFPs make me think! The following may ramble a bit – it is stream of semi-consciousness . . .

What can we share with those preparing future teachers?
Total Learning reflects some beliefs about children, education and the world in general. So I started thinking about my beliefs. Beliefs grow out of our practice, and as they are discovered they also inform the choices we make in our practice. Total Learning is a model of this process. It is crafted by teachers for teachers out of classroom practice informed by the work of others.
What is the center of our pedagogical universe? What is our sun?
University and universe – how are they related?
The curriculum and support a child needs to learn are important, but not sufficient.
What is sufficient? How do we organize these multiple needs?
How are the cognitive goals and social-emotional learning connected?
Some of us believe we should put the child in the center?
Some believe the delivery system is the hub?
Others think literacy goes in the center, and all literacies should be addressed.

In Germany during WWII, someone scratched the following on a wall leading to a bomb shelter:
I believe in the sun, even when it isn’t shining,
I believe in love, even when there’s no one there.
I believe in God, even when he is silent.

Are my educational beliefs too small? Too narrow? What will sustain us and the world even when it is silent? What will move the world forward? Even when it isn’t there?
Mac Davis sang, “I believe in Music.”
Whitney Houston sang, “I believe that children are our future . . “
What do we put at the center?
What if the curriculum wasn’t there?
What if literacy wasn’t there?
What if music, the arts and other communication systems weren’t there?
What if children weren’t there?

Ooh – Hmmm – Ah – Um –
I’m exhausted – it’s time to go back to sleep!
What do you believe? And what are you going to do about it?


A Milestone!

As of December 10, we have posted exactly half of the Total Learning Digital lessons, studios and supporting materials!
There are 4 modalities at each of 6 levels (not counting the Start Here and Synthesis), each with a lesson and a studio, at 5 different grade levels – for a whopping total of 240 lessons and studios!
A huge thanks to Allison Logan for joining me in transferring (and refining) all the lessons and studios into InDesign! And thanks to Michael Rixon for designing such elegant and flexible lesson plan and studio templates – and teaching us how to use them! Only 120 to go!

CLASS Domains – Teaching with CLASS


How would you represent the relationships in your classroom?  Where in the picture are you?

How would you represent the relationships in your classroom? Where in the picture are you?

There are three broad CLASS domains that outline specific, researched teacher behaviors that help children succeed.

1. Emotional Support

2. Classroom Organization

3. Instructional Support

Children respond to their environment. While we can’t control what happens outside the school door, the actions we take and decisions we make every day make a difference in student success.
As a teacher, I often blamed, and even punished, my students for their behaviors. It is so easy to assert adult power over children – it feels good in that controlling sort of way. The ‘teacher voice’ and ‘teacher look’ that we’ve had since we played school as kids is a not-so-complimentary stereotype.
As I matured as a teacher, I realized that teaching wasn’t about me. The children’s behaviors were my responsibility, and negative behaviors were often my fault! If they only behaved when I was there, I was failing. When something went wrong, I started to ask a new question: What did I do that caused this to occur?
• Did children feel safe and know they would be supported if they tried?
• Did I set high expectations for self regulation as well as achievement?
• Had I established and practiced procedures?
• Were my goals and directions clear?
• Was my classroom organized so students could be independent learners?
• Was I totally present during my time in the classroom?
• Did I change the rules half way through an activity, just because I was getting uncomfortable?
• Were my objectives developmentally appropriate?
• Did I use a learning sequence that allowed students to explore, practice and use the concepts and skills?
• Did I actively engage the students?
• Did I assess student progress and spiral the learning to keep challenging the students?
• Did I differentiate instruction?
My hypothesis is that failures in the classroom are almost always the adult’s fault. I’m not talking about student achievement on standardized test. I’m talking about a learning environment where every child is learning and growing every day in a safe environment, with emotional support, in a classroom organized for success, and with great instruction.
The good news is that Total Learning is a model of powerful and positive instructional strategies that provide emotional support and classroom organization designed with success in mind.
Do you agree with my hypothesis? Can you discover evidence in your own teaching experiences? And have you experienced any evidence that Total Learning provides you with teaching behaviors that help children be the best students they can be?

Dearborn secures funding for Total Learning materials!

Kudos go out to Lisa Meyer, Director of Music for Dearborn, MI Public Schools!

First, Lisa arranged for all music teachers to pilot Total Learning Digital this year. We had one day of in-person PD, and then have met each month on their Late Start Wednesdays. We use Google Plus for our video chats, which are incredibly lively and informative! The Dearborn teachers are awesome professionals. You will find Dearborn teacher entries in the chat room, and in Share What Works!

THEN, Lisa applied for several grants to provide the teachers with the materials they would need for successful implementation. $9,000 came from the school district, and $18,000 from the Dearborn Education Foundation! The district placed the order, and today, as I post this message, the teachers are picking up their new materials!

Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until its done.” Lisa is a living example of the can-do attitude that leads to success. It’s what’s right for kids. Brava!

Lisa Meyer (in purple) listening to her staff members during fall PD

Lisa Meyer (in purple) listening to her staff members during fall PD

Movement First!


Move first!  Student focus and work will improve!

Move first! Student focus and work will improve!


At our A-Team (Advisory Teachers) meeting last Thursday, Ms. Wasik shared how much her kindergarteners loved Seven Jumps (a modified version in the Kinesthetic 2 lesson). Ms. King-Sadler shared how she had shamelessly appropriated this dance, and reinforced how much her first graders also loved it. Ms. Curran was now anxious to learn it for her second graders, and discovered that she is able to access it any time in the Kindergarten kinesthetic lessons. Everyone with a TLD license has access to the lessons and materials for all grade levels. And although the materials are assigned to specific grades in the Total Learning lessons, no material ‘belongs’ to any specific grade if it is used in a developmentally appropriate way. Total Learning Digital includes LOTS of materials and activities!

I shared advice from one of my master teachers, Tossi Aaron. “We know that children love to move, so we save it as a reward until the end of class – if everyone behaves and there is time. But if we begin the class with movement, the entire period will be calm and much more learning will take place. The learning will stick.” I found this to be true in my teaching practice, and especially with high energy or restless classes and children.

A few days later, Ms. King-Sadler reported that she had tried this strategy with a restless student. During writing time, he usually wrote only one or two words before he was distracted, up and wandering around the classroom. She introduced Seven Jumps just before writing, and then counted 15 written words on the young man’s paper before he paused!

Each Total Learning strategy is based on learning theory and best practices, tested in classrooms. Each one works not as a reward, but to deliver your core curriculum!

I Remember You . . .

I was in our office (a book closet at the back of the library) the other day, moving photos of the painting lesson into the files. Three 7th grade boys, tired of the library activities, were escaping into the book closet, thinking it was unoccupied. When they realized I was there, they began a hasty retreat.
Then one young man said, “Hey, I know you! Do you remember in 1st grade you came and we did stuff – you had on two small black microphones! Remember we used red and yellow pieces of cloth, and we made animals like a horse with a red tail, and there was an owl with grey, and it was really slow – we barely moved – and it was fun!”
Now remember, he is a 7th grader standing with his slightly nervous peers!
I had videos available – the bandwidth at the school was terrible so the website was too slow, but I had a few discs. So I put one in my player, and sure enough, there he was on the Grade 1 videos. Really cute. Mostly engaged.
He said, “Are these videos on You Tube?”
“No, they’re not on You Tube.”
“Oh, ‘cause my mom would love to see this!”
“Well, you could take the disc and show her, then you can bring it back.”
“Really? Oh, thanks!”
Big hug. (Yes, 7th grader, big hug.)
Besides being a feel good moment, this is one of those reassuring experiences that tell us our strategies are powerful learning tools. This boy remembered details from 6 years prior with clarity that many teachers rarely achieve. The early positive relationship we established opened access to him again without missing a beat.
And the hug? it was awesome!

My Many Colored Days scarf kit with scarves, book and music - remembered 6 years later!

My Many Colored Days scarf kit with scarves, book and music – remembered 6 years later!


Our evaluation team found an awesome assessment tool that measures classroom interactions rather than student achievement on mastery tests. When we add this assessment, we begin to measure those heretofore intangible qualities of learning experiences that we believe make a huge difference in student success.
When we learned that there would be a series of CLASS workshops at NAEYC’s national conference, Sue, Allison and Candy packed up and headed out! We went to as many sessions on CLASS as we could!
The CLASS assessment measures what Total Learning teaches! Emotional Support, Classroom Organization and Instructional Support. There are a total of 11 dimensions within those three domains. All research-based.
This is going to be fun!
If you know what the dimensions are, you can feel good about those you are implementing well, and strengthen the others! So I’ll post one every week, and find a video from Total Learning that supports it. You can post responses with more examples, your own stories, and identify other videos. We will be detectives, searching out examples of these effective practices!
If you want to know more about CLASS right now, you can start by going to

CLASS is The Classroom Assessment Scoring System, an observation tool focusing on the effectiveness of classroom interactions among teacher and children, because it is these daily interactions that promote children’s social and cognitive development. Children thrive when teachers create nurturing, well-managed settings and provide frequent and engaging opportunities to learn.”                                                                                                         – Teachstone Learning, LLC

Teachstone – Parent company of the CLASS Assessment