Dennis Littky - The Big Picture

"The Big Picture" by Dennis Littky is one of the most influential texts I have read as a principal. 

This book, perhaps more than any other text, helped clarify my vision, values and philosophy.

Education innovator Dennis Littky — co-founder of The Met school in Rhode Island, Big Picture Learning and College Unbound — knows that we can’t afford to fail our future. His ten steps to smarter schools:

1) Create individual learning plans. The basics of reading, writing, math and scientifi c thinking apply to any discipline, so let’s build lessons around each student’s interests and goals. When students are motivated and engaged, they stick with school.

2) Involve families. Parents are a child’s fi rst teacher and know their stu-dent best. Schools need to do all they can to get parents involved — and not just when something is wrong. Parents will make it a priority. They just haven’t been asked.

3) Focus on real-world learning. Memorizing facts is the lowest level of learning, yet it’s what we ask our students to do most. Working on purposeful projects and internships under the guidance of advisers, parents and mentors allows students to develop knowledge and skills in an integrated way.

4) Foster questions, not answers. Curiosity is a powerful motivator. Instead of giving students the ques-tions, we need to teach them to frame important questions and seek out answers for themselves.

5) Evaluate skills. Answering a, b, c, d, or e on a standardized multiple-choice test doesn’t refl ect a student’s ability to put knowledge into action. We need a broadspectrum of assessments: oral presentations, portfolios of written work and projects, and detailed written evalua-tions by teachers.

6) Use technology wisely. Students are mostly using computers in schools as word processors and online encyclopedias. They need to learn to use computers for collecting and analyzing data, networking and solving problems. 

7) Support great teachers. We must work hard to have only the very best teachers in our schools. Teacher training colleges need to get future teachers thinking innovatively about what school should be, not preparing teach-ers for the schools of yesterday.

8) Focus on college completion. For the fi rst time in U.S. history, today’s college-age generation will be less educated than their parents because they’re just not finishing their degrees. We can’t keep encouraging students to go to college while forgetting to help them make it through once they’re there. We talk about students being college-ready, but colleges need to be student-ready as well. Colleges have to move beyond text books and lectures to prepare students for work and life in the twenty-first century.

9) Make schools, not districts, accountable. Teachers, principals, parents and students know their school the best. They should have enough control to design some of the measures toshow how their students are succeeding on the broad district, state and federal goals.

10) Do everything at once. Tweaking around the edges hasn’t created notice-able change or narrowed the achievement gap in our country. We must reinvent.


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