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Visible Learning
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Get into the pit – it’s great!!

I recently had the privilege of hearing James Nottingham from Challenge Learning speak about how to use the Learning Pit to develop resilience and a growth mindset in pupils. This was part of Midlothian Educational Psychologist’s drive to develop visible learning in Midlothian, which is having a tremendous impact in schools (many thanks to Sarah Philp and her fantastic team).

The Learning Pit approach is all about teaching children how to think, not what to think. It challenges children to question ideas, their own and others and be able to consider both sides of the argument. It as well as developing these essential life skills, using the learning pit approach also leads to more memorable, deeper and more purposeful learning. (At least that is the idea, I haven’t tried it myself yet, but it is hard to listen to James and not be utterly convinced!)

We were then given a run through of what a learning pit lesson would look like. Let me do my best to share it with you…

1. Concept
You need to start by finding a concept for the group to discuss. Make sure you don’t choose a fact, it must be able to be questioned. E.g. risk, friendship, fairness…Pupils need a surface level understanding of the concept. Using a story or picture is a good way to find a concept; it can even just be a front cover or recall of a well-known tale. Then you are going to set up cognitive conflict – two or more ideas in their mind that they agree with which are in conflict. Causing dilemma to teach them how to make judgments (critical thinking).

2. Conflict.
Once you have found a concept to focus on, you need to introduce some conflict. You want them to move from one idea to many ideas about the concept. Raise questions, it should be fun and it should make them think, and make them wobble. It is not about proving them wrong, but about blocking their normal way of thinking, the way a blocked road would make you think about your route to work, which is normally easy – easy is boring. Model wobbling and challenge for them to imitate. Don’t link challenge with making things harder, but with making thinks more interesting and fun. This is where you are putting the children in the pit. Their brains should be in a state of flux! Put them in the pit before they go off to work/discuss a topic.

Work with our group to find questions and develop dilemmas: give question starters on wall and refer to, using these as part of your habit will gradually become easier and become part of the pupils’ vocabulary too.

What is?
How do we know what …is
Who says what…is
What if
What’s the difference between?
When would it be good/bad/not to?
Is it possible to…
Add always /never
Should we…(difficult one to use)

Challenge commonly held ideas by reversing what the pupils come up with when they answer “what if?” If a=b does b=a?

3. Construct
You don’t want to leave the children I the pit, after any work or discussion you need to help them back out! You want them to come to a better understanding, the eureka moment (I found it). You have to struggle to reach and enjoy the eureka moment.

There are several tools you can use to help children out the pit such as:

– venn diagrams
– grouping
– ranking
– thinking hats
– PMI (Plus, minus, interesting)

4. Consider
The final stage is to consider the journey you have all been on. “What have we learned, how does this transfer, how did we get out of the pit, how did it feel, how do we feel now?”

I hope that makes sense, but you can learn more from taking a look at jamesnottingham.co.uk/learningpit and challengelearning.com


  1. Thanks so much for sharing. Will try some of this our and look further at the links.

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