How to Get Out of the Learning Pit

The Learning Pit is a powerful analogy for learning that is used by schools around the world.

In its simplest form, the Learning Pit represents a challenge. Taking on a challenge is like getting into a pit. We may feel uncertain and it takes effort to climb out. When we do climb out, it means we’ve learnt something new.

So far, so good.

The problem I’ve noticed is not all our students are climbing out of the Learning Pit. Some remain stuck at the bottom, failing to learn and succeed.

This is where the Habits of Mind come into the picture. The Habits of Mind represent the “climbing skills” that allow you to get out of the Learning Pit. If your Habits of Mind aren’t developed well enough, you languish at the bottom.

Why do some students get out and others don’t?

If students can climb out of a Learning Pit easily, they haven’t been challenged. They have simply learnt more and have used their existing skills. They haven’t become better learners. This is why it’s important to distinguish between the two kinds of Learning Pit: ones that represent our Comfort Zone and ones that represent our Learning Zone.

When we are in our Comfort Zone, we do things we already know how to do or we learn new things we already have the ability to do. That is, the task demands nothing more of us than what we already can do – what I call “easy things you haven’t done yet”.

For example, in my experience, most teachers don’t know the 13 times tables. But they could learn them quickly if they tried. They already have the ability to learn them – it’s an easy thing they haven’t done yet. But once you master the 13 times tables, you have simply learnt one more thing. You have not become a better learner.

Although being in our Comfort Zone might result in knowing more things, they are not more difficult things. As I explained in last week’s blog, this sort of learning does not “raise the bar”.

Becoming better learners

In my new workshop, “Succeeding with Habits of Mind in Your Classroom”, I explain why not all Learning Pits are the same. Not all Learning Pits require students to become better learners.

Too often, students enter and leave a Learning Pit at the same level. This represents their Comfort Zone. They haven’t gained anything from the exercise. Sure, they may have learnt something new, but they haven’t become better learners.

Learning Pits that represent the Learning Zone require students to climb out of the pit at a higher level than where they entered. This extra bit of height demands more highly developed Habits of Mind. To climb out, students must become better learners.

Teachers must do more than simply set a challenging task in order to develop students’ Habits of Mind. We must prepare students for the climb before they get into the Learning Pit. We need to provide students with a backpack full of Habits, which must be sophisticated and increasingly well-developed so they can climb out at a higher level than where they entered.

In this workshop, you’ll discover not only how to identify which Habits of Mind will prepare your students to climb out of the Learning Pit, you’ll also learn how to develop them in your students. The Habits of Mind become more than requirements for learning – they become learning outcomes in their own right.

In essence, this workshop will show you how to teach your students to become better learners!

If you’d like to find out more about how the Habits of Mind can help your students climb out of the Learning Pit, raise the bar and become better learners, plus lots more, check out my Succeeding with Habits of Mind in Your Classroom watch the workshop video below!



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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