Big Picture Model
Transforming Education, One Student at a Time
Personal. Real. Lasting. Equity Driven. Big Picture Schools across the world have a series of students that help make their vision come to life. Each one is a crucial step toward the life and learner we are trying to create. If you were a student, the steps might sound a bit like this:
- Stop learning for school, start learning for life.
- Join a community that you support and supports you.
- Make a plan – with a team that understands you deeply – that reflects your interest and where you want to go.
- Continually explore those interests and make something out of them.
- Develop a relationship and work with an expert mentor in the field of your interest.
- Reflect and present on all that you’ve learned to people who matter deeply to you.
- Tell your story.
Join a community that you support and supports you
Advisory is the heart of Two Rivers Big Picture School. Students stay in the same advisory for four years and create a place where everyone is welcome to create, share, struggle and achieve. Each advisory creates its own culture, but many common practices are present.
- Circle Time - A common part of advisory is circle time. Some advisories do this daily as a morning ritual, while others do it less frequently. Often circle time is used to share about weekends, good news, bummers, questions, and brags. Sometimes it is a space for the advisor to ask a question and each student answers. Many advisories have a talking piece (a rock, stuffed animal, etc.) that is used so that no one interrupts. This is where the bonding happens
- Organization - Two Rivers is training students for the real world. For many this is college and for others it is the work force. One thing that most successful adults have in common is organization. Because of the nature of our schedule at Two Rivers, it is critical that students have a planner, calendar or some organization system that will be used for: writing down offerings, meetings, appointments, and task lists. It is in this planner that students will write down questions they have, or to-do items for the day. Some students use post-its on their computer, some use paper planners, while others have an online system. The key is to guide them to find a system that works.
- Project Planning - Students work with their advisors to develop a learning plan and create projects to meet the goals of that plan. Project planning and management happens daily.
- Community Building - A crucial part of advisory, as advisory is a student’s “home” at Two Rivers. Community is built by engaging in academic or community work together, sharing work in progress, providing feedback, engaging in discussions, providing accountability and having fun together.
- Learning Support - Students inspire and support each other as they take increasing ownership of their learning. Students can help others in project planning and problem-solving. Some advisories set aside time for one student to share work while it is in progress and get feedback from peers. Students also help each other plan and practice exhibitions.
- Current Events - Keeping students connected locally and globally is important as they mature into adulthood. Advisories may choose to watch a student news show, have students bring in current event articles to discuss, or even host an issue and controversies debate.
- Reading - Some advisories read a book together once a year while others have a requirement of independent reading. You become better at writing by reading and better at reading by writing. So do both.
- School Issues - Inevitably, there will be issues with the school culture and discussing the problem needs to be done in advisory. Someone feels wronged or there was an incident at school; it is in advisory that you gather in a circle and discuss it.
- Announcements/Nuts and Bolts - Advisory is where announcements take place, projects are developed schedule changes happen, ASB makes their announcements, etc.
- Coursework - At Two Rivers, we require 9th and 10th grade students to take courses during 1st-4th periods. In general, language arts and math are taken with Two Rivers teachers, and the other two classes are science and social studies at Two Rivers or up to two electives from Mount Si. This gives us a balance between meeting state graduation requirements and allowing students choice in their courses. 11th and 12th grade students have more flexibility in their coursework if they meet state testing requirements in language arts and math.
Make a plan that reflects your interests and where you want to go.
The Learning Plan – a personalized proposal on what students want to learn and how they will get there – is the first piece of work that every student and staff member must complete at Two Rivers, and continue to complete each learning cycle. Each learning plan summarizes a student’s vision for that year, the rest of high school, and future years beyond. It also includes SMART goals for current learning cycle.
It is the first physical flag post that what is going on here is different, that we care about what students care about. Based off Getting Things Done by David Allen, Learning Plans act as productivity tool, genuine motivator, and social contract.
The Learning Plan is the first thing students create at the beginning of the year. At the end of each learning cycle, once they’ve written their reflections of their exhibitions, their final step is to write a new learning plan for the next cycle.
Spend your in-school time exploring things you’re interested in, and then do something with what you learned.
Projects are the base of almost all academic work at Big Picture schools. The cliché, “they come in all shapes and sizes,” is the tip of the iceberg here. Some students are working on five simultaneously, some do ten total over the course of three months, and some do one large one for two months. The parameters are only “are you interested in it, is it safe enough that no one is going to get hurt/in trouble, can you demonstrate learning through it?” The last part is often the most difficult for students and advisors. In a system that is based on choice, exploration, and experts, how do you navigate mandating a product? Navigating it poorly means students thinking of the word “projects” like they think of the word “worksheets,” by November. Which usually ends up in a whole bunch of inauthentic work, and a day-to-day life that doesn’t feel much different than traditional school.
Making it through successfully looks like students being excited for what they’re working on. Advisors and students have to get really good at balancing free-form exploration, project planning, honest conversations about how to scaffold it all, and the vulnerability it takes to allow yourself to be excited about something. It’s important to note here that it will be messy, difficult, awkward, at the start. When things are messy, students and advisors double down and recommit to making projects shine.
Reflect and Present on all that you’ve learned to people who matter deeply to you.
Exhibitions are the formative assessments in Big Picture schools. They consist of an hour-long presentation at the end of each semester during which students detail all of the learning they have done since their last exhibition to an audience that includes their parents, peers, and advisors. The core concept is high accountability within a growth-based model. Exhibitions are impactful and successful when advisors are able to facilitate a discussion that feels as “real” as possible to all involved. This looks like important figures in a student’s life publicly appreciating powerful process and change or, conversely, sitting with a student through failure and publicly declaring support.
Your Learning Portfolio: Documenting Growth and Change
At Two Rivers, the word “portfolio” is almost a verb as it implies an ongoing process, more than the creation of a single document.
The portfolio provides you an opportunity to gather evidence of your learning, the ways in which that learning has changed you, and present that process to the larger community. Your learning portfolio contains not only your best work, but also evidence of your transformation through learning, including, perhaps, mistakes and lessons along the way, as well as evidence of the skills and knowledge you’ve developed.
The continual process of building your portfolio is an opportunity for conscious, intentional reflection: are you addressing questions or issues that matter to you? Are you finding ways to work toward the requirements of the degree through the lens of those passions? Are your studies broad and deep? Are you thinking and writing critically about ideas and insights?