We interview Chiara Jorioz, co-founder of Big Picture Learning (BPL) Italy. Everything began when Fabio Pirola the other co-founder, discovered BPL in a book and they bet for bringing it to Italy. They were trained for two years in the BPL philosophy, because according to Chiara it’s a philosophy more tan a method.
At first they had some families that didn’t understand what BP means, they thought it was an easy way to overcome school. But the central idea of BPL is to grow responsible people for themselves, for others and the community. Little by Little they understood that in BPL there is a lot of work. Kids go home very tired but not bored, they are satisfied.
One of the pillars of the philosophy is the student at the centre with the teacher behind him/her as a guide. The student has to be free to explore, to experiment, to develop projects. The projects have to be relevant for the students and be focused on their interests.
As an example, some weeks ago, they organized a school trip around some cities in Europe and the students were in charge of the whole organization of the trip. The teachers were behind to check that the things were working but the students themselves were responsible about booking the flights, the rooms, the food, managing the budget…
Chiara is still teaching at the public school, so talking about the differences when doing the same thing in the public school, she told us that she always feels very nervous because “who knows what is going to happen”. This time with the BPL students she was so relaxed because she felt that she could trust her students and that was amazing because it was a trip for her as well, not just a job and controlling what was happening.
On the other hand, it’s difficult for the students that are new in the school, normally aged 14, and come from the public school to adapt to this learning model. In the public school the usual feeling is that the less I do, the better for me. But in BPL is not like that. It takes time (from some months to a year) to understand that what a student is doing is for himself or herself and not for the teacher or for the parents.
To get admission to the school, the students and the parents have to write down a motivation letter. They have talks with the pedagogical staff and a team of experts psychologists specialized in teenagers and families. There is one specific psychologist for fathers, one for mothers and another one for students. This way they have three points of view and it’s useful for them as a starting point with the kids. From there, they go on. They don’t just try things or experiment.
Knowing our students is another pillar of BPL. Relation means that teachers and the advisor have to know very well the students and the situation of the family. Knowing what is better for everybody to handle with the students.
Talking about the timetable, the students have half an hour at the first hour in the morning with the advisor where they organize the day. Sometimes, they have some professionals coming for a talk: videogame developers, engineers… It’s important for the students to be in contact with the real world. Then they have timetable for lessons but it’s different from the public schools. They have third less time than in the public school because they don’t have exams.
They are recognized by the government but they are not considered as a public school so the students have to take exams every year in other centres because the state asks to check the level. They try to find a balance between the freedom they have and the commitment with the Italian school system. They would like to have the freedom to let the students work for four years freely and them take the last exams.
The evaluation in BPL happens every three months. They have to prepare public exhibitions where they have to talk about during half an hour in front of six to twenty people. They invite parents, uncle, friends, principal, the advisor… They have to present their personal projects about their passions but also related in some way with the subjects they are studying. The teachers have a rubric, which is a paper with some points for the evaluation but basically they write down specific things, ideas and feedback about the weak points and how they can be improved.
All the teachers were at the moment of the interview volunteers. They feel that at BPL that they can try something new and test innovations. They have also team building moments, in the mountain, cooking together, a good way of strengthen their relationship, which is not very usual in public school.