Going forward – a small but connected universe

IDEAS/Total Learning took a hiatus as life, searching, discovery, and new directions were explored.
It is time for writing to recommence. I’ll look back, look around, and look forward using IDEAS as the center of a small but connected universe where we create, present, respond, and connect with other centers of thoughtful attention and intention.
Writing provides an impetus for shaping a perspective. It was important to take a break but essential to now begin again, with new perspectives being shaped by a world that is reinventing the way we operate and interact.
You are invited to join the conversations as we go forward.
Keep an eye on this space.

aeIDEAS = Total Learning, Digital Offerings

Hello to IDEAS friends and colleagues.

Over the past four years, IDEAS has been slowly and intentionally transitioning into a company that focuses on arts-integrated school change. We continue to provide professional development through Total Learning, including Total Learning Digital.  We also offer select materials (texts and music) that provide theoretical underpinnings and practical applications of arts-infused teaching and learning.

What’s changed?

  • After 40 years, aeIDEAS no longer produces movement scarves.  This business is now run by Bear Paw Creek (www.bearpawcreek.com) . However, we favor use of scarves as flexible teaching and learning tools and encourage you to facilitate powerful movement experiences to all ages of learners.
  • Replacing physical CDs, we are digitizing IDEAS, Total Literacy, and Total Learning recordings for download.  This change mirrors changes in the way music is shared in the technology age.
  • We are in the process of digitizing our arts integration texts – those with and without accompanying music tracks. Again, this reduces the amount of paper, and makes the contents immediately available through download.

These changes will make access easier for those who want to take advantage of high-quality, imaginative, reasonably priced materials that inform and enrich teaching and learning through the arts (music, art, dance, drama, and storytelling).  The materials, created and mentored by Dr.Sue Snyder, are offered at a minimal cost that will sustain this website.  The download costs do not reflect the effort, expertise, or wisdom of the content. Dr. Snyder’s legacy continues, and she wishes the ideas to be readily available without a price barrier.

Total Learning Digital, our digital PD approach, is available for organizations, institutions, districts, schools, and/or individuals who want to implement an arts-integrated approach to school change. Your licenses can be purchased on this site, which will trigger collaboration on a personalized plan that includes PD, materials and strategies, support and coaching year by year.

Keep an eye here as we implement our refinement plan.

Introducing IDEAS offerings 2016-17

IDEAS is offering programs for early childhood, elementary, middle/high school and adults during the 2016-17 school year.  Reserve your 2016-17 dates now.

We keep seeing evidence in our journals, web pages, and in our every day lives.  The arts make us smarter, and open doors for learning.  This is especially true for elementary students.  Check out Early Literacy and the Arts, and let us tailor a residency that matches your needs. Learn more.

Oral history is one way to bring social emotional learning, cultural relevance, history and geography, and community into student learning.  Take a look at how we will use Nine Rubies as a springboard to storytelling, cultural understanding, listening and communication skills, and current world issues.  Let us tailor a residency to match your needs for your 10th grade through university students. Learn more.

Why Multi-Modal and Arts-Infused Education?

Elliot Eisner (1934-2014)

Elliot Eisner (1934-2014)

Dr. Snyder videotaping Grade 4 lessons

Dr. Snyder videotaping Grade 4 lessons

Sometimes it’s possible to step back and ask the big question, “Why are we doing this?” The “this” is arts-integrated curriculum. Specifically, we are creating and sharing the Total Learning Digital curriculum that includes (1) teacher professional development, (2) student multi-modal or arts-infused learning across the curriculum, and (3) focus on positive and powerful teacher-student interactions.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been cleaning out piles of important papers, articles, notes, etc. from many years of work. I’ve also been teaching and videotaping 4th grade lessons, which will complete the more than 500 video segments that accompany the Total Learning Digital whole-group lessons at 5 grade levels. With only four lessons now left to videotape and edit, this component of the platform will be complete! The intersection of these two activities – cleaning and teaching – has offered a unique reflection opportunity.

After teaching two lessons of the four that comprise Grade 4 Lessons 4, I asked the students, who had just been totally engaged in identifying night characters in “I Love the Night,” by Dar Hosta – then making shadow puppets of these characters and exploring the characteristics of light that make shadow puppetry work –

“You just spent a lot of learning time doing this activity. Do you think it is worth the time, with all the things you need to get done during your available instructional time? The first child responding said, “Yes, because this is fun and we’re still learning.” Ah, the F word – FUN! This child realized that the fun needed to be focused on learning, or it could not be justified. A second child responded, “I like it, but I don’t think its worth the time because we have to learn a lot in reading, math, science, and history – I think this way takes too much time.” This child seemed very focused for a 4th grader, with a grasp of the daily and yearly objectives, and time management.

At the end of the next pair of lessons, completing the four-lesson unit, this second student made an unsolicited statement, “Now that we’ve completed all the lessons, I can see that we explored a lot of ideas through different lessons, and then pulled these ideas together to really understand the ideas in the book. Everyone had a way to learn, and I learned in lots of different ways that made me think. I think the way these lessons were put together was brilliant. (Honest, this was her language!) Everyone was so busy learning, and we made lots of interesting connections. I DO think it’s worth the time to learn this way!”

That same afternoon, I ran across a quote by Elliot Eisner, who was a professor of Art and Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, and one of the United States’ leading academic minds, recognized for his contributions to shaping educational policy that reflects the potential of the arts in educational development of the young.

Eisner’s quote was this:

“In the end, the arts make three thing possible.

First, they develop the mind by giving it opportunity to learn to think in special ways.

Second, they make communication possible on matters that will not take the impress of logically constructed language. Poetry, after all, was invented to say what prose can never say.

Third, the arts are places and spaces where one can enrich one’s life. Such outcomes are not educationally trivial. When taken seriously, the arts have much to teach educators; they could provide the models needed to create schools that genuinely educate.”

Elliot Eisner in “Opening a Shuttered Window”,

Phi Delta Kappan (Vol 87, No. 01, 9/05, pp.8-10)

I would humbly add that one reason the arts are so important in education is that in the arts there are multiple solutions to problems, rather than one right answer. There is an abundance of theory and evidence to recommend Total Learning and other arts-integrated approaches. Eisner is only one of the many articulate advocates for teaching in and through the arts. Our student’s aha moment is an example of what happens every day in Total Learning classrooms – opening doors and windows to learning.

If you’re already using arts-based strategies, you’re doing something that we know works. Hooray for you! If you haven’t yet tried it, it’s time to get on board. Start with a year-long Total Learning Digital license at https://www.aeideas.com/?product_cat=total-learning-digital-licenses!

eyes, ears, bodies, story

eyes, ears, bodies, story

Pondering Success as a Teacher Educator

I’m cleaning out some older files, and scanning pages to make space for new work. I ran across a journal I wrote to a class at Hunter College, toward the end of the semester. I wrote: “The results of this class will not be known today or tomorrow. Grades will be given which reflect your work thus far. But true evaluation of a course is reflected in the change that’s made in the lives of children in the classroom. When you teach, if you use music and the arts to enrich the life of your classroom, and teach with joy and excitement, my success will have been moderate. If you get books, recordings and instruments for your classroom and use them on a regular basis, you and I will be more successful. If you integrate music and the arts into your teaching, and truly teach through the arts – my success will have been somewhat better. If you become an advocate for music and the arts in your school, and work to be sure every child has access to music, art, movement and drama every week with a trained specialist who works with a developmentally appropriate curriculum, then I will consider myself a success. Probably I will not know these results. I just set the goals, do my best to build your understanding of the essential nature of music and the arts for children, and we are done. I know I have earned my pay, but hope I have earned your learning, and a place for music and the arts in your classroom.

The best to you in your teaching career. I hope you remember that teaching is the most important job in the world, and your charge is to never be less than excellent. If you use the richness that I have seen within our class, and open yourself to all the wonders of the world and its children, you will be a critical different in shaping the future.”


Talk worth your listening time!

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 11.05.29 AM

Sir Ken Robinson is a smart man with a clear and compelling message about how to escape education’s death valley.

“In some parts of the country 60% of children are dropping out of high school.  In Native American communities it’s 80%.  If we were to halve that number, the net gain to the U.S. economy would be nearly 1 billion dollars over 10 years.

It costs an enormous amount to mop up the damage from the dropout crisis.  But the dropout crisis is only the tip of the iceberg . . . .”


Influencing the Future of Education – Worth a Read


Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 6.23.12 PMI’m working on a competitive analysis for Total Learning and Total Learning Digital, which means surveying “what’s out there” that is similar in one way or another. Of course, there’s LOTS to document, because Total Learning Digital addresses so many of the features that make education great. I just ran across this validating article, and thought you would enjoy it as much as I did.   The major sections are The Future of Education, Social and Emotional Development, Brain Based Strategies, and Best Tech Tools. There are lots of good ideas here, such as “We know how kids learn. We know what classes should look like. And yet our classes look almost the opposite.” Give it a read! http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/01/unexpected-tools-that-are-influencing-the-future-of-education/

STEM: Important but not sufficient; add Arts to create STEAM!

“The arts being the major brain booster and spark behind creativity is overwhelming and shouldn’t be a complete shock. It should be obvious, the arts need to take a seat at the table in this national education reform effort.” Total Learning was created with this innovative spirit in mind, and we are ready to help craft and educational policy and design deserving of our children and democracy.”

Read the full article here.


Thanks to Elaine Larson for sharing this link.

Thoughts on Social-Emotional Literacy

echoing scarf movement

When kids are safe and motivated, they achieve.  The arts are keys to engaged, motivated learning.

When kids are safe and motivated, they achieve. The arts are keys to engaged, motivated learning.

The NPR report below describes a persistent and real problem that is evident in most schools and classrooms across the country, and spanning socio-economic groups.

Teaching and learning are complex, with many perspectives represented in the comments at the end of the report. Here’s mine.

In order to learn school curriculum, there are certain conditions that must be met. Children must (1) feel safe (not hungry, not feeling threatened), and (2) be engaged and motivated. Without these, learning is hampered, not only for the disengaged child, but for the entire group. Children learn coping and social skills early, based on interactions with the adults and others around them. If the adults are positive, set clear expectations, model mature behaviors, and generally follow cultural norms that match the school’s expectations, the child will most likely adjust well. If there are different norms in the home or community than in the school, the child or school will need to adjust.

Turning to content, the curriculum is the “stuff” that is deemed important to teach. Hopefully it is developmentally appropriate for the child – sometimes it is not. Over the past decades, the curriculum has been inappropriately narrowed to include reading (not literacy – mostly leaving out speaking, listening, and even writing) and some mathematics. Programs that taught these skills in context, applying them to real life or interesting problems, have been out of favor. Arts programs (music, visual arts, dance and drama) have been eliminated in many places, from large school districts to small rural schools. Why? The arts were seen as less important frills, rather than core curriculum. This is just wrong. The arts are core curriculum, unique ways of knowing and communicating that are essential for brain development and all learning. They build auditory, visual, kinesthetic and linguistic skills, and they have the significant benefit of engaging self-expression, imagination, and emotional understanding. The arts provide the social-emotional outlet for students, and strategies for learning across the curriculum.

When the arts were removed from school curriculum, the opportunities for learning self control, self regulation, collaboration, and learning how to learn disappeared.

The PATHS program addresses a real and persistent problem. However, that problem would not exist if sequential, quality, integrated arts programs were reinstated. Slapping on a huge band-aid that takes time away from learning, in place of filling the gaping wound with nourishing, powerful, engaging core educational experiences is not an answer. Education’s decision-makers have cause the problem, and they can solve it by allocating funds to essential, core, arts curriculum. There’s plenty of data that supports this perspective. And don’t be fooled just because kids love the arts – learning that brings joy, engagement, and positive interactions will build those social-emotional skills not by labeling, but through experiencing them. Once there is love of learning, good things will follow.


Happy Holidays with Artistry

At this time of year we are moved by delicious sounds of the season, beautifully designed decorations and cards, folk and more formal dances that tell stories with immediacy and grace, & pageantry and storytelling through dramatic interpretations. These gifts: music, art, dance and drama, are also basic human ways of expressing important ideas and connections. It’s ironic that our leaders often celebrate arts products by attending performances or visual art objects without providing support for the on-going process – the arts education that begins at birth, building not only artistic skills and ways of knowing, but the imagination, creativity, problem-solving and cultural treasury that make a society great, build relationships, and give it a moral compass.
Our followers and friends are artists, educators, and consumers of the arts – and some are also the decision-makers who determine whether arts education continues, gains support, or is cut even further in the coming year. During the coming year, we’ll continue to share evidence as we generate it or find it in our colleagues’ work. We will advocate for the arts as powerful tools for living, learning, and communicating, and for arts education as an essential in the core curriculum.
Happy Holidays with artistry, however you celebrate. Wishing you a New Year in which you help keep quality arts education alive for our children – so we can continue to enjoy the benefits of gifts of artistry.


stone walls soften, branches bend, and beauty shows itself to those who choose to see it.

stone walls soften, branches bend, and beauty shows itself to those who choose to see it.