‘The Big Picture’ — a review

The Big Picture

Education is Everyone’s Business 

Dennis Littky with Samantha Grabelle


ASCD 2004 

ISBN 0-87120-971-3

Let me start by saying that I love this book.  I laughed,  commiserated,  remembered, and reflected on teaching and educating.  Most of all, I felt a sense of hope and optimism.  No matter where they are in their careers, teachers who read this book will remember why they became teachers.  And they can understand one of Littky’s major points – each of us can bring about change.

Everything we know about how people learn tells us that successful people in any field are good at demonstrating or creating or talking about it to ‘show their stuff’.  While reading and writing are important, only a very small and rather specialized group of people are primarily good at these skills.  Littky asks why the educational system persists in measuring achievement through written tests and assignments rather than using oral assignments for students to demonstrate what they know and how they know that they know it.  Why, he asks, do we continue to use an outdated, ultra-traditional school structure to meet the needs of 21st century learning?  Do we really believe that the only learning that is important occurs only in schools teaching a finite, prescribed curricula?  Do we truly believe that if we can’t see it and measure it, it’s not important?  Do we believe that test scores are the absolute measure of what our students learn? To Littky, the large warehouse school is an absurd way to learn and contrary to everything we know about learning.

What would happen if we turned the system on its end?  Our students could use their growing base of knowledge as the foundation for new learning.  They would be able to explore concepts, develop skills and become life long learners.  They would have the skills to learn, be critical and be aware.

But wouldn’t that be tantamount to turning the asylum over to the inmates?  Littky’s school would be a truly co-operative learning institution where students, parents, communities, peer groups, and teachers as mentors would work together.  This school would be a living organism which would look at itself.  This school would  change curriculum, order content, adjust structures for teaching and learning with the sole focus of doing whatever is best for each student.

But Littky’s school can only happen in America, right?   Wrong.  There is a ‘Big Picture’ school in Manitoba.  What about Ontario?  We can do nothing until ‘Big Brother’ at Queen’s Park tells us what we can do, right?  Again — wrong!  Littky challenges each of us to consider what it means to us to be educators.  How can we support the growth of each individual student ‘one student at a time’?  How can we work to ensure that what our students learn is honest, real and valid?  Littky believes that we can each promote ‘flexible change’ if we examine what we do and are sure that we aren’t trying to put ‘new wine in old wineskins’: trying to make old patterns meet the needs of new situations.  This habit of reflection will inevitably lead to change from the ground up.

Each chapter is filled with writings from his students and quotes which have affected his philosophy and practice.  Each chapter ends with questions.  Answering these questions is a very effective form of personal and professional reflection.  In working toward our own answers, each of us will promote change.  And having finished the book we will be able to do what Littky tells us to do: “You may now begin changing the world”.

Dennis Litkky is the founder of The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (“The Met”) in Providence, Rhode Island and cofounder and codirector of The Big Picture Company – a not for profit educational reform organization which supports the creation of small, personalized, public high schools that work in tandem with their communities.


About Authentic Vibrations

My life is about learning and personal growth. I was an educator in the public secondary system for over 33 years. I now work with women, individually and in small groups, using words and music, art and language to help them explore their individaul sense of self in ways with are authentically meaningful for each of them. I also facilitate discussions with educators at all stages of their involvement in the teaching profession to help each of us explore the meaning, value and potential of learning and teaching. It is my belief that, in working individually and in collective, we have the power to transform and evolve. In the power of the collectives which we create together is the power to create culture. As a musician, I believe that the arts have the power to change lives. Certification: CODE Model™ Coach WEL-Systems® Institute Affiliate Education: Ed. D (c) (Applied Psychology – Focus on Teaching) University of Toronto M. Ed (Curriculum Development and Design) Queen’s University (1992) B. Ed (Music, English, Elementary Education) University of Toronto (1976) Mus. Bac. (Music Education) University of Toronto (1975) RCM Grade 4 Harmony, Grade 4 History, Grade 9 Voice, Grade 10 Piano Awards: Life Membership, Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation (2009)
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Education Issues and Comments, Resources, Teaching and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to ‘The Big Picture’ — a review

  1. Pingback: A Different Choice for Student Assessment | Authentic Vibrations

  2. Pingback: Alternative Assessment — Another Way | Authentic Vibrations

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s