Embed Fact Learning into Deeper Thinking Activities


2014-03-17 21.51.27

We’ve been exploring the teacher behaviors, interactions and questions that make space for children to explore, think, develop understandings and skills, and learn for a lifetime – rather than just to pass the test.  Kids do need to know facts, but learning those facts can be embedded in more challenging activities and tasks that require the fact learning to be successful.

Click on the link to an article by the Teachstone folks for thoughts on working with young children.  In addition, your Total Learning model lessons and studios have many, many grade-level specific examples.  And every day, as you watch yourself plan and teach, you are making decisions about how you will get the kids to think for themselves.

Let the Children Do the Thinking

The Arts: At the Heart of Democracy

Singing Amy Winehouse in Tehran, from The New Yorker

You may know that I co-authored a book, Nine Rubies (www.ninerubiesthebook), a memoir of my friend and colleague Mahru Ghashgaei, who grew up in Iran.  When I saw the attached article I was reminded once again that the arts are not simply instructional tools.  They are the ways in which we communicate our common goals and beliefs, and share them with others.  They are persuasive, instructive, and reach brains, minds and souls in ways that words cannot.  In restrictive countries, the arts are suppressed because they express the aspirations of every day people for expression, freedom, equality.  In our democracy, we must preserve and teach the arts because they are the tools of democracy.

We can teach in and through the arts as part of our curriculum, and to deepen learning.  But we also teach them because we are free to do so, and our students must know these tools as citizens in a democracy, where expression is a gift, a right, and an obligation.

What do you see?  What do you wonder?

What do you see? What do you wonder?

What do you see?  What do you wonder?

What do you see? What do you wonder?

Active Learning in the Classroom

2014-03-17 21.36.56

There has been a rash of articles recently in blogs and educational journals touting active learning.  I’ve attached one below.  For the most part, active learning is described as the instructor organizing the curriculum content into chunks and tasks that small groups work on together.  The data is in – active learning results in more and deeper learning.

This is great support for Total Learning, which features students working actively in studios to practice new multimodal skills and apply them to their curriculum content.  It’s not that the classroom curriculum is poor, it’s that active learning delivery strategies are powerful, and require students to understand and apply, rather than just memorize facts.

As teachers start to synthesize the year’s Total Learning strategies and create plans to deliver their curriculum, two features are critical to the success of active learning – INTENTIONALITY and FIDELITY.

Intentionality – When planning, we must be intentional about delivering the classroom content accurately, deeply, and with a strategy that is directly linked to the content itself.

Fidelity – As the plan is implemented, the principles of Total Learning must be followed: student voice, respect, engaging and active learning, tiered projects to guide practice and differentiate learning, sufficient time for complete engagement, rich and challenging content, adult guidance – especially for the early grades.

Imagine how our Total Learning students will do when they get to middle, high school and higher education classes where they engage in active learning.  We’re preparing our kids for a successful future!

Active Learning Classrooms – article

CLASS – Instructional Support Indicators

CLASS is a tool for observing teacher-student interactions as indicators of quality classrooms.  Many of the Class indicators naturally identify teacher skills and qualities that are built into Total Learning, so we are very excited to see these skills identified and linked to teacher quality and student achievement.

Some of the CLASS indicators are fairly natural for us as educators, and with a bit of modeling we get even better and more intentional about our classroom organization and emotional support.

According to CLASS data, there are three indicators that really make a difference, and often could be better!  All under the broad umbrella of Instructional Support, these three indicators are:

1:  Concept Development (Analysis and Reasoning) and

2 and 3:  Quality of Feedback (Prompting through Process, and Feedback Loops).

These three are perhaps the most different from traditional classroom practice, and so require us to be very intentional about our instruction.  At the heart of these indicators is the way we deliver our content through discovery and active learning, and the resulting questions that keep students attuned not only to the content they have learned, but their learning process itself.

These indicators interact with one another, and are sometimes difficult to separate.

So, we are watching ourselves!

Last month, our A team at Cesar Batalla took a quick look at information about the Quality of Feedback, and explored using more intentional questioning, back and forth exchanges, asking student to explain their thinking, and continuing with follow-up questions to deepen students’ thinking process.

This month the A team and paraprofessionals took a quick look at Concept Development, and particularly Analysis and Reasoning.    The 5 indicators are (1) why and/or how questions, (2) problem solving, (3) prediction/experimentation, (4) classification/composition, and (5) evaluation.

Total Learning’s active learning style encourages student voice, dialogue, critical thinking, hands-on experimentation, and self-evaluation.  When we watch ourselves teach, we can see that when we use Total Learning strategies, our language and interactions gradually ask students to become more thoughtful about why and how they learn, as well as what they learn.  Our classrooms become rich with examples of Concept Development (Analysis and Reasoning) and Quality of Feedback (Prompting through Process, and Feedback Loops).  Because these indicators are directly correlated to student achievement, our students then make great gains!

You can learn more about the CLASS dimensions at Information about CLASS indicators of teacher-student interactions.

Support for challenging content in Kindergarten

The following comes from “Best Evidence in Brief, Center for Research and Reform in Education” at Johns Hopkins University.  Find the original article at Challenging content in kindergarten boosts later achievement.  

Do you consider Total Learning to be ‘Challenging content?’ How?

Challenging content in kindergarten boosts later achievement

 A new article published in the American Educational Research Journal examines the relationship between academic content in kindergarten and children’s later achievement in school. They found that spending four more days per month on more advanced topics in math and reading was associated with modest increased test scores of about 0.05 standard deviations.

The authors used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class (ECLS-K), a nationally representative sample of children who entered kindergarten in the 1998/99 school year. It includes information on academic skills at school entry and throughout elementary and middle school, as well as information about the children, their families, teachers, and schools. Kindergarten teachers were surveyed about classroom reading and math activities and content, with measures aligned to the proficiency areas measured by ECLS-K achievement tests. Parents were also surveyed about their child’s non-parental care experiences before they entered kindergarten. The study used a sample of almost 16,000 children.

Controlling for external factors that may have been correlated with preschool attendance (e.g., race, health, family characteristics), the authors found a consistent and positive effect of exposure to advanced content in math and reading in kindergarten (e.g., addition, subtraction, and ordinality in math, and phonics instruction, reading aloud or silently, and reading comprehension in reading). In contrast, children did not benefit from basic content coverage (e.g., counting out loud or sorting into subgroups in math, and writing the letters of the alphabet in reading).

The authors conclude that increasing time spent on advanced academic content in kindergarten (and reducing time on basic content) could be a potentially low-cost way of improving achievement.  

A Visit from Wales: Thinking about Vision and Leadership

Tim Leyshon, visiting scholar from Wales, visits with Allison and Sue while observing, discussing, and enjoying a beautiful spring day dockside.

Tim Leyshon, visiting scholar from Wales, observes a class with Allison Logan.

Quite a few months ago, I got an e-mail out of the blue from Tim Leyshon, an administrator at a special needs school in Wales.  Tim received a Winston Churchill traveling scholarship to explore innovative educational practices in the U.S., Denmark and Spain.  He found Total Learning on the Internet!

Tim visited on Monday.  We spent time sharing ideas, and especially discussing how to forge a personal, enduring vision as an educational leader.  We compared Total Learning ideas about leadership with ideas Tim had collected from others thus far along his journey.

Here are some of our collective thoughts for Total Learning leaders:

  • Find a perspective – a vision – a set of beliefs you can bring to reality;
  • Communicate that vision and set a long-range plan in place;
  • Then act.  Make choices, and lead.
  • Be a model of the imagination and innovation you represent;
  • Ask for help and collaborate with stakeholders in any issue;
  • Care about what’s right for teachers and students;
  • Be fair and consistent, and constant in your message;
  • Listen, listen, listen –
  • Adjust when it is justified;
  • Use every minute effectively – it’s precious and you don’t get it back!

Do you have some advice for leaders you can add to this list?  Let’s hear from you!

Tim, Please let us know what other interesting ideas you hear as you continue your journey.  Safe travels, wishes that you return home with a renewed and powerful vision.  It was great to meet you!

Thanks to the staff and students who made Tim feel welcome during his visit!  I wonder if there are any traveling fellowships you might apply for.  What do you wonder?

Conversations continued all day with educational leaders, then we enjoyed a beautiful spring evening dockside.





Inspired by Studio Groups

Celeste Reed, Music Teacher in Dearborn, MI writes:

Take a minute please to see what we are doing in fourth grade.  I am sharing a video link of two boys with a completed composition (performance), one of their worksheets and an image of them with their manipulative blocks.

Inspired by studio groups – we used math manipulatives to create simple melodies to play on recorder.

Thanks for sharing, Celeste!

student composer/performers

photo 1


photo 2

Hunting for Evidence of Dialogue

We work all year, little by little, on the quality of discourse between adults, between children and adults, and between children.

  • Early on, we consider the tone of classroom interactions, particularly those words and gestures used to manage the classroom and build a supportive learning culture.
  • Then we work on listening skills and imitation, to be sure messages are heard.
  • We work on taking turns, phrases, question and answer, and complete sentences.
  • We focus on details and main idea.
  • We improvise to build an active and intentional imagination.
  • We distinguish between points of view, and fact and opinion.

One goal, throughout this sequence, is to develop the ability to share thoughts clearly through dialogue – spoken discourse that is improvised on the spot.
Always, this work is applied to the curriculum content.  Dialogue and the other Total Learning strategies are the delivery system for the content.

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 4.26.32 PM

Last week Ms. Gano’s 4th grade in Michigan City, IN participated in a video lesson on dialogue.  The lesson embodied a lot of the year’s strategies, and yet it was fairly straight-forward.  I challenged myself to find ways to interact with the class and teachers that were not dependent on exact timing, because bandwidth often causes time delays.

Just like you, the lesson worked out a little differently than I planned, because interactive lessons mean that you change to accommodate the imaginative work that unfolds.  That’s what good teachers do.

This lesson was not a beginner’s lesson.  It made lots of assumptions about student knowledge and skills (social skills and thinking skills).

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 4.22.41 PM

You can see this lesson in the Video Chat room.  It’s called Grade 4, Dialogue Lesson.  I’d be very interested to hear your observations!

The lesson plans and a studio are also posted here, in case you want to give it a try, use it as a model, or schedule a video chat for your classroom!  The pages are just my notes, and the Studio pages include some for the teachers, such as a Reader’s Theater script.  They are here for you to play with.

Thanks so much to Ms. Gano’s class, Ms. Ann Gano and Ms. Julie Schmidt for their good work and collegial support – during this lesson and all year long!  We’ve learned a lot together!

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 4.31.36 PM

Gano pages for 4-29 lesson – dialogue (1)

Michigan City 4-29-14 lesson plan – final