Oct 21 2019

Big Picture Learning: Spreading Relationships, Relevance, and Rigor One Student at a Time

Big Picture Learning, one of three networks examined in a study of successful deeper learning networks, is dedicated to engaging all students in individualized learning experiences that focus on their interests. With approximately 65 schools in 26 states, the Big Picture Learning network partners with schools and districts to create teaching and learning environments that provide students with the knowledge, relationships, dispositions and abilities that will help them thrive in college, career, and civic participation.

Students in Big Picture Learning schools are encouraged to explore their interests through deeper learning—an approach that develops students' communications, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills and their ability to engage in self-directed learning. All network schools are characterized by a set of 10 "distinguishers," that are integral to the network's approach and differentiate Big Picture Learning schools from others. Among them are learning through interests and internships, authentic assessments and exhibitions, learning plans, postsecondary planning, and staff professional development. These "distinguishers" help schools create environments that meet the holistic needs of a diverse student populations.

In examining how Big Picture Learning has embedded its approach across a variety of settings, the research team found that:

  1. Big Picture Learning maintains a vision for deeper learning and equity that guides all aspects of school design, practice, and culture and supports schools spreading its approach in high-quality ways.

    Big Picture Learning designs schools in which advisors—teachers who work closely with students to facilitate learning experiences in and outside the classroom—can build meaningful relationships with students and support them in learning focused on their personal interests and curiosities.

  2. Big Picture Learning collaborates with stakeholders to implement deeper learning, ensuring that its approach is feasible, sustainable, and engaged with the community.

    Big Picture Learning works closely with local officials to establish schools, beginning with discussions with district leaders and local educators about the feasibility and fit of the approach to ensure it is a welcome addition to the district. Local leaders also have the option of adopting the comprehensive Big Picture Learning approach or a subset of its "distinguishers."

  3. Big Picture Learning has developed and implemented multifaceted and experiential professional learning supports to build the capacity of leaders and educators to implement deeper learning.

    Big Picture Learning provides professional development that introduces educators and leaders to the foundational elements of its design and builds a community of practitioners committed to deeper learning and equity. Professional development includes conferences, virtual access to instructional resources, and ongoing access to coaches who can address questions and concerns that have emerged during implementation of the Big Picture Learning model.

  4. Big Picture Learning is a learning organization that has evolved its practices and structures to improve the quality of its approach and the spread of deeper learning.

    As it has recreated its approach across the country, Big Picture Learning has expanded and restructured so network staff can better support educators and sustain partnerships in various regions, and it has adjusted its teaching and learning approach and adapted its design to facilitate that. Big Picture Learning has also been proactive in seeking ways to further its impact beyond its schools.

All network schools are characterized by a set of 10 "distinguishers," that are integral to the network's approach and differentiate Big Picture Learning schools from others.

These findings have the following implications for schools and districts interested in implementing deeper learning:

  1. Districts and and schools implementing deeper learning strategies can benefit from developing a well-articulated vision for deeper learning that uncompromisingly guides the design and implementation of deeper learning schools and classrooms.
  2. School and district leaders can consider how they can partner with local communities to build local knowledge and investment and the necessary infrastructure to support deeper learning.
  3. To build educator capacity, schools and districts can consider investing in professional development focused on deeper learning, offer multiple and reinforcing opportunities for educators to engage with experienced practitioners skilled in these learning practices, and facilitate visits to schools implementing deeper learning.
  4. Schools and districts can consider how to establish structures that allow leaders and practitioners to routinely reflect on, evaluate, and iterate their practice. By maintaining a learning orientation, schools and districts may be able to evolve their practice to support students' interest-based transdisciplinary learning.

Big Picture Learning: Spreading Relationships, Relevance, and Rigor One Student at a Time by Kathryn Bradley and Laura E. Hernández is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

This research was supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Core operating support for the Learning Policy Institute is also provided by the Sandler Foundation and the Ford Foundation. We are grateful to them for their generous support. The ideas voiced here are those of the authors and not those of our funders.

Photo provided with permission by Big Picture Learning.

Deeper Learning Networks
Deeper Learning Networks: Taking Student-Centered Learning and Equity to Scale is a cross-case analysis of three individual case studies of networks of schools. In a series of interviews, network representatives and educators in partner schools and districts discuss their strategies and practices for advancing deeper learning. Case studies and supporting content, including additional videos, are available below.

Deeper Learning Networks: Taking Student-Centered Learning and Equity to Scale
Laura E. Hernández, Linda Darling-Hammond, Julie Adams, et. al.

Internationals Network for Public Schools: A Deeper Learning Approach to Supporting English Learners
Martens Roc, Peter Ross, and Laura E. Hernández

New Tech Network: Driving Systems Change and Equity Through Project-Based Learning in Public Schools
Julie Adams and DeAnna Duncan Grand