The Big Picture


One day, as an adult I was listening to the radio and a piece of classical music came on that I somehow recognised. I knew how it went and unexpectedly realised how.

When I was a child, I used to have flute lessons. I was fairly rubbish. Every week at my lesson we’d go through the same pieces of music. I played the notes as I could and tried to play each of them for the right amount of time. However I didn’t have any idea what those notes were doing all together. Once or twice my teacher would play it for me but not enough to give me a sense of what the whole piece was about.

This made me wonder, why hadn’t she played the whole thing to me? Why didn’t she let me hear how my flute part fitted in? How the notes could’ve been interpreted into the whole piece? Why didn’t she show me the ‘bigger picture’?

I’m an advocate of giving students a copy of the specification at GCSE/A level. It gives them a sense of everything that is needed as a minimum. It’s not everything but it is better than them not being aware of the minimum requirements. However, are there other ways we can do this to help them makes those links and understand something as it’s whole?

Concept maps

At ResearchED Ipswich last week I had a fascinating discussion with Oliver Caviglioli. He reminded me of how important the bigger picture is and it’s important role in learning. He is a huge advocate of concept maps as a tool to enable this.

So, another one of the plans on my long ‘to-do’ list is to create these concept maps for GCSE. I can really see how they can allow students to see how Christianity and Islam function and the connections between key concepts.

Concept maps differ from mindmaps as they have words linking them (usually verbs) to see the relationship between them. They’re actually very difficult to make as it’s easy to over complicate straight away and there are so many links between concepts it can become spaghetti like.


In our whole staff CPD this week I shared how one of our principles for learning, ‘transform’, includes ‘model’.

We discussed that we often learn by seeing something in its final and completed form. It gives a sense of what we’re trying to achieve and what it ‘looks like’. Examples of how to do this are numerous and depend on the subject:

  • Giving an essay to students writing an essay
  • Showing a completed product in DT
  • Hearing the word/sentence in MFL
  • Worked examples in maths
  • Demonstration in PE
  • Using a timeline in History/RE
  • Exam question answers (all subjects)

Without these, how do we expect our students to understand what they are working towards? Lessons and homework are mainly spent on the key concepts and the detail within these. It’s easy to forget how they all link up. Some students may do this themselves when they start to make the links but many won’t. We need to provide them with the means to ‘see’ this regularly throughout their learning. We now plan to show model exam questions at least once a half term and have created these centrally so we use the same resource for all students.

  • How do you show students the bigger picture?

  • How often do you reference back to it?

  • When do you reference back to it?

  • How do you know all students are getting the same ‘bigger picture’?

  • Sometimes the exam ‘big picture’ isn’t how it ‘really’ is, how can you approach this with students.


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