Enquiry question: ‘Which tools and strategies, both teacher-led and independent, effectively support and engage KS4 learners in climbing out of the “learning pit”?’
My enquiry question was built from extensive academic research that discuss the dangers of pitching lessons too low – essentially ‘spoon-feeding’ information to pupils – in the belief that this is ‘learning’. An intriguing opposition to this form of teaching is James Nottingham’s concept of the “learning pit”; in short, that pupils must be cognitively challenged, leading to confusion, but with the right tools, strategies and support, they “climb out of the learning pit”, and consequently have a fuller understanding of the concept. In my reading, I have discovered that this teaching strategy is commonly applied to primary teaching and mathematics, but there is little evidence of its application in Modern Language teaching. Could it be applied effectively to MFL teaching?
However, a common struggle for KS4 learners of Modern Languages is a lack of resilience and independence, both of which are essential for pupils to climb out of the “learning pit”. Across Kennet School, these are key qualities which are being developed; could the use of the “learning pit” assist in developing these qualities in my KS4 classes?
I began by focusing on developing independence in my KS4 learners. I have consequently created a ‘What to do when you’re stuck’ sheet (see bottom), which looks at all the skills assessed in the GCSE course. This will be given to both Year 10 and Year 11 learners to support them in lessons and as part of revision, especially when they are dealing with challenging exam questions. I hope that with regular use of the strategy sheet, the processes will become systematic, as well as giving learners the tools to get themselves out of the “learning pit”.
Going forward, my next focus is how to introduce the “learning pit” into every KS4 lesson. The essential aspect of the “learning pit” is ‘cognitive conflict’ – introduce a concept to pupils which contradicts their current understanding, and then provide learners with the tools to resolve their misconception and have a fuller understanding of the concept as a consequence. However, concepts are not an aspect of Modern Languages like Mathematics for example; therefore my challenge is to develop a way to cognitively challenge learners effectively in the classroom to improve their understanding of the language.
This case study was shared by Emily Wilson, teacher of Modern Languages at Kennet School and is part of our ongoing enquiry hub project.