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Big Picture Learning

Review of The Big Picture Education Program for use with 2E students in Australia

Published: September 13 2020

Written by: Anne Jackson

Review of an Australian 2e program

It is not possible to find an identified 2e program in Australia. There are classes within schools that provide gifted education and there are disabled education facilities but 2e is an almost non-existent concept in Australia. Instead, I have reviewed a program that is being offered in approximately 40 out of the 9,503 schools (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018) in Australia that unintentionally provides an environment and program for students who could qualify for a 2e identification.

The program developed from a dramatic, out-of-the-box change that was made to schooling by Elliot Washor and Dennis Littky on Rhode Island, USA in 1996 (Littky & Grabelle 2004). Big Picture Learning(Big Picture n.d.) was designed to provide relevant, individualised education paths for disengaged students. It has subsequently been implemented in Australia, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Italy Israel, India and China. Big Picture Education Australia was established in 2006.

Big Picture Education Australia (BPEA) is not designed or advertised as a 2e favourable experience. Instead it is a world-wide alternative to ‘chalk and talk’ schooling that, in a few Australian schools, has been able to begin to provide the curriculum and experiences that 2e students require. It is conceived as an entwined, active process of extension, support, enrichment, real audience, mentorship, internship, co-operative entrepreneurial learning. There is no school wide set timetable, progression points or restrictions placed upon the student. The exact qualities a good strong 2e curriculum requires.

Only two schools in Victoria operate the BPEA system; Croydon Community School and Bundoora Secondary College. Croydon Community School caters for significantly disengaged students aged 12-18 years-old and provides a fresh alternative pathway towards work and a positive life course. Whereas Bundoora Secondary College (BSC) is again for senior students, 12-18 years-old, but those who are involved in the ‘normal’ Victorian Government Education pathway. It is a government funded state school, but it facilitates the Big Picture learning within the curriculum. It genuinely appears to use the best from the state curriculum and combines it with individualised learning and discovery. BSC provides a 2e friendly schooling environment. Their website message is strong and straight forward; “Our job is not to prepare our students for SOMETHING.....our job is to activate our students to prepare themselves for ANYTHING.”

Big picture

Unfortunately, both schools, but especially BSC, are only authorised to enrol students who live within their designated zone. Entry to the school is via individual application and is automatic if the student lives in the zone. Enrolment from outside the zone may be accepted if the principal has the capacity within the school to accommodate the student or as in the case of Croydon Community School, the parent can pay for a place. This influences the range of students who are enrolled and will deny a place to many students who could benefit from the program.

BSC instigated the Big Picture Learning in 2018 and has been influenced by the work and actions of Peter Hutton at Templestowe College and Hutton Consulting (Hutton 2019). Peter and I often talk and he is supportive of my own plans for a 2e school in Melbourne. He has become a passionate advocate for rewriting the curriculum to represent the needs of all current Australian students.His views, and the Big Picture learning program, are a considerable challenge to school administrators, politicians, parents, teachers and students but are slowly influencing government actions. Change is occurring for neurodivergent students. In Oct 2019 the Victorian Government in announced that:

“Almost 50,000 pupils from grades 5 to 8 will be signed up to intensive online and face-to-face lessons, under the $60 million Student Excellence Program ----with a teacher at every government school to be trained to run the classes.” (Ilanbey & Carey 2019)

This will change the learning for some students but unfortunately any student can only receive this program for 10 weeks starting in September 2020. After that hopefully the trained teacher and the students will claim more provisions and attention from the school budget. As yet there is no mention of a state funded program for the whole of the student’s school life and very few are able to access the BPEA system. The total number of students attending BPEA schools in Victoria is currently 485 (ACARA n.d.).

Staff and government departments are becoming increasingly positive about the potential opportunities for use of the program. BPEA can and will provide a long term alternative to the growing number of young adults who leave formal schooling and fail to achieve work of any type (O’Connell, Milligan & Bentley 2019, Hayes, Down, Talbot & Choules 2013). The movement away from a single score given at the end of schooling, towards hands on work-based skills is increasing, as industry and other areas confront the changing environment of work. No longer is it that a degree automatically leads to a career.

Teachers find this focus upon “one student at a time”, with the chance to sit with a student in an advisory role as opposed to an instructional role, to be exciting and challenging. Moving away from having to know all the answers to being a knowledge seeker alongside the student can improve everyone’s productivity and creativity (Alger 2016). The learning plan, developed as a means of identifying strengths and passions, is so relevant to gifted and 2e students (LLEAP Dialogue Series (No.3) 2014, Baum 2008). Aimy, who co-runs this program at Croydon Community School, finds this interaction with students who have been put on the ‘scrap heap’ of education to be the most positive aspect. This positiveness is confirmed in section 5.4 of the research into teachers' experiences of BPEA (Hayes, Down, Talbot & Choules 2013) but also the teachers reported “It’s bloody hard in here..”(p48).“I’ve had to re-think my whole teaching practice” (p47).

BPEA teachers learn on the job. There are two workshops available at the moment, but both are in Western Australia which means they are inaccessible to many teachers. Instead there are three online courses costing $550 each which provide a certificate of professional development (BPEA n.d.). The main method of learning and support appears to be self-driven and involve reaching out to peers who are also within the program. I have not found any independent texts or research undertaken on Big Picture Learning. Instead it currently seems to be only people within the system who report on themselves and the schools supported by BPEA

2e students need a curriculum that is adjusted to them as individuals. Big Picture Learning has this adjustment as an essential central point and it drives all the learning and teaching. Bundoora Secondary College principal, Anesti Anestis again and again emphasises ‘student-centred learning’, the ‘personalised … pathways’, ‘development of the whole person’ as being critical to their philosophy.

Within their version of the program, students are not grouped according to age, instead being organised vertically to achieve learning at their ‘point of interest’. This gives access to a varied, challenging curriculum which can be adapted up or down according to the student’s strengths. A learning plan is established between the student, their parents, a PAL (Pathways and Learning) leader and the Head of House to ensure the student completes their own goals but also the Victorian Curriculum as expected. It is anticipated that students will become ‘creative, compassionate and caring global citizens’ rather than merely schoolhouse gifted (Kaufman J., Kaufman S.B., Beghetto, Burgess, Persson n.d., Sternberg & Kaufman 2018). The learning plan includes possible access to first year university subjects, whilst still at school.

The intention at BSC is to develop 21st century skills which allow the students to master further education and or work. The staff and curriculum cultivate breadth and depth of all the subjects which are required by the Victorian Education Department. Learning covers the key points but also allows for a flourishing of interests and passions (Foley-Nicpon, Assouline & Fosenburg 2015). The model of assessment is designed to only focuses upon the need to “empower our students to understand the skills, dispositions and kinds of knowledge they need for the future” (BSC handbook).

BSC, in providing the BPEA is able to offer many considerable advantages. There are intergral steps that need to be achieved. Many of which would fulfil the principles in standard specific gifted or 2e programs and provisions (Baum, Schader & Owen 2017, Baum, Schader & Hébert 2014, Kaufman 2013, Reis & Renzulli 2010). For example, listed in the curriculum handbook, the Big Picture pathway through the school curriculum asks the reader to consider eight points:

  1. You would like the opportunity and time to pursue your passions and interests more than is currently possible
  2. You would like your learning to connect more to the ‘real world’
  3. You’re not sure what your passions and interests are yet (in BPE you get time to try out lots of different things and make discoveries about yourself)
  4. You would like to develop more meaningful relationships with your peers and teachers
  5. You eventually want to study at university but think you’re unsuited to VCE or exams
  6. You’re a ‘hands-on’ learner but not necessarily suited to VCAL
  7. You don’t like school and find it difficult to engage in learning at the moment
  8. You love learning but feel frustrated and ‘held back’ by the way school works

Saying yes to these points undoubtedly could lead into Renzulli’s SEM (Reis & Renzulli 2010). The outcome would then likely provide “creative-productive giftedness” (Renzulli 2014, p543) to a student who becomes a “firsthand inquirer” (Renzulli 2014, p543).

The potential for strength-based talent development (Reis & Renzulli n.d., Renzulli 1988, Victorian State Government 2014, Baum Schader & Hébert 2014, Gagné 2012, Gentry & Neu 1998) using the Big Picture model is probably underestimated. It automatically provides an opportunity to access the most fundamental learning supports for gifted and 2e students.If extension, enrichment, differentiation are provided, who are the students that take hold of the chance and use it to develop their own learning and knowledge – the very students who may, in another environment, hide or fail to be given the chance to shine.

Schools referenced:

Bundoora Secondary College https://www.bundoorasc.vic.edu.au

Croydon Community School https://www.croydoncs.vic.edu.au

Templestowe College https://tc.vic.edu.au

Alger, Amanda Leigh, "The Big Picture School Model: Understanding the Student Experience" (2016). Dissertations - ALL. 509. Retrieved from https://surface.syr.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1509&context=etd

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).(n.d.). My School.Retrieved fromhttps://www.myschool.edu.au

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 42221.0 Schools - Australia 2018. Retrieved from https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4221.0

Baum, S., Schader, R. & Owen, S. (2017) To be gifted and learning disabled. Prufrock Press. Waco: TX.

Baum, S., Schader, R.M. & Hébert,T.P. (2014). Through a Different Lens: Reflecting on a Strengths-Based, Talent-Focused Approach for Twice-Exceptional Learners. Gifted Child Quarterly 2014 58: 311

Baum, S. M. (2008). Talent centered model for twice exceptional students. In J. S. Renzulli, E. J. Gubbins, K. S. McMillen, R. D. Eckert, & C. A. Little (Eds.), Systems & models for develop- ing programs for the gifted & talented (pp. 17-48). Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.

Big Picture Learning (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.bigpicture.org

Big Picture Educations Australia (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.bigpicture.org.au

Foley-Nicpon, M., Assouline, S.G. & Fosenburg S., (2015). The relationship between self-concept, ability, and academic programming among twice-exceptional youth. Journal of Advanced Academics. 26(4) 256-273.

Gagné F.(2012). Building gifts into talents: Brief overview of the DMGT 2.0.Retrieved from https://12c41159-57bc-f36b-dcdc-21ed77611c94.filesusr.com/ugd/b64a15_d990e509038044d6a59b648bb9e2c472.pdf

Gentry, M. & Neu, T. W., (1998) "Project High Hopes Summer Institute: Curriculum for Developing Talent in Students with Special Needs" (1998). Education Faculty Publications. Paper 83.

Hayes, D., Down, B., Talbot, D., & Choules, C., (2013). Big Picture Education Australia: Experiences of students, parents/carers & teachers (Research Report). Sydney. Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney.

Hutton, P. (2019). Hutton Consulting. Retrieved from https://hutton.education/school-innovation/

Ilanbey, S., Carey, A., (2019). New $60m package unveiled for Victoria's brightest students. The Age. Oct 24 2019. Retrieved from https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/new-60m-package-unveiled-for-victoria-s-brightest-students-20191024-p533pe.html

Kaufman, S.B. (2013). Ungifted: Intelligence redefined. Basic Books: Philadelphia.

Kaufman J., Kaufman S.B., Beghetto, R.A., Burgess, S.A., Persson, R.S., (n.d.). Creative giftedness: beginnings, developments, and future promises. Retrieved from https://scottbarrykaufman.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Kaufman-Kaufman-Beghetto-Kaufman-Persson-2009.pdf

LLEAP Dialogue Series (No.3). (2014). Growing Ideas through Evidence. Retrieved from https://www.acer.org/files/LLEAP-Guide-2014-Case4-Big-Picture-Education.pdf

Littky, D. & Grabelle, S. (2004). The Big Picture: Education is everyone’s business. ASCD. Alexandria, USA.

O’Connell, M., Milligan, S.K. and Bentley, T. (2019) Beyond ATAR: a proposal for change. Koshland Innovation Fund, Melbourne, Victoria

Reis, S.M. & Renzulli, J.S. (2010). The Schoolwide enrichment model: A Focus on student strengths and interests. In Renzulli, Gubbins, McMillen, Eckert, Little & Hava Vidergor, Systems & Models for Developing Programs for the Gifted and Talented. Prufrock Press.

Reis, S.M. & Renzulli, J (n.d.). Promoting Creativity in Talented Adolescents. Retrieved from https://gifted.uconn.edu/schoolwide-enrichment-model/promoting_creativity_talented_adolescents/

​Renzulli, L. (2014). The Schoolwide Enrichment Model: A Comprehensive Plan for the Development of Talents and Giftedness. Revista Educação Especial.27(50) 539-562

​Renzulli, J. (1988). A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships—Developing the Gifts and Talents of All Students. Retrieved from https://gifted.uconn.edu/schoolwide-enrichment-model/rising_tide/

Sternberg, R.J. & Kaufman, S.B. (2018). Theories and conceptions of giftedness. In Pfeiffer (Ed.), Handbook of giftedness in children: Psychoeducational theory, research, and best practices (pp. 115-137). New York, NY: Springer.

Victorian State Government (2014). Aiming High: A strategy for gifted and talented children and young people. Retrieved from http://global2.vic.edu.au/2014/05/27/aiming-high/




e. anne.jackson@2ehub.com.au


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