Habits of Mind – Tools for Getting out of a Challenge Pit

Finding yourself in a Challenge Pit is one thing. Succeeding at that challenge by successfully climbing out is something entirely different!

Consider the challenges our students are facing at the moment. They might be the usual curriculum challenges. They could be adjusting to online learning environments, or perhaps adapting to life in lockdown. Some students are succeeding at these challenges more easily than others.

Why is that? Why are some learners able to more easily succeed at novel challenges where others struggle or even fail? Why can some learners climb out of a Challenge Pit while other learners languish in the bottom of the pit, unable to climb out and succeed?

In the Learning Landscape, whether or not we are able to climb out of a Challenge Pit is determined by the Habits of Mind we carry in our backpack. As we develop our Habits of Mind, and fill our backpack, we are able to succeed at increasingly more challenging tasks and climb higher in the Learning Landscape.

The students with the most well-developed Habits of Mind have the tools to succeed at the most difficult problems.

Take a moment to review these Habits of Mind. Which Habits of Mind might be particularly important to the types of challenges students are facing at the moment? 

It’s important to note that these are not 16 individual tools. Rather they are dispositions that each represent an ever-expanding and developing set of behaviours we bring to the challenges we face. The more well developed these dispositions, the more difficult the challenges we are able to succeed at.

When faced with Down Hill and Performance Challenges, we find that the challenges are no more difficult than we’ve encountered before. So while they might be new challenges, we find we have the tools in our backpack already, so can relatively easily climb out of these Challenge Pits.

But that’s not the case for Learning Challenges.

Learning Challenges require us to climb out through our Learning Zone. They represent problems that are more difficult than we’ve encountered before. We don’t have the tools in our backpack that we need.

As educators, it is not enough to simply set Learning Challenges. We must prepare learners for the climb out of the Challenge Pit. This means we must fill their backpacks with the Habits of Mind that they’ll need in order to climb out.

We must focus not only on the Challenge Pit – what the student is learning – but also on what’s in their backpack – how they are learning!

The metaphor of the Learning Landscape allows us to easily talk to students about how they are going about engaging in the learning process – what they are doing to climb out of the Challenge Pit. This involves discussing both the type of challenge they are facing, and the tools they have at their disposal to help them succeed at those challenges.

The next time you see a student struggling with a problem, help them recognise that it’s not about “them”. It’s simply because they are lacking some tools or strategies.

When the student recognises someone else succeeding where they struggle, ask what does the other student have in their backpack that they don’t. Then start the conversation about how to go about putting those strategies in your backpack.

Success at a given challenge isn’t about who you are. It’s not because one student is better than another. Success comes about because you’ve equipped yourself with the right tools for the job. Every student can succeed – once they’ve filled their backpack with the right tools for the challenge at hand!

Next time you see a student struggling to get out of a Learning Challenge, ask yourself if you helped them fill their backpack before they got in.

For those students, and adults, struggling with the challenges of our current environment, ask which tools can we equip them with that will help them succeed? What’s missing from their backpack that will help them climb out of this Challenge Pit and move onto new learning and new challenges?

If you’d like to know more about helping students to fill their backpacks with the Habits of Mind, I’d invite you to come along to the Learning Landscape Online.

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