Big Picture turning lives around

Issue: Volume 98, Number 19

Posted: 8 November 2019
Reference #: 1HA27K

An innovative style of teaching and learning is helping to turn around the lives of students, particularly those considered at risk of dropping out of education.

The Big Picture programme(external link) was introduced at Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu almost 10 years ago, after chief executive Mike Hollings visited the US and saw the difference it could make to young people.

“The whole approach is aimed at putting the student at the centre of their learning and playing to their strengths. And we can see that it works,” he says. “It is highly personalised and based on the student’s interests, passions and potential.”

Students work within the Big Picture framework, which includes activities such as job shadowing, internships and learning with a mentor.

The programme was adapted to suit Aotearoa New Zealand, and teachers were soon seeing improved results, with the latest report by the Education Review Office confirming a marked increase in student wellbeing and achievement.

“We also found that disengaged students achieved twice as much those in a control group,” Mike says.

Getting students on track

For a group of Te Kura students in Hastings, Big Picture has helped get them on track. 

Taurena, in Year 13, wants to be a warranted Māori warden. 

“Big Picture is good for me because we plan goals that incorporate the sort of work I would do as a Māori warden,” says Taurena.

Another Year 13 student, Marcia, says the programme allows her to do schoolwork around her interests. 

“It takes the stress off me. I hope teaching will be my future career so with my schoolwork it’s around that interest. For instance, my focus on English is based around my work experience in schools,” she says.

Te Kura teacher Meg Masterson constantly sees the benefits of Big Picture.  

“We had one young girl come to us – she had been truant for well over 21 days from a local high school. She was unlikely to attend school ever again, having given up on her education… yet she has blossomed with the whakawhanaungatanga and support from a range of people, including learning advisors, kaiako, mentors, peers and whānau members,” says Meg. 

“Since joining the Big Picture programme, she has passed Level 1 English, completed a barista course and is about to attend a part-time hairdressing course.”

Such success stories are not uncommon, says Jen McCutcheon, who was until recently Te Kura’s development manager.

Focusing on students’ interests

“Big Picture makes a difference because its focus is on students and what they can do around the key competencies of the curriculum, so that a learning advisor can identify those areas where they can achieve standards.  

“It’s about a teacher retaining the integrity of the standards while at the same time being open and flexible enough to scaffold a programme around the student’s interests.

“Another key part is student wellbeing, because the really fundamental thing with Big Picture is relationships – not just between teachers and students but also with whānau and the community.”

Ray Edwards, who leads Te Kura in Hastings, says the most rewarding part of Big Picture is seeing students becoming re-engaged with education and their communities.

“When you compare what a distant education model used to be – now we have advisories where students spend time with teachers and other students several times a week.”  

Meg Masterson adds that the programme is very rewarding, especially after teaching in a large face-to-face high school and feeling frustrated with large classes and not having enough time to work with students desperately needing further support.

“It’s really made me realise how we can individualise programmes; moulding the curriculum around the learners to meet the needs of one student at a time.” 

Te Kura’s Big Picture has this year been given a vote of confidence in the form of a $2.6 million government investment.   

Jen McCutcheon, who along with Mike Hollings, is a co-founder of the Big Picture Education Trust New Zealand, says the programme is no longer confined to just Te Kura, with the Trust’s network growing all the time and another 30 schools now interested in implementing Big Picture.

For more information, visit Big Picture Learning(external link) on Te Kura’s website.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:41 am, 8 November 2019

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