Big Picture Learning Italy: students at the center of their own learning

Fabio Pirola started looking for something innovative because he was worried about the results at the school. He was absolutely sure that there was a school in the world that works. In a book called “Drive” by Daniel Pink, he read about the “Big Picture Network” of schools. He got in touch with the people form BPL and he decided to import the methodology to Italy. At the beginning they started inside an European Project with the already existing BPL Netherlands.

BPL fitted perfectly with his vision of the school. BPL means that you don’t have to stop only in the content or the transfer of the knowledge. You have to see the Big Picture of the students, you have to understand their life, their passions, what they have inside, to find the way to engage them in learning. Students don’t need knowledge, but they have to learn to learn. They need new skills that cannot find in a book, they need to experiment.

Fabio wanted BPL Italy to be inside the public school system but he told us that it was hard, so he decided to try outside the system. They started looking for partners and in this process they found the Pistoleto Foundation and the Sellalab, a co-working space. In 2016 they started an experimental class, and after two years they have been recognized by the regional direction of the government.

About the BPL network of schools Fabio told us that it works really well when transferring the innovations. The main problem is to apply those innovations in your own culture, you have to find your way to make your school fits well with your environment and the people.

According to Fabio, when you teach you are not neutral, you pass your values to the students, so not all the teachers and students fit a school. Sometimes there are families with different values and culture. It is really important to find a school with the same values as yours.

Talking about evaluation, Fabio told us that as the test is standard for the system the students have to be able to do it but they don’t have to be corrupted by it. The most important evaluation is self-evaluation.

According to Fabio when you start treating students as adults they start behaviouring like adults. Usually in the school are treated like stupids. At the BPL, students share space with the people who is working at the Sellalab who treat them as adults. At the beginning they are confused but when they get used to it, they have a normal behaviour.

At the Sellalab they stay close to the adult what is strange for the teenagers. They don’t have too many opportunities in their daily life to have a close relation with the adults. And as Fabio told us, the teenagers and students in general learn by example. When there is an adult giving instructions to you, you take your position which in the case of a teenager, it means sometimes breaking the rules.

It’s important to pay attention to the world. As Fabio says we usually talk about school and don’t pay attention to the passions of students.

For Fabio, informality is the best place for creating trust, because teenagers show themselves. For him it is absolutely important to have their trust, to create a trust environment and only this way the feedback will come naturally.

At the BPL the day starts at 8:30. At the first hour they have a half an hour meeting with the students so they can organize the activities of the day. Sometimes there is a professional that goes and speaks about her or his job.

There is always with the students an educator who is called the advisor who helps them organizing the study. They timetable is organized in a way that students spend more hours than in the state schools which implies more work time but at the same time less stress to fulfil the learning goals.

They create an agreement with the parents at the beginning of the school year communicating them the BPL values to make them understand if they have shared values. According to Fabio it’s sometimes really hard for the parents to understand something different and innovative because they grew up in a traditional educational model. They have to accept and to be happy to be helped by the school. In his opinion this is not a weakness, it is a symptom that you are strong and open minded.

Internship is one of the main innovations of BPL school because students can start learning and experiencing at an early age the jobs and the skills that are important in real life. In Italy the regulations establishes specific periods for it, called the “Alternaza Scuola-Lavoro”. The main problem here is to find the professional that fits the needs of the students.

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