Promising practices indeed

Many Big Picture people will know about a research project into the early implementation of Big Picture in five Western Australian schools. Conducted by a team led by Murdoch University’s Barry Down, the project has now released a summary of its key findings.

The report is entitled Promising Practices: what students, parents and teachers say about learning in a Big Picture context. Its availability coincides with the recent release of the second Gonski Review which lays bare the challenges faced by schools and cites Big Picture in the context of solutions.

The Murdoch research team gathered evidence, especially from students, about the effectiveness of Big Picture in enhancing student engagement, deeper learning and post-school aspirations. As previous research has also found, most students found their previous schools to be inhospitable places for learning. “…as students were given more ownership, control and responsibility for their learning based on their interests, the evidence showed a growing re-engagement with learning and school”.

The researchers found that students could identify and describe the conditions needed for learning – and identified the practices that appeared to be making a difference for them. Unsurprisingly they pointed to practices such as future focused real world learning supported by the advisory and the advisory teacher. The exhibition process and the involvement of family were also significant.

The researchers reported that the evidence from students challenged traditional deficit views about young people, instead focusing on how aspirational capabilities can develop. It is a refreshing read – and it is equally refreshing that the recent Gonski panel were driven by similar priorities.

The conclusions of the research also point to the wider challenges, talking about the need for vision, leadership, persistence, time and resources. There are no ‘quick fixes’ or ‘magic bullets’. But the report concludes that it can be done and is being done. Perhaps the Murdoch research team is being rather modest: the schools are doing more than offering promising practices, they are into real solutions.

It’s a message that needs to get out there and resonate in our new post-Gonski era as schools begin to address the persistent problems around student engagement, deeper learning, aspirations and wellbeing.

Chris Bonnor, BPEA Board.