Wednesday, January 12, 2005
The Big Picture Company
Great book for middle schools
For decades reformers have been fiddling with how to improve our secondary schools derived from a different age and for a different purpose. Asking those who currenty control or 'lead' our schools to transform them is a bit like asking the Queen to abolish the monarchy!
To an informed outsider secondary schools are an absurd way to educate our students and at best only succeed with the top third of students – who would succeed anyway in spite of the system. Worldwide about a third of all studnts leave school dispirited, alienated and short changed by the system. Yet we still persist with the basic outdated 'factory' model.
Those in charge of our secondary schools are, like the Emperor, to blinded by the success of the few to notice their schools are crumbing at the edges. Reactionary thinking blinds school people (I am reluctant to call them educators) to all the available knowledge about how to create their school as learning communities; communities fully able to realize the talents of all their students.
One excellent model, gaining support in the USA, is the Big Picture Company developed by Dennis Littky. Littky along with Elliot Washor established a middle school in the sixties regarded as the most innovative school since John Dewey’s Lab school. Their school was one of the earliest members of the influential Coalition of Essential Schools. In 1994 they launched the ‘Big Picture Company’ to take their ideas for education out into the world. In 1996 they established the first of the six schools that comprise The Metropolitan Regional and Career Centre (‘The Met’). These were small personalized high schools, working with disadvantaged students in tandem with their students’ communities.
The Big Picture Company believes that every students learning should grow out of his or her unique needs, interests and passions. They also believe that the system must ensure that the students and their families are active participants in the design and assessment of the student’s education. The goal of education should be to connect students to the world ‘one student at a time’.
Big Picture Schools are small, personalized communities of learning were students are encouraged to be leaders and where school leaders are encouraged to be visionaries. Their schools aim to create respectful, diverse, creative, exciting and reflective cultures. They encourage their students, teachers and parents to see the ‘big picture’; to look at education in new and different ways. They also hope to reenergize teachers and provoke discussion and dissent about the shape of education required to ensure all students gain the opportunity to use their talents and not just the academic few as at present.
Littky wants students from their schools to be: 'a thinker and a doer, and who follows his or her passions….a adult who is strong enough to stand up and speak for what he or she believes, and who cares about himself or herself and the world. Someone who understands himself or herself and understands learning. Creativity, passion, courage, and perseverance are the personal qualities I want to see in my graduates…I want them to feel good about themselves and be good honest people in the way they live their lives…..finally I want my students to get along with and respect others….To become life long learners.’
Check out the Big Picture Company website and also that of the Coalition of Essential Schools and acquire a copy of Littky’s book ‘The Big Picture’; available from ascd.
The Teaching Framework on our site is also worth a read – it has much in common with idea of the Coalition of Essential School ideas.