Let’s talk about… The Learning Climb

We’re on a journey to make learning visible. As you would expect we’ve been looking at research to see what works and what has the most effect. We’ve decided on our five dispositions and now we are talking about describing what learning feels like. James Nottingham talks about the learning pit but we’ve decided not to use the analogy of the pit but rather pull out the ‘4Cs’ that Nottingham identifies on his pit diagram.  Could we use the 4C’s if we inverted the pit diagram and turned it into a mountain? After all, learning new things can seem like an uphill struggle at times.

My thinking is that you can have any analogy you choose but to be true to the concept of Nottingham’s pit the analogy needs to include the following

Learning pit* Concept (what is being learnt)

* Conflict (Where the learning becomes challenging – without this no learning occurs)

* Construct( constructing a clear understanding. This is where you get the ‘Eureka’ moments)

* Consider-(reflect on the learning. The metacognitive stage)

So what are the steps on the learning journey?

Preparing for the climb. Photo: Raynah Thomas

Step One – Preparation:

To successfully make it to the peak of the learning mountain takes preparation. Learners gather the equipment or tools that are needed for the learning climb and they practise to get their mind physically fit. Learning requires preparation of the mind as well as equipment.

Step Two – Use your teachers:

If you were climbing a mountain you’d want to have a guide providing encouragement, advice and support. Whenever you are trying to learn something new you often go to an experienced person to get good advice. Without your guide you won’t make it to the top of the mountain. Without a teacher and their advise and examples learning becomes much harder.

Step Three – Break it down:

You’re not going to climb a mountain without taking it slowly at times and having rest stops. The same is true when you are learning something new and challenging.  Without the step-by-step approach you run the risk of making avoidable errors. During a climb regular breaks are required. A time to rest, reflect and check the equipment to make sure everything is in order. Brains need breaks too.  A quiet place to sit and consider what you’ve tried so far, what’s working, what isn’t. Brains need nourishment and water breaks to work efficiently and think clearly.

Step Four –  Overcome anxiety:

We all know about feeling anxious or nervous. We may even fear failure. I’m sure if I were climbing the mountain I’d fear I would fall, fear I’d make one wrong step. Overwhelming “what-ifs” would plague my mind. Learning new things, going out of comfort zones and challenging oneself can have similar feelings .

Step Five – Believe in yourself :

Many people attempt to climb mountains and many people fail. Not because they are physically unfit but because of their mental attitude. Henry Ford is quoted as saying “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you are probably right.” Hmmm I think he may be on to something here.

Self-belief and determination can move the metaphorical mountain. If you are  determined to make it to the peak, you’ll succeed. Same with learning. I’m not saying it will be easy just because you believe but self-belief does make a difference. Nike has a commercial where  “Athletes tell themselves they can do the impossible, even when they are not sure they can.”

Step Six –  Teamwork: 


Edmund Hillary didn’t climb mountains on his own. He had a team of people tied together with ropes and harnesses. The reason? If one person fell, the others would drop and slam their ice axe into the slope, holding on tight, keeping them from sliding down the mountain. Being a team member has benefits – safety, a sense of security, keeps you at a good pace. In a school there are many people who are in your team, and you are in many different teams.  Being part of a team makes the hard stuff more manageable. Team discussion, strategising and bouncing ideas off each other allows for the next steps to be taken.

Step Seven – Persevering through learning pain/challenge: 

What is it they say? “No pain, No gain.” If you’re going to climb a mountain you are going to feel pain.  Aching thighs, calves on fire, burning feet, throbbing with every step taken. Boots cut into shins as your mind screams “Enough!” The guide will encourage you and tell you “You need to work through your pain”. To stop would only lead to more pain. Learning is hard. It is challenging. It’s not meant to be easy. We need to carry on regardless or “keep on keeping on” as David Bailey once said.

Step Eight – Encouragement:

So you’re climbing a Mountain, almost at the peak, and everything is overwhelming. You’re ready to give up. You need someone to keep encouraging you, giving you feedback and feed forward. “”You can do it. Move the left foot slightly to the right. You’re nearly there;” Learning is no different. You need the feedback and feedforward. You need the cheering on the sidelines encouraging you when you think that you are completely stuck. Sometimes you need it more often than other times. But you don’t always need to hear it from other people. Developing an inner voice to feed you encouragement is an essential part of the learning process.

Step Nine –Celebrate the successes : 

Making it to the top of the mountain means you have been successful. Each step has brought success closer. Some of those steps have been minor successes of their own.  Celebrate. Celebrate the big successes and celebrate the small ones. That in itself is its own form of encouragement towards the next step.  Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself with the success of others. Own your success- it is afterall yours because you made it happen.

Finally (for now) Step Ten  On top of the Mountain: 

At the top of the mountain you can look out, process the journey and all that you have achieved; Think about the climb. AS you descend everything seems easier, clearer. At the top of our metaphorical learning mountain we do that too. We have struggled with many ideas and concepts on the way up. Now we can synthesize ideas and create new ones. That’s learning. At the peak of the mountain we think about our thinking and strategies; On the way down we have clarity and then new information emerges that challenges what we know and a new climb begins.

Will the mountain analogy work? We’re about to find out!


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