Four Different Types of Challenge Pits

As we move to online learning, both here in Australia and more broadly around the world, the Learning Landscape gives us a powerful way of helping students understand the different types of challenges they are facing.

In the Learning Landscape, learning is represented by movement, and challenges are represented by four different types of Challenge Pits.

Poster detailing four challenge pits in the learning landscape

As we explored a few weeks ago, we can map zones in 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, this is what we call a Learning Challenge.

But not all challenges are like this. 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. These are Performance Challenges. 

At other times, a challenge might be 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. They are achievable in the long run, but in order to climb that high, the challenge must be broken down into a series of smaller, Learning Challenges.

Learning to recognise the types of challenges you’re taking on is a critical part of both teaching and learning. It helps us recognise why we might be struggling, and to identify how much support we might need.

Downhill and Performance Challenges can usually be completed with little or no outside support. These are often used to “cover” the curriculum, consolidation or demonstration of learning. These are the types of challenges that are achievable in flipped classrooms and virtual learning where students have reduced access to teacher support.

Learning Challenges require the student to develop new skills and perform at a higher level then they have before. Their very nature means students are going to struggle, and are far more likely to require teacher support.

As you begin to shift to online learning, consider the types of challenges students are being given. Help them identify for themselves when they are attempting downhill, performance, or learning challenges. And if students are attempting Learning Challenges, ensure they are given the support required to complete these.

The type of challenge you take on determines where your learning journey takes you. Will it lead to increasing standards and climbing 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 that not all challenges are the same, and they don’t all have the same impact on their learning. Recognising that not all “pits” are the same is a significant change to the way the term “pits” is often used in the classroom.

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 a Learner Agency. Consider the way different types of learners respond to challenges in the Learner Agency Matrix below.

How do your students respond to today’s challenges? Do they tend to avoid challenges all together? Perhaps they reduce their challenges, choosing the easiest options over something that might challenge them.

Or are many of your student’s Performance Learners, choosing to do their best, but not extending themselves any further? Do they attempt only those challenges they are confident they can succeed at, without risking potential mistakes or failure of trying to extend beyond their best?

None of the learners described above are gaining height in the Learning Landscape. They aren’t truly growing in their abilities.

To grow, learners must tackle Learning Challenges – those challenges that demand more of them and result in them climbing higher in the Learning Landscape. Directed Learners will attempt these challenges, but only when directed by the teacher.

Independent Learners will target their Learning Zone. They begin to take charge of their own learning process and set goals, identifying their own Learning Challenges.

Finally, the Agile Learner is the person who embraces challenges. They take on the challenges that present themselves for the purpose of becoming a better learner. 

They know that the more time they spend taking on new Challenge Pits, the more they fill their backpack with powerful Habits of Mind the better prepared they’ll be to take on any challenges!

As you reflect on your learners, and yourself, what attitude are learners taking towards the current set of challenges. Are you embracing the challenge as an opportunity to grow? And how are you helping your learners become Agile Learners in these times? Our goal should not be to simply survive these challenging times but rather to thrive.

If you’d like to know more about helping students become better climbers in the Learning Landscape. I’d invite you to come along to my Learning Landscape or Growth Mindset Toolkit workshops near you.

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