Thursday, October 29, 2009

Big Picture Review: Education is Everyone's Business

The Big Picture: Education Is Everyone’s Business
reviewed by Yvette Daniel — 2005
Title: The Big Picture: Education Is Everyone’s Business Author(s): Dennis Littky (with Samantha Grabelle) Publisher: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA ISBN: 0871209713, Pages: 230, Year: 2004 Search for book at
Dennis Littky’s book opens with a poignant journal entry by Mareoun Yai, an alumna from the first graduating class at The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center and currently holder of a college degree, who writes, “I sometimes wonder where I would be now without the support I got from my high school”. The center, lovingly referred to as The Met, was started in 1996 by Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor as a group of six vocational education schools in Providence, Rhode Island. Littky and Washor are affiliated with the Coalition of Essential Schools started by Ted Sizer, which is built upon 10 common principles that re-imagine education infused with equality, personalization, and intellectual vibrancy. Littky hopes that the ideas and testimonials presented in this book will serve as a springboard for others in taking up this vision. He does not intend to provide a template, mainly because templates do not work. The book makes no prescriptions, but Littky hopes that once readers get the “big picture” through The Met, it will serve as an analytical model to further our understanding that schooling is about the ways people relate to each other and about the way knowledge is positioned and the curriculum is designed. It is also about the ability of schools to nurture the qualities required for students to become caring, active, and contributing members of a community, as Yai’s journal entry clearly indicates.
The first chapter outlines the real goals of education, which go beyond marketplace dictates to emphasize goals that are consistent with education for a democratic citizenry. The Met is infused with the joy of learning, and students are there because they are engaged in projects that are relevant to them (the book is full of wonderful examples). The philosophy of The Met is articulated by Littke with a quote by George Bernard Shaw: “What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge is pursuit of the child” (p. 5).
Further, the notion of mindfulness is central to the philosophy of teaching and learning at The Met, which encompasses mind, body, emotion, and spirit (Orr, 2002). Mindfulness implies using imagination and creativity in understanding what works best for each individual as he or she engages in authentic and meaningful activities for learning. Littky claims that it is possible to set up strong structures that promote flexibility, echoing the idea of “liberating constraints” espoused by Davis, Sumara, and Luce-Kapler (2000), “a phrase that describes the balance between freedom and restraint that creates conditions for learning and creativity” (p. 87). The second chapter underscores the importance of seeing students as valuable resources instead of a resource drain. Dewey’s progressive philosophy of education is evident throughout the book, but especially in this chapter. The chapter also outlines a variety of authentic assessment tools that are used at The Met to replace traditional paper-and-pencil tests.
The Met’s emphasis is on small schools with a personal approach that addresses the heart as well as the mind in a holistic manner. The third and fourth chapters expand upon this central theme by explaining the significance of the atmosphere and the school culture at The Met and the individual attention given to each student. Students are seen both as individuals and also as members of a caring family within the school. The community and, in particular, the parents are involved in designing individualized curricula for students.
The fifth chapter underscores the importance of learning through pursuing passions and interests. The words of one Met advisor—“They are passionate about their learning, because they are learning something they are passionate about” (p. 99)—sum up the essence of learning at The Met. The sixth chapter highlights the importance of real work in the real world through several examples of authentic hands-on tasks. Two units undertaken by the same teacher illustrate the point that even though both are hands-on, one looks like real work but isn’t real enough. The vital role of mentors is also discussed in this chapter. Mentors, who work with students in internship programs, are perceived as additions to the faculty. They are equally respected and valued for the central role they play in nurturing The Met’s students.
The seventh chapter is devoted to the role of parents and families. The admissions process at The Met is unique. Both the student and his or her parent(s) have to write essays explaining their reasons for applying to enroll at The Met. Several excerpts from these essays are reproduced on pages 136 and 137. In the words of one parent, “So many children lose interest in school. I do not want this to happen to Anya.” Authentic engagement of parents and families requires changes in the power structure such that decision making takes place at the community level and parents are involved in the daily decisions made at the school, as these decisions are integral to the whole process of their children’s education.
The eighth chapter addresses the contentious issues of assessments and grades. Although The Met has tried to get rid of grades in favor of exhibitions and real conversations about learning, the faculty and administration have realized that students need grades because that is the way the world works. To enable students to gain admission to colleges, their narratives and exhibitions are converted to letter grades. The second half of the eighth chapter argues for changes in the way we assess students and the standards we create. It is refreshing to note that the commissioner of education for Rhode Island, Peter McWalters, has helped implement a different kind of assessment tool, the SALT (School Accountability for Learning and Teaching) survey, that considers things that really matter. A sample of questions from the survey is reproduced on pages 173–174.
The concluding chapter uses the metaphor of the school as a living organism that is continually evolving and changing. This metaphor, although very useful, has its limitations. It is useful because it allows us to understand that schools must pay close attention to the contexts in which they operate and enables us to gain a better sense of the ecology of the organization. Its main limitation is that it obscures the tensions inherent in attaining internal cohesion. Morgan (1998) argues that “although organizations may be highly unified, with people in different departments working in a selfless way for the organization as a whole, they may at other times be characterized by schism and major conflict” (p. 66). These aspects of organizational operation should be brought to the forefront of the discussion in this chapter.
The Big Picture is engaging from beginning to end. Each chapter opens with beautiful quotes and excerpts from the journals of students and teachers. At the end of each chapter there are questions for discussion that attempt to further the conversation about a different way of thinking about schooling. This book is more than valuable or essential reading. It should be recommended to educators, students in preservice and in-service teacher education programs, and principal-qualification courses to start a conversation about teaching and learning in the hope that the ideas the book presents come to fruition in different contexts and that what is currently perceived as “alternative schooling” becomes mainstream. References
Davis, B., Sumara, D., & Luce-Kapler, R. (2000). Engaging minds: Learning and teaching in a complex world. London: Erlbaum. Morgan, G. (1998). Images of organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Orr, D. (2002). The use of mindfulness in anti-oppressive pedagogies. Canadian Journal of Education, 27(4), 477–498.
Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 7, 2005, p. 1566-1569 ID Number: 11716, Date Accessed: 10/28/2009 6:44:47 PM
Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review

Monday, October 12, 2009

Initial discussion on Pedagogy

The Pedagogy Underpinning The Big Picture

Written by Peter Lee

The Big Picture approach aims to enhance regionalisation through significantly increasing students’ opportunities to build relationships with teachers and other significant adults both in the student’s circle of influence and in the community. The ‘Big Picture’ approach will allow for
· face to face contact with Learning advisors
· mentorships both formal and informal
· internships
· cooperative learning
· direct teaching

We know from the research around Russell Bishop’s work with Te Kotahitanga schools that successful teachers focus on establishing effective relationships with students that are respectful, genuine, caring and culturally located. These teachers hold high expectations for students and use teaching strategies that assist students to learn. Learning is emotional as well as cognitive and relationships underpin student motivation and confidence to learn

However relationships alone will not make the difference. Quality teaching needs to be present.
The strategies shown to be particularly effective with Maori students (but in fact research indicates all students)
· Cooperative learning
· Effective feedback, feed forward
· Challenging goals
· Differentiated learning
· Effective questioning (students forming questions)

It is clear that our strategy around regionalisation and the Big Picture presents us with an opportunity to enhance relationships and apply more effective evidenced based teaching strategies proven to make a difference for students.

Most teacher interventions make a difference as the attached list from John Hattie’ work indicates. However clearly we need to focus on those that make a bigger difference!
I have highlighted the teaching strategies we are best able to apply using Regionalisation, the Big Picture Approach and with learning at a distance

What has the greatest influence on student learning?
The work of John Hattie, Professor of Education University of Auckland is very informative in this respect. He has analysed 200,000 ‘effect-sizes’ from 180,000 studies representing 50+million students and covering almost every method of innovation. This is just a summary, download Hattie's full paper 'Influences on Student Learning' from this page on his site:

He says ‘effect sizes’ are much the best way of answering the question ‘what has the greatest influence on student learning’. An effect-size of 1.0 is typically associated with:
· advancing learner’s achievement by one year, or improving the rate of learning by 50%,
· a correlation between some variable (e.g., amount of homework) and achievement of approximately .50.
· average students receiving that treatment exceeding 84% of students not receiving that treatment.
· A two grade leap in NCEA, e.g. from An achieved to Excellence C to an A grade.
An effect size of 1.0 is clearly enormous! (It is defined as an increase of one standard deviation)

Most innovations that are introduced in schools have an effect size of around .4. This is the benchmark figure and provides a "standard" from which to judge effects.
Most educational research on teaching effectiveness has been done in schools in Amercia

Comparison points for Effect sizes
When looking at the effect sizes that follow, compare them with these:
student maturation .10
a teacher in front of a classroom .24
innovations in schooling .40
Professor John Hattie’s average effect sizes.
Effect sizes above 0.4 are above the bold line. These are above the average for educational research. The ‘number of effects’ column gives the number of effect sizes of this type that have been averaged to create the ‘effect size’ in the next column.
Mean effect-sizes from over 500 meta-analyses of various influences to achievement. Professor John Hattie

Influence No. of effects Effect-Size
Feedback 139 1.13
Students’ prior cognitive ability 896 1.04
Instructional quality 22 1.00
Instructional quantity 80 .84
Direct instruction 253 .82
Cooperative Learning 241 .76
Acceleration 162 .72
Home factors 728 .67
Remediation/feedback 146 .65
Students disposition to learn 93 .61
Class environment 921 .56
Challenge of Goals 2703 .52
Bilingual programs 285 .51
Peer tutoring 125 .50
Mastery learning 104 .50
Teacher in-service education 3912 .49
Parent involvement 339 .46
Homework 110 .43
Questioning 134 .41
OVERALL EFFECTS 500,000+ .40
Peers 122 .38
Advance organizers 387 .37
Simulation & games 111 .34
Computer-assisted instruction 566 .31
Instructional media 4421 .30
Testing 1817 .30
Aims & policy of the school 542 .24
Affective attributes of students 355 .24
Calculators 231 .24
Physical attributes of students 905 .21
Learning hierarchies 24 .19
Programmed instruction 220 .18
Audio-visual aids 6060 .16
Individualisation 630 .14
Finances/money 658 .12
Behavioural objectives 111 .12
Team teaching 41 .06
Ability grouping/Streaming 3385 .05
Physical attributes of the school 1850 -.05
Mass media 274 -.12
Retention 861 -.15

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"Anything is Possible"

“Anything is Possible”: Big Picture thinking for TCS
“ Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not” (Dr Seuss)
Jen McCutcheon September 09.

Press release dated 10.09.09: “ more than a quarter of New Zealand teenagers quit early..NZ has the second worst drop-out rate in the developed world…the recently released OECD report shows 26.9% of New Zealanders aged 15-19 are not in education compared with the OECD average of 15.7%”

This information was released at the conference held in Wellington in September to discuss ways of engaging young people in learning.
Professor Sandra Christenson, of the University of Minnesota, said students needed to be shown the relevance of school …not all students are disengaged from school for the same reason..she went on to discuss the role of mentors for pupils losing interest in schools. (google Sandra Christenson Minnesota University for more information)

TCS is designing a creative approach as to how we may begin to address lack of engagement among students building on current good practice, common sense and wider information from around the world (particularly the USA, Canada and Australia).

Big Picture Schools:
Returning from a study tour in the USA our Chief Executive, Mike Hollings, came back with a good grounding in the ideas currently being promulgated through schools subscribing to the “Big Picture Education Philosophy”.

Reading “Big Picture: Education is Everyone’s Business” by Dennis Littky, the founder of this education movement rings immediate bells for me as an educator of some 20+ years. Some quotations from his work follow: (see more detail by googling him)
“you cannot know a kid whose voice you don’t listen to, whose interests are a mystery, whose family is excluded, and whose feelings are viewed as irrelevant to the educational process” (p21)
“ those of us involved with kids lives need to remember how fragile they are…even the toughest ones need us more than they would ever admit…as adults we have the power to break their spirit with even the smallest word or gesture, and with some kids we may never get a chance to help build them up again” (p20)
Kids are very attuned to adults’ attitudes towards them. They can tell when you have low expectations for them…(this) can hurt them badly”
“when a teacher loves kids, is excited about the act of teaching and is a learner himself or herself, that is when the best teaching happens” (p15)
“ (education should be about) figuring out problems together”
“ Knowledge can get in the way sometimes” (p 16)
“schools (should be) part of the solution rather than one of many problems”
“ the 3R’s at the Met are relationships, relevance and rigour” (p39)
“ at school I have to have a pass to go to the bathroom, but at 3:00pm I’m an assistant manager at McDonalds” (p44)

From my reading there are some significant differences between the “Big Picture Schools and TCS. Big Picture schools are small schools (up to 250 students). Teachers have a Learning Group (Advisory) of 15-17 students who they retain over four years. Learning Advisors provide leadership in their own curriculum area (within an interdisciplinary team), but also act as generalists to support students in project-based learning.

Learning Advisors are employed based on their ability to build and sustain strong relationships with students, families and community members, as well as their subject expertise. There are different management structures than we currently have at TCS, but that is not to say we would not be able to adapt some current structures and focus on areas through selective employment initiatives.

Current Big Picture schools do not have a national qualifications framework to facilitate student progress through. Each student has a Learning Plan (somewhat like an enhanced and more specific SEP) which sets negotiated goals and describes how he or she will be building skills and knowledge through the various LTI projects. The Learning Plan is negotiated between the student/whanau, Learning Advisor and mentor. There may be a number of LTI projects. The focus in each is on the development of a number of skills including developing and answering deep framing questions, and developing reasoning skills, planning and project management skills, problem solving using hands and minds, assessment of situations, completion of actual projects and then celebration of accomplishments.

Each LTI project will have a main focus from:
· Quantitative reasoning
· Communication
· Empirical Reasoning
· Social Reasoning
· Personal Qualities
The student population has similarities to many on the TCS roll in that those they initially attracted were disengaged from standard schooling in their States, but the Big Picture schools have turned around levels of failure through the approach “one student at a time” based on authentic learning and individual support for each student to succeed. These schools currently attract a broader group of students than those disengaged.
There are details of the types of positions available to teach in these schools on the Big Picture Website (copies appended).

The Correspondence School:
Staff input is essential into the development of our TCS model, and this will be managed through a series of discussions and consultations. External input will also be sought from students, supervisors/parents, some business groups and TCS stakeholders. This will require a project management framework, and this initial work is the first step along a phased in development.
Regional managers have a pivotal role in development and socialization of the concepts and discussions within their own staff. There will be a TCS structural model guiding the on-going development but within that regional variations will evolve to meet the differentiated needs of communities and stakeholders.
Our starting point will be in-region Teams and internal (Wellington Teams) self identified.

The TCS model will be multi-layered
· Level 1: the student at the centre. (TCS support at the micro-level). How we can implement a model from Term 1 in 2010 building on current best practice with further adaptations linked back to the developing philosophies and pedagogies.
· Level 2: access to Mentoring organizations/Significant Adult/ Internship (TCS support to identify and facilitate support at this level)
· Level 3: Role differentiation/variation/TCS development at the macro-level..TCS self reflective questions to stimulate engagement and solutions.

As an overview, TCS challenges fall within some headings:

· The wide and varying nature of the fulltime and Young Adult students on our roll
· The levels of engagement of our students
· Our developing regional structure
· How to get closer to our students
· Our employment structures. How adaptive are groups of current staff to the necessary changes
· How best to meet the needs of our students as individuals, ie how to meet the challenge of “one size fits one”
· How best to work with our Year 9 and 10 students to begin to develop the skills required for authentic project development models within our Integrated Curriculum Te Ara Hou
· How best to allocate/reallocate resources appropriately to meet the needs of our students so that funding is redirected to each student
· How to adapt resources to meet the range of blended delivery options needed to meet the needs of net-gen students plus those without even a supply of electricity and the many in-between.
· How to provide IT resources to our students within a fiscal framework
· How to best utilize existing community resources (eg not for profit groups, Iwi groups, Libraries, schools) to support student learning
· How to develop among staff the skills to work with students and whanau to elicit enough information about interests and goals which are within the student, and from which to customize relevant learning opportunities (curriculum based, wrap around support and authentic learning opportunities)
· How to continue to provide staff with the skills needed to become facilitators of learning for a cohort of students as their Learning Advisor, customizing aspects of curriculum to ensure appropriate pathways, and assisting in the development of life- long learning pathways
· How best to work with employer groups and individual employers, and how to manage those relationships to meet the needs of all parties
· How best to interface with ITO’s and other providers, including mentoring organizations and groups
· How best to work with local Iwi groups, whanau and hapu to develop relationships to support the goals of the programme

The TCS Structural Model:

The main components:
documents and diagrams still under development. These will be used as focus diagrams for discussion and consultation
1. Student at the Centre. (diagram 1)

2. Person-Centred Planning (circle of influence)

3. Learning Advisor/Liaison Teacher adaptive roles, incorporating Circle of Influence and Gateway models

4. Developmental/ adaptive roles of all in-region staff

5. Mentoring/Significant Adult/ Internship Models of support

6. Macro-questions: Strategic Questions for consultation

7. Student Development Centre model and examples