A First Look at Big Picture Learning

A First Look at Big Picture Learning

The way we deliver education in America has to change. I’ve witnessed the glaze in their eyes for too long. As seeds of curiosity dry up, the weeds of disinterest and learned helplessness become a thicket.

As an emerging educational leader, I want to mix it up with the risk takers, the innovators, the school reformers, and the folks that believe deep down, every child can learn.  More specifically, I believe they not only can learn, but actually want to deep down. To tap into this, we are going to have to take some different approaches. The good news is, there are already folks out there, trying new models and seeing students soar!

Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski are a couple of them. In their book Leaving to Learn, Washor and Moijkowski identify four salient factors of student disengagement: academic failure, behavior, life events, and disinterest. Beneath those four life deeper needs of students that drive disengagement: not fitting in, not mattering, unrecognized talents and interests, and restrictions.

If schools are to be places where these kinds of students thrive, new “rules of engagement” must be applied to places of learning. A renewed approach to teaching and learning must take student expectations into account more seriously. Students, they argue want authentic relationships with their teachers, relevance in the content they study, work that is important in real-world contexts, and choices in how they will demonstrate their competence. Additionally, students want to feel optimally challenged but given the space to make mistakes along the way. They wasn’t to pursue interests at their own pace and might benefit greatly with flexibility to pursue learning outside the bounds of a cookie-cutter chronological sequence.

“And what would this kind of school look like?” asks the seasoned educator, with piqued interest.

This is why I am excited about my upcoming visit to the San Diego Met. In a little over a week, for three consecutive days, I will shadow Principal Sara Leonard at a Big Picture Learning school in my community. I will get a chance to see what a fresh model of teaching and learning looks like up close. I can’t wait to share my findings.

Washor and Mojkowski know that rethinking the way we do school is ambitious and perhaps risky. “To get something really different and better, educators need to think about learners and learning differently. They need to question their taken-for granted assumptions, forget what they know about schools, reason with a beginners mind, and see possibilities with new eyes- particularly through the eyes of one young learner at a time.”

The alternative, plodding ahead in traditional ways which leave behind so many great minds, is not an acceptable way forward either.

Join Elliot, Charles, Sara, and myself in the days ahead, for a closer look at Big Picture Learning.

Image by College Unbound via Flickr.

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