The Big Picture and Why It’s important

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Have you considered what the Big Picture of the task you are setting is? How important is that learning context to your students (and to the relief teacher who is working with them)? How much do we consider the Big Picture or context of your own professional learning?

I was working with a group students who were doing the ‘usual’ method of research: Google search, grab the first link that looks relevant, find a point and shove it onto a PowerPoint. As a TRT of middle school and high school, I see a lot of this type of ‘research’. This however, was a group of SACE students and I expected their research skills to be more advanced.  They were studying the different religions of the world and researching the rituals and practices of that religion. While working with them, I realised they did not have a sense of what a ritual actually was. So I asked them about their culture and it’s religious rituals. During this discussion, I could see the penny drop for them. They got an understanding of the role of rituals in passing on information through the generations as well as the bonding nature of rituals but more importantly, they were understanding how what they were learning, related to them. During this experience, not only was I left wondering what sort of scaffolding their teacher had given them around the key vocabulary and concepts of this assignment but I was also left with a big question (one that often comes up for me as I take other teacher’s classes), what is the purpose of the assignment that has been set?

What is the point of getting students to replicate information on a PowerPoint and stand up in front of the class to present it, if this just becomes a process of replication of information rather than one of creating greater understanding and wonder about the topic? We are failing our students by getting them to ‘do stuff.’ Looking at the big picture is the answer not only to how to get around this problem but how to get through it with purpose and meaning.

In my opinion, backwards by design helps provide some answers. Backwards by design, also known as backwards planning and backwards mapping is a process that enables teachers to get the whole picture – the big picture of what it is they are trying to achieve.

As a teacher, before we do anything, we want to know; why is this topic, theme or information important for students? What about this is important? What are the desired results? What will students know, understand and be able to do by the end of this?

Once you know the answers to these questions, you can ask yourself; what is the acceptable evidence for this? How will the student know when they know it? What form will this evidence take; tests, quizzes, projects, a performance task? How will this be assessed; formal, informal, formative, summative? Will there be a checklist, rubrics, one to one discussion? What will the assessment process look like?

When you know the answers, you can then ask yourself; what kind of learning experience do I want to provide? What do I need to do to make this all happen? What kind of tasks and activities will the students undertake? What kind of instruction will I give? and how will I give them? I know, it’s a lot of questions to find answers to!

But the long and short of it is, that if you don’t think through this information…the BIG PICTURE, you end up creating tasks and activities that are meaningless and don’t take the learning experience anywhere. You end up providing a set of ‘stuff to get done’ rather than a rich learning experience that lasts and provides meaning and enjoyment in learning.

As teachers we too deserve a meaningful teaching experience, one that is rich and diverse and is a quality experience…one that goes beyond ticking curriculum boxes and churning out documents. We need the big picture on the big picture! But to do this we need to ask ourselves what is quality teaching and how do we do that?

Reflect Growth Profile

Kyla Casey

Kyla Casey is an educator and life long learner who thrives on inspiring others to experience the wonder of learning.  You can connect with her on Reflect Growth using her tag @kyla-casey and on Twitter as @kmcasey6

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