Developing Talented Learners

Students with a Fixed Mindset don’t really “get” learning.

From their perspective, learning is a passive process of discovering the abilities that lie within them. 

On the other hand, the more growth-oriented you become, the more you begin to understand yourself as a learner who creates, shapes and develops their own talents and abilities. 

As you develop a more growth-oriented mindset, you begin to recognise that the learning process itself is a skill that you can develop.

As educators who are interested in helping students develop a Growth Mindset and achieve higher standards, it’s important that we talk about learning as a skilful process to learn more effectively and become talented learners.

We create a powerful positive mindset mover every time we talk about how we are helping students to become increasingly “talented learners”. 

In my Learner Agency Matrix I describe what skilful learners do. 

I divide the matrix into above the bar and below the bar learners. Below the bar learners are not being challenged aren’t really growing. Any learning they do is dominated by completing easy tasks or performing “at their best” – but not stretching themselves to get better.

Above the bar learners are growing. These learners are developing new skills and abilities and raising the standards of their achievements. They become increasingly skilful at the process of learning. 

Let’s look at how above the line learners engage in the learning process.

Directed Learners engage in the learning process as a reaction to the teacher. The teacher determines where the student’s Learning Zone is and sets challenges accordingly. The teacher is responsible for identifying when the student is in Ineffective Effort, then teaches the student how to be smarter, providing feedback and helping them correct mistakes when they arise. Without a teacher to tell them what to do next, the learner would likely become a below-the-line learner. 

As the student learns to become a more talented and skilful learner, they develop the ability to take responsibility for their learning. Rather than reacting to the direction of the teacher, they respond to their personal learning needs. They become an Independent Learner.

An Independent Learner has learned how to set their own goals. They have learnt how to identify their Learning Zone and are familiar with the feeling of stretch. As they encounter challenges, they recognise gaps or shortfalls in their Habits of Mind and take responsibility for developing these behaviours, so they can become smart enough to succeed at these challenges. This learner uses the mistakes they make to inform their learning and are quick to seek feedback when needed. 

By taking charge of their learning, Independent Learners are far more adaptable than Directed Learners. They are capable of creating their own learning journey in response to the challenges before them.

While the Directed Learner reacts to the teacher, the Independent Learner learns in response to the needs of their goals. They respond to the goals they want to pursue and the challenges their environment presents. The element to take note of here is that the learning comes after the need arises. 

In comparison, the Agile Learner is proactive. Their focus is on becoming the most skilful learner they can be. They understand any investment in raising the bar will pay off in the long run. This learner embrace challenges not necessarily because they need to master them, but because they will help them become smarter. 

The Agile Learner recognises that embracing challenges now will better prepare them for succeeding at challenges in the future. Their learning to be a better learner often comes before the need arises.

Every time we talk about becoming an increasingly talented learner in our classroom we create a nudge that helps move students along the Mindset Continuum. It is a reminder that they need to build expertise as a learner. 

It’s easy to focus on building expertise in our areas of interest: music, parenting, language, etc. But learning itself is a skilful process we need to develop. In fact, an investment in becoming a better learner is likely to pay off many times over, as it makes getting better in other areas easier. 

Of course for teachers, knowing what increasingly talented learners do is only a small part of the problem. Our role is to teach in a way that ensures that our students are becoming more talented learners! In my Growth Mindset Toolkit and Learning Landscape workshops, I unpack the pedagogy of teaching for developing more talented learners. 

If you’d like to know more about how to develop talented learners, and creating positive mindset movers in your classroom, I’d invite you to join me in my next workshop near you.

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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