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Curriculum Catch-Up - The Learning Pit

Everyday each and every one of us experiences challenges in relation to having to learn something new. As we have been talking about Growth Mindset in previous articles, I thought it pertinent to also touch on the understanding of ‘The Learning Pit’.

The Learning Pit was developed by James Nottingham (2007) and links closely to Carole Dweck’s Growth Mindset (2006). In essence, it is an understanding that learning occurs when you are out of your comfort zone.

Students need to understand that taking risks is about allowing ourselves to make mistakes in our learning journey. It is these mistakes, asking questions and being brave enough to try new things, that are pivotal to our learning. Initially, we find ourselves in ‘The Learning Pit’ when faced with new concepts that we see as challenging or difficult. This may be a result of new learning, being prompted to take the risk by a teacher or parent, or because intrinsically we know that is where we learn the best.

When we approach a new concept or idea in class we encounter many feelings, thoughts and emotions.

  1. Initially you may think you know the answer. Here you are on the precipice of the pit, teetering on the edge, trying new skills and ideas.

  2. As you explore the concept more you may find that it is not as easy as you thought. The knowledge may be hard to acquire, the skills and processes hard to master or just plain old confusing. We may identify contradictions in our learning and need to piece it all together.

  3. You may then find yourself thinking you cannot do it. This is common as we try to identify all our options. This is the bottom of the pit. The smart choice here is to climb up and out of the pit.

  4. Moving upwards, you start to work harder on the concepts or processes that you find challenging. This is an active decision you need to make to move ahead on your learning journey. You are working hard to have it all make sense.

  5. The more you work at it, the easier it will become. You may even start to ‘get it’! Here, you are climbing up and over the edge on the other side of the pit. You are still finding some of the work a challenge, as you pull yourself clear, but that hard work is paying off. You have started to connect and explain various parts of the newly acquired knowledge.

  6. Hoorah! You are up and out of the pit. You have worked hard on the learning journey and now understand those concepts and processes that were challenging you. You are now able to apply and relate the concepts and processes.

We all need to make the decision to move through the challenges. We learn when we make mistakes, and we will continue to make because we are ‘learning for life’.

Further information can be found at

Christie Dey

Director Middle Years



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