Summary of the Big Picture Method

In English

The Littky Method
1.  Ask each student to interview his/her parents, relatives, friends of the family and compile a 75-page biography of the student.

2.  Ask teachers to get to know the students and parents.  In Littky's school, the teacher moves with the student, so the 9th grade teacher becomes the student's 10th grade teacher, etc.  The teacher has to be flexible and teach from a variety of textbooks.  The teacher even visits the student and gets to know the parents in their home.  (Littky considers this part of "treating parents and students with respect.")

3.  No grades.  Write letters to the students every 9 weeks.  Narratives will guide the student toward improvement.

4. After students identify their passions, connect students to mentors who work in those areas.  Let the students see what is needed to perform in their area of interest.

5. Learn through REAL-WORLD, real-work projects.   Many schools offer "project-based learning."  Littky insists that the projects are connected to the real world.  Example:  A realtor came to a middle school class and asked them to assemble a binder about their town that she could show to new clients -- the kids produced a 90-page looseleaf binder in two weeks.  They worked hard because "that lady is expecting us to give her something real."  Littky uses this example to explain why students need contact with the real world and why his school is everywhere where there are mentors.

6.  A plan for each student.  The teacher meets with the individual and creates an individual education plan for every student.

7. Stand up and perform your understanding. Tests are "stand ups" or presentations.  Students sit for written tests, too, but the focus of learning and evaluation is the "exhibition."

8.  Alumni (ex-students) are encouraged to visit the school, use the school's resources, and become mentors.  

1 -- this is a lot of work
2 -- there are concerns about liability and safety for the children
3 -- this couldn't work in my school.
4 -- this is too radical for my school.

Some answers to these objections:
1.  Yes.  
2.  Yes.
3.  If you say so, then it might be true.  Perhaps the answers will change if other people get involved.
4.  Adopt some of the practices and modify the procedures to fit your school's culture.

Let's repeat:

a)  Students have the same teacher for 4 years for all subjects.   (A teacher who is a whiz at English but lousy at math might be a good role model for some kids who struggle at math.)   

b)  All students write a 75-page autobiography, which includes interviews with grandparents and relatives to build a picture about "where I came from."

c)  Students spend time OFF CAMPUS in an internship.  The school work is linked to the student's INTERESTS and the Curriculum is centered on the PROJECT and the INDIVIDUAL.

d)  Examinations are done STANDING UP.  The presentation is spoken with visuals.  It's like a board meeting or a presentation about a new marketing concept.  You can see examples of Littky's students on the Internet.  Go to  

Evaluation by NARRATIVE. 

Exhibitions, instead of tests...    for skiing medals, we had that sort of test...  Mentors >>> staff of Aiglon have been mentors to students, especially at meals and on long expeditions ("This is how to behave as an adult").

Many efforts at school reform avoid the difficult task of transformation

Schools can be made smaller – a good first step

Many schools involve parents as partners in the learning process

Some schools institute individual learning plans

Project-based curriculum, integrated curricula (with teachers of different subjects collaborating 

Many schools introduce learning through internships


But then these changes are different ways of operating a school that is based on delivering information to a group of students over 13 years (K-12)

1. Teachers continue to teach as the primary deliverer of information. (“as I was taught – and I came out all right”)

2. Students still progress through grades as an age group

3. The school calendar is based on the agrarian calendar

4.  control of the school’s decisionmaking remains subject to uncertainty:  a democratic board can shift focus year-to-year.


Here are some ways that the "transformed" school addresses these issues 

  1. CAI as the deliverer, freeing teachers to become motivators
  2. Teacher training to help teachers adopt the new role of motivator and to teach teachers to deliver “discrepant events” to promote thinking (rather than simply delivering the new information)
  3. Structural changes in curricula (integrated learning instead of learning in segregated courses)
  4. Learning is clearly defined in three modes:  solo (CAI), small group (tutoring) and large group.  
  5. Student management system includes results from the CAI work (allowing more in-depth access to evidence of student progress)
  6. Community involvement under a new structure (beyond the PTA organization) 
  7. Year round learning is possible
  8. Time is a variable.  Students learn at different rates, so students will progress through grades at different speeds and will earn a diploma at different ages.

9.  Focus of the leadership is centered in a personwith vision.  (Consider the progress made in NYC public schools under the "school czar" Joe LKlein, appointed by Mayor Bloomberg.)  “Democracy” as demonstrated by typical decisionmaking patterns as seen on many school boards is avoided by delegating total responsibility for reform to a central committee or leader.  Evaluation is after six years, since innovation takes at least that long to become part of the school’s culture.   Reference:   Christensen, C., Disrupting Class.


Parents:  you can use these items as a checklist to see if the school that your child is attending is a "transformed" school.

Questions to consider:

What structural changes are needed embrace this transformation?  

How much time is needed?  

How much community “buy-in” and how much participation of the community is needed? 

What initial investments in technology is needed?  


These issues are discussed by Dr. Fischler at  

In Spanish

This page is edited by S. McCrea