A Taste of a TLD Tutorial

We’re so excited to share a tiny bit of Total Learning Digital with you!!!  In Total Learning Digital, we create tutorials for each of 24 arts-integrated strategies, so teachers will have the skills to (1) deliver the skill to students, and (2) use this strategy to deliver their curriculum content in active, engaging, motivating and effective ways.  Here is a short segment from one recent tutorial, or lesson prep, just so you can see an example.

steady beat can be represented by evenly spaced objects

steady beat can be represented by evenly spaced objects

You can help us complete the entire program by going here.


The Teacher Brain: An Invaluable Asset

Teacher Brains are Exceptional!

Teacher Brains are Exceptional!

I’ve been writing lessons for a big project. At the same time, Total Learning teachers in several sites are using already-written TL lessons. The way these lessons are written honors teacher decision-making, and that no written plan can substitute for the excellence of a great teacher. The amazing teachers I know and see, possess a very unique skill set.

Part and Whole

When an exceptional teacher plans to teach a concept or skills, she operates from two points of view, exploring the content for the main idea, as well as its detailed parts. This teacher does not teach isolated facts, but delivers those facts as examples of a larger category. Categories later lead to generalizations that inform new learning.


An exceptional teacher has a metaphorical mind, and is able to imagine across modalities to find explanatory examples. No matter what the subject area, there are auditory, kinesthetic, visual and linguistic examples of a concept or skill. For example: if the teacher is teaching about erosion in science, there are environmental examples like a rock face being buffeted into sand by wind and rain. Rather than singing a song about erosion, the exceptional teacher asks, “What erodes in sound? What effect does it have?” Now she can construct an activity where students read a poem, then read it leaving out every 4th word, then every 3rd and 4th word, then every 2nd, 3rd and 4th word, then all the words. Then the teacher conducts the same inquiry for movement, visual image, and language. She now has four metaphors at her disposal to build an understanding of erosion.

A Sequence for Learning

This exceptional teacher also knows intuitively that learning occurs in a sequence from experience and exploration to labeling, then practicing until the concept is assimilated, then to imaginatively applying the new understanding to a new situation. She uses her examples as resources to build this sequence for understanding over time, engaging students in hands experiences for deep learning. She knows that this takes more time than superficial learning, and therefore avoids wasting time on unnecessary distractions in the classroom or curriculum. There’s not time for management without learning, nor for learning without classroom management – the learning environment must engender engagement and self control.

An Appetite for Complexity

Finally, this exceptional teacher knows that you can’t teach one thing at a time – you need to layer instruction so one concept is introduced as another is practiced and a third is being applied to a creative project. By weaving several threads, students are functioning at multiple levels, and each concept informs the other, leading to unexpected discoveries and connections. In this way, there is sufficient time for the curriculum to be delivered.

A Smile and Encouragement

One more thing! This teacher is usually smiling and encourages students to take risks by providing a safe environment in which to fail, and try again. Sure there are tests and ways to demonstrate mastery, but not every minute!

Sound daunting? It’s hard work! An exceptional teacher doesn’t shut this brain off – it keeps on inventing and working, solving the puzzle of how to teach children who grow into imaginative, independent, responsible and smart adults! This is a Total Learning Teacher Brain!

Total Learning Digital Initiative

Help us make a difference through http://igg.me/at/TLDProject

Help us make a difference through http://igg.me/at/TLDProject

IDEAS has collaborated on product development to create Total Learning Digital, a research-based, innovative approach to professional development for teachers of children who live in poverty. The Total Learning approach has been developed over the past 8 years in US schools, through grants from the State of Connecticut, the State of California, and others. Michael Cohen Group’s independent evaluation has shown positive results in reducing the achievement gap. Total Learning Digital is currently implemented in several schools across the US and continues to be very successful as we complete the program.

We are raising funds through crowdsourcing at http://igg.me/at/TLDProject to complete the remaining game-based tutorials, running through December 3. There are award options for you when you contribute.  Please give at whatever level you can.  Give small, it’s a very big deal to us.  Give big if you can.  Please consider the scholarship program for teachers. During this holiday season, give the gift of education to those who need it most!

Trunk or Treat


As in many urban schools, Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport, CT celebrates Halloween with a Trunk or Treat event. The parking lot is sealed off. Parents and organizations arrange their treats in car trunks and backs of vans. Kids and their parents come after school, and trick or treat in this safe environment.

Total Learning had a trunk full of jump ropes last year, and this year a trunk full of sidewalk chalk. It was beautiful – striped and polka dot fat chalks ready for our kids.

A decorated trunk full of sidewalk chalk

A decorated trunk full of sidewalk chalk 

Take a look – not a piece of chalk was left at the end of the afternoon, and a great time was had by all! And now everyone knows how much fun sidewalk chalk is, so there’s a chance that some trips to the store result in open ended play toys like chalk. What do you think we should do next year?



Parent Engagement – Not one size fits all!

Parents are an essential key to literacy learning!

Parents are an essential key to literacy learning!

I recently visited an amazing United Way Model Center for Early Excellence in Miami. Amongst their goals for parents are to develop advocacy skills, so parents become active in their child’s education. They told me of their frustration that the parents often hit a brick wall when the children go to Kindergarten.

The parent/family component of Total Learning is essential for student success. We are working hard to establish parent/family support in several ways:

  • We work with the school team to assure that the parent and family voice is heard in the school, and that parent engagement is a priority.
  • A family worker is assigned to every 2 or 3 Total Learning classrooms. This individual makes home visits to every family and conducts an intake survey, through which level of risk is determined. When an area of risk is identified, the family worker collaborates with community resources who provide specific support. Our family workers have arranged for everything from socks and adult companionship for a child walking to school, to heating, rent, jobs, and English Language Learning! They are also in the classroom, interfacing with teachers to identify any emerging problems and nip them in the bud. The teachers say that it’s SO important to have the support in a large class with lots of behavioral and parent needs.
  • We collaborate with the family resource centers to provide culturally responsive educational workshops and other support for families, including Music Together infant and toddler classes that bring families joyfully into the school, and family events that bring the whole family into the school to build community and trust. Workshops for K-4 parents are a favorite time for many parents, but other times and events accommodate working parents. Sometimes a meal is provided to take that pressure off working families.
  • We work with teachers to engage parents in pro-child behaviors at home, including reading to and with the child, making space for homework, using positive language to increase pro-social behaviors, and setting expectations for respect and self control.
  • We encourage formal and informal parent education throughout the community, with children (museums, concerts, community events) and alone (English Language learning, developmental needs of young children, etc.)

Ideally, the action we take in school lead to parents who learn to advocate for their child, and know what their child is entitled to. When they know what the expectations are, and how they can proactively impact their child’s chances for success, we take steps to creating a community of learners with common goals, and have help to be sure our work results in success.

Parents are essential!  Include them in your plan!

Parents are essential! Include them in your plan!

Attached are a recent document: Culture Counts: Engaging Black and Latino parents of Young Children in Family Support programs, from the alliance for early success; and a Parent Guidelines handout for use at a parent meeting.

It’s Dr. Sue from the Smart Board!

Dr. Sue on the Smart Board!

Dr. Sue on the Smart Board!

This blog first appeared in November, 2013.
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 Total Learning Digital licensed site, in the Video Chat Room. Click the View Previous Chats button. Learn more about Total Learning Digital at the tab above! Join our growing Total Learning teacher cadre.

About bullying . . .


This video is about high school students, but addresses a problem that starts early and destroys lives – bullying.  We’d like to think it doesn’t exist, but it is a condition of our culture and society, and educators must address it in order to have effective learning environments, and to prepare children to be effective advocates for themselves and others, as well as to change bullying behaviors.

Total Learning intentionally addresses the social-emotional aspects of interactions, classroom environments and school climate. We create daily situations where children learn to work together and value one another’s strengths. We construct purposeful learning experiences that structure time so students are motivated and engaged. We value student voice. And we are friends who model working together, celebrating common ground, acknowledging when we have differences of opinion, and working through them through problem solving and compromise.

From Susan Weikel Morrison:

This is mostly a K-6 solution:
A powerful tool teachers can use with bullies is to take the bully and victim away from other students and encourage the victim to say to the bully, “I feel _______ when you ______, and I would like you to _________. The bully is not allowed to interrupt, and when they respond they are not allowed to question the victim’s feelings. The teacher explains to the bully that they can control their own actions, but they have no control over how others feel. The conversation can continue from there. Since it often takes place during the students’ free time, they are both motivated to come to a resolution quickly.

I believe the most effort should be put into teaching kids how to effectively respond to bullies because they will encounter bullies throughout their lives. Good strategies include ignoring mild bullying, deliberately freezing the bully out of your sphere, enrolling the support of friends and authorities, having some fun with humor at the bully’s expense, calmly standing your ground, etc. If enough kids are inoculated against bullies, there will be fewer bullies.

This strategy would fit well into linguistic Total Learning lessons, where students build relationships and learn how to dialogue effectively.  They can role play hypothetical situations, providing skills they will need in the heat of the moment.  Additionally, bullying behavior needs to be replaced by something.  We can provide alternative behaviors for the bully as well as the victim – positive ways to have important needs met.

Do you have ways that you address bullying in your classroom? What are the words you use? The actions you take? The model you provide? Please share!