Challenge Pits: Four Different Types

The Learning Landscape makes learning more enjoyable. The sense of being on a learning journey – exploring the Learning Landscape, taking on Challenge Pits and climbing mountains of expertise – is engaging for learners.
But the Learning Landscape is so much more than a tool to engage students. It is a metaphor for the learning process. It helps students understand how their standards improve year after year. It helps them recognise that they are in control of the learning process. Most importantly, it helps them understand what it takes to build Learner Agency and become better at exploring the Learning Landscape.

At the heart of our journey through the Learning Landscape are Challenge Pits. It’s by taking on Challenge Pits that we learn new things.

As we explored last week, we can map zones onto the Challenge Pit based on a learner’s current standard. Working in your Learning Zone means stretching yourself to achieve a slightly higher standard. You’re trying to climb out of the Challenge Pit a bit higher than where you entered. In this case, you have what I call a Learning Challenge.


But not all challenges are like that. It all depends on which zone you exit the Challenge Pit through!




Sometimes, challenges only ask you to do what you’ve done before – to reach the same standard, rather than a higher one. These challenges exit the Challenge Pit through the Performance Zone. They are Performance Challenges.

At other times, a challenge might be so easy, you exit the Challenge Pit in your Comfort Zone. These are Downhill Challenges.
Other challenges represent a considerable increase in standard. They are impossible to achieve in one go. These are Aspirational Challenges.
The type of challenge you take on determines where your learning journey takes you. Will it lead to increasing standards and mountains of expertise? Or will it result in no change, having learnt one more thing but nothing more difficult? Perhaps your learning journey is going downhill, taking you on an easy path, not helping you grow.


The Challenge Pit helps learners understand the nature of different types of challenges. The relationship students develop with the Challenge Pit, their ability to identify different types of challenges, and their preparedness to seek Learning Challenges are important aspects of developing Learner Agency.


In The Learning Landscape, I also explore how teachers establish where students are expected to exit a Challenge Pit. Teachers set the standard on the Far Side of the Challenge Pit, but students enter a Challenge Pit at their current standard.


Consequently, the shape of a Pit, and therefore, the nature of the challenge for a given task, can be very different for different students. This has significant consequences for differentiation in the classroom.


Our goal with this metaphor is to help students become better learners. Understanding the nature of different types of Challenge Pits and being prepared to take on Learning Challenges are important for developing Learner Agency. But this is not the same as being able to climb out of the Challenge Pit!


Simply setting a challenge is not enough. We can give students Learning Challenges. They can jump into the Challenge Pit. But some of them will fail to climb out! Many will get stuck at the bottom.


Jumping into a Challenge Pit does not mean you’ll be able to climb out the other side!
In the context of the Learning Landscape, developing Learner Agency is not simply about understanding the types of challenges that put you on a path towards expertise. It’s also about becoming a better climber!


A critical question to answer is: If I’m stuck at the bottom of a Challenge Pit, what do I need to do to get out?


We’ll explore this in next week’s blog.



James Anderson is a speaker, author and educator who is passionate about helping fellow educators develop students as better learners. James’ work combines Growth Mindset with Habits of Mind and Practice to create Learning Agility. He puts the growth back into Growth Mindset. And through creating and describing the Mindset Continuum, he provides the cornerstone for effective Growth Mindset interventions.

James is a Certified Speaking Professional and speaks regularly at conferences around the world. He has published several books including Succeeding with Habits of Mind, The Agile Learner, The Mindset Continuum and The Learning Landscape.

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