When faced with a new project, a new concept or new information you may struggle to see connections that help to make sense of it all. And then they appear…feelings of discomfort, confusion and a nagging little voice telling you to give up. This is how you know that you are in the Learning Pit.
You look for a quick fix, a bridge from not understanding to understanding. You want the easy route, someone to tell you the answers and what to do. But knowing the answers does not necessarily mean you have learned anything; it certainly doesn’t mean that you have learned at a deep level of understanding. In fact, the bridge robs you of the opportunity to further develop resilience, persistence and to engage new strategies in order to conquer the challenge. It’s only when you find the answer or have mastered new content or a skill for yourself that you will experience that moment of success where you brim with pride and build a genuine sense of confidence, ready and keen to take the next jump into the Learning Pit.
In the Primary School, we have adapted the model of The Learning Pit from British educator and researcher James Nottingham who is the founder and executive director of Challenging Learning. His concept of the Learning Pit assists students to become comfortable with the discomfort of learning something new. The Learning Pit is a way of helping students to understand the learning process, including the range of emotions we experience when faced with not knowing, and a way of assisting us to normalise those emotions and to enhance the dispositions that lead to success in learning.
We start with new learning – information, a new skill or concept. If we don’t know how to do it, at first we can easily become confused, be unclear about what to do next, or even feel uncomfortable and want to give up. It’s at this point we identify with being in the Learning Pit. This is where we get down and dirty as we wrestle to gain conceptual understanding and mastery. In doing this, we think about what strategies we can use, and we draw upon resilience and persistence to ensure we stay focussed and continue with the effort required to master the challenge.
We can adopt a positive state of mind, firm in the belief that, with effort, the challenge can be mastered. We engage different learning strategies and we can change strategies when one does not work. We may even decide to collaborate – another essential learning strategy.
As a result of our struggle and persistence, and through drawing upon resilience, we finally conquer the learning and pull ourselves out of the Learning Pit to experience success and a great sense of accomplishment. With such moments comes a genuine sense of achievement and pride, and the reinforcement that with persistence, resilience and a good toolbox of learning strategies, we can achieve our goal. The Learning Pit is an invaluable tool to teach students to embrace challenges and to understand that effort plus learning equals success, when sufficient effort is expended on the challenge.
We are teaching our students that the Pit is not a bad place to be; in fact, it is a necessary phase of the learning process and is actually where deep learning takes place. It is also the place where some of our most important dispositions that develop a strong moral character are formed. It is where failure and struggle are experienced and, in doing so, emotional regulation and the normalising of negative emotions occurs. It is where dedication, effort, commitment, resilience and persistence are developed and where frustrations are managed. As a result, it is also where exhilaration and confidence, and a genuine sense of positive self-esteem, are experienced.
Being in the Pit not only encourages deep learning and understanding, but also develops and draws upon the dispositions needed to successfully embrace challenge. It is these dispositions and learning strategies that enable our students to achieve excellence in learning and life and prepares them well, not only for school, but for life beyond school. You are never too young or, in fact, too old to get into the Learning Pit. As an adult, learning something new and challenging and then sharing your feelings and the effort, resilience and persistence that you needed when you were in the Pit is a powerful way of promoting these dispositions and normalising them as a critical part of learning for children.
Trudi Edwards | Head of Primary