Do your students “get” learning?

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

From their perspective, school isn’t about learning, it’s about discovering what they can do. These students come to class wondering whether they have the abilities required to be successful. The answer is predetermined: they are simply waiting to find out.

For students with a Fixed Mindset, being comes before doing. Life is about discovering your abilities and finding out who you are to know what you can and can’t do. These students need to find out if they are mathematical before they do maths. They need to discover if they have leadership qualities before they take on a leadership role.

You’ll recognise these students in your classroom. They’re the ones who already “know” if they’ll be able to do the work or not. They’re also the ones at the start of a unit who wonder if they’ll be good at the subject, expecting to discover whether they are or not.

On the other hand, students with a Growth Mindset understand that learning is about making yourself better. They understand that becoming comes before being. In other words, learning allows you to become who you want to be.

These students come into class expecting not to be able to do what’s being taught. They ask themselves how they can best engage in the learning process so they can develop new abilities to succeed.

Most importantly, students with a Growth Mindset recognise that becoming requires learning! They truly “get” learning.

Understanding Learning. Changing Mindsets. Becoming Better Learners.

Recognising that Fixed Mindset students don’t “get” learning gives us a critical insight into how we can change their Mindset: we must help them understand learning.

Teaching students about how they learn best is a powerful Mindset Mover. Giving them a way to think and talk about the learning process, and developing the metacognitive processes required to reflect on their own learning, helps them become more effective learners. And, as we saw in [1]last week’s blog, the experience of growth is another powerful Mindset Mover.

Teaching students to effectively engage in the learning process requires more than a set of catchphrases. We can’t tell them to be better learners; we need to show them how to be better learners. Simply asking students to change their self-talk to “I can always improve” isn’t helpful if they haven’t been shown how to improve. Getting them to say, “I will learn how to do this,” won’t get them far if they don’t know how learning occurs. And “I’m going to train my brain” won’t help if they don’t know how to train their brain!

The Language of Learning: The Learning Pit and Habits of Mind

Central to Learning Agility is helping students to understand the learning process and the behaviours that help them learn. To achieve this, I introduce the concept of the Learning Pit and the language of the Habits of Mind.

The Learning Pit is a powerful analogy. Traditionally, it has been used to represent a learning challenge, where learning is seen as the climb out of the pit. However, we can take the Learning Pit analogy much further to really deepen students’ understanding of the learning process.

In my Learning Agility workshops, I update the Learning Pit analogy to include the work of Anders Ericsson [2](see “The three ideas every educator needs to understand”) and show that not all learning challenges are equal. The “shape” of the Learning Pit determines the type of effort required (see [3]“Not all Effort is Created Equal”), and, as a result, whether students are getting better, getting nowhere or simply doing more. Helping students identify the type of challenge and effort required helps them better understand the learning process.

This is just one way the Learning Pit analogy allows us to talk about the process of learning. We can go much further by talking about what we bring to a learning situation, which Learning Pits we choose, how the Learning Pit affects Mindset and much more.

We can also weave the work of Art Costa and Bena Kallick into the Learning Pit analogy. Our Habits of Mind act as our climbing skills. We must enter a Learning Pit with a backpack full of sufficiently developed Habits of Mind so we can climb out. Without these, what you can’t do “yet” becomes what you “still can’t do yet” and you remain stuck at the bottom of the Learning Pit!

You can find out more about the Habits of Mind on my website dedicated to the Habits of Mind –

Taken together, the Learning Pit and the Habits of Mind form a powerful set of tools to help students understand the learning process and how they engage in it.

Learn more about how the Learning Pit and Habits of Mind can develop Learning Agility and improved student results in one of my upcoming workshops.

Workshop Dates:

Brisbane: Thursday, 15th March
Adelaide: Thursday, 22nd March
Sydney: Friday, 6th April
Melbourne: Wednesday, 2nd May


  1. Anderson, J., 2018, A Growth Mindset gives you courage, not capacity,, accessed 19th February 2018,
  2. Anderson, J., 2017, The three ideas every educator needs to understand. (And the one book that brings them all together!),, accessed 19th February 2018,
  3. Anderson, J., 2017, Not all Effort is Created Equal. (And the one book that brings them all together!),, accessed 19th February 2018,



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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