On Wednesday I had the delightful experience of visiting Unit LK. I had been hearing wonderful things about the risks that the students were taking in their learning. Given our school project, focusing on resilience, and the importance of being able to cope with life’s challenges, I was excited to see what was happening…
While speaking to Lori, she explained that she first heard about the Learning Pit while on recent professional learning when discussing, with a team of teachers, improvements she would like to see in her classroom. Lori had noticed that some students in her class had put up a wall when faced with challenges in their learning. Lori observed these students using avoidance tactics when they found work challenging, especially advanced learners.
When Lori introduced this lesson about the learning pit to her students, she also used the vocabulary of the wobble zone. This idea comes from learning to ride a bike, you need to wobble to get better. She used this image as a way to talk about entering the learning pit or the wobble zone, which is positive because you come out the other end as a stronger learner. The grade discussed that students sometimes mistake this feeling for anxiety but we need to start just observing our discomfort in trying things that are difficult.
The grade used the visual poster that she created and brainstormed emotions that arise when entering the learning pit. That you could feel scared, angry, nervous and annoyed with your teacher and so on... Also they discussed that often students want to go to the toilet or distract themselves with chatting or playing with objects to avoid going into the pit. The students were really honest about this and they were surprised that Lori could see that is what they were doing. Some students then designed their own drawings of the learning pit and notations about how they experience this.
Lori has been discussing the learning pit regularly and rewarding students with praise when they are entering the learning pit and finding work challenging and giving it their best. Trying to undo their feeling that something is wrong with this, that they are finding something hard.
The Learning pit comes from The Learning Challenge a book by James Nottingham (see linkhttps://www.challenginglearning.com/learning-pit/
Learning Pit – Student Voice
Following are student comments, I hope you find them as revealing as I did!
The learning pit helps me to get better at my work
When I am in the learning pit:
- I feel challenged, nervous sometimes annoyed and yucky
- I try not to get distracted
An example is in my writing when it was hard for the tension to build up. With a lot of work, I made sure it now has built up and resolved at the end.
I now feel happy, and would like to share it with my friends.
The learning pit is important to go into – it is good to learn new things. Good to find something tricky and ask for help. You can ask peers, or the teacher for help if you get stuck.
When things are tricky, I ‘chip’ away at it.
I am going into the learning pit more now. This is good, e.g. decimals.
I feel that I am at the right level of challenge.
Learning is like a train on a train track. You don’t want to go off the track, because if you do you won’t get your work done. Information is like the carriages, I pick up passengers which is like my work. Being in the learning pit can feel like I am in a tunnel. It is dark and hard to see, I don’t always know what to do and I can feel like I’m going to crash. I battle through this.
If I am in the learning pit, I say things to myself like, “It’s okay Javier, don’t cry.”
I also don’t fiddle with my stuff. I just think about what I should be doing and what I will do. I stay calm and focused so that I can learn.
I think that I am an independent learner.
The learning pit can be uncomfortable, e.g. maths can be super hard sometimes. When in the learning pit, I can feel anxious, nervous and upset.
So that I don’t feel like that I sometimes play with a rubber or doddle – this can help me calm down, but it also distracts others. They tell me this and I try not to accidently distract others.
When you are deeply in the learning pit, it seems really hard, you know that you might get it wrong. Sometimes I want to avoid those feelings.
Sometimes I ask teachers to help me, sometimes I get too nervous to ask, I see that they are busy and that other people are waiting. At times I feel pressured not to ask and waste their time.
If I’m getting too upset I take a break. I struggle the most in maths. Depending on how stuck I am and if I’m getting upset. If I am only a little bit stuck, I try myself. This is important.
I know it is normal to feel like that, you have to push yourself to figure out what you’re doing. That’s when you’ll learn.
While I don’t like the learning pit and the feelings, now I understand it more, I stick with it more.
If I see someone distracted, I’d tell them that they need to do their work and that they’d feel better later.
The learning pit is when you are struggling with work. Sometimes I feel angry, distracted and sad and other emotions. Sometimes I feel that I am the only one who doesn’t understand, that everyone is finishing before me.
When I am in the learning pit:
- I try to think about what I can do to figure out the problem,
- I try to calm myself down, and
- I have a go.
These things help me go deeper into my learning.
Every day I go into the learning pit. If I give up, I feel bad.
If I see a friend in the learning pit, I help them. I explain about the learning pit and the task. I don’t do the work for them, but I’ll help them depending on their learning style, e.g. if they are a visual learner of a doing learning, I would show and do with them. It feels good when you do this.
I don’t want to go into the learning pit a lot of the time.
I get stronger when I come out of it, even though it is a bit uncomfortable. It feels good when I know that I am learning.
I go into the pit probably twice a day – this is a good amount, not too much but normal.
When I am in the learning pit, I stick at it. If I get too stuck, eventually I will ask for help. I work hard to get out of the learning pit.
Sometimes you can get stuck in the learning pit – if you’ve tried as hard as you can, and you can’t get out, you are officially in the learning pit.
To get out I ask a teacher or a class mate for help. This happens mostly in maths.
The first time I was in the learning pit, I panicked, I asked for help. In the moment you can feel a bit panicked, but once you do it right, you feel proud of yourself and excited. I told my dad when I did this.
I felt proud because I didn’t avoid it, I did something. I know I have the strength to get out of it. I feel brave as I did something helpful.
To help in the learning pit, I don’t distract myself, I think about it. I try different strategies before I ask for help. It tells me what sort of learner that I am.
A friend got stuck in the learning pit. She came and asked me, “I’ve tried to do this but I don’t understand.’ I felt proud that I could help someone. This is the same feeling that I feel when I get myself out of the learning pit. I felt proud helping someone else. This is a win-win and everyone is happy.
With friendships, it is similar to the learning pit. You can get help from a teacher or a friend and like the learning pit, you feel proud when you solve the problem.
The learning pit is a state where you don’t get anything but you come out stronger. You feel frustrated and happy, e.g. maths when I don’t get a question.
When I am in the learning pit I
- Ask for help
- Skip the question, moving onto another one and come back later. This way I don’t get stressed.
- If I still don’t get it, I ask a teacher for help
- I will also try a different strategy.
I am in the learning pit the right amount. I am feeling challenged enough.
If I see a friend in the learning pit, I ask if they need my help. I don’t tell them the answer
It is similar with friendships, they have ups and downs and sometimes you need a teacher’s help.
A very big thank you to Unit LK and to Lori, it is truly exciting to see teachers making such impact with their students (I’m sure like me you can hear Lori’s voice in the student’s comments – and maybe even your own!).
Feel free to discuss the learning pit with your child’s teacher. We know that for children and adults to learn, we need to feel a level of ‘discomfort’!
Join us on the ‘train ride’ of learning.