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Progression in learning habits

Last week we looked briefly at the role of the teacher, but this week we look at the habits of the Supple Learning Mind framework; what they are, how the labelling has shifted and, importantly, how they might progress over time. If the big ambition of Building Learning Power is to work, the learning behaviours need to become more than ‘can-do’ skills – they need to become learning habits. Teachers contribute to this strengthening of learning character by facilitating students to ‘get better’ at persevering, questioning, reasoning, changing their ideas and so forth. The challenge becomes… what does ‘getting better’ look like, how do we know it’s happening? 

On the page below you can view the familiar big picture of learning behaviours that make up powerful learners together with a diagram that shows the potential range of growth for each of the four aspects of learning….. read below to find out more.


Updating the detail of the Supple Learning Powered Mind framework?

In its first iteration, The Supple Learning Mind labelled four domains of learning as – Resilience, Resourcefulness, Reflectiveness and the one nobody could pronounce, Reciprocity. The four R’s was a neat linguistic device to help people to begin to get to grips with Learning Power framework. Unfortunately, memorising and using the four R words was as far as many schools, teachers and students got. We heard stories of teachers encouraging students to ‘be resilient’, advice that was about as much use as its pointless forerunner, ‘try harder’ or ‘keep at it’. The 4Rs were meant as a useful organising device, to help us categorise and understand  the learning capacities that sit beneath. So, sadly, using only the 4R’s led to a very shallow understanding of the complexities learning power – ‘BLP Lite’ if you like.

Deeper understanding of the Learning Power came when we saw the Rs as stand-ins for the emotional, cognitive, social and strategic aspects of learning; direct links into just about every theory of learning going. This association of Rs with learning domains revealed learning as a complex process that isn’t just about thinking and having a good memory; it includes how we feel, how we think, how we learn with and from others and how we manage the process of learning

The Supple Learning Mind captures each of the domains of learning:

  • The Emotional …feeling…domain of learning (with capacities that build Resilient learners)
  • The Cognitive …thinking…domain of learning (with capacities that build Resourceful learners)
  • The Social …relating…domain of learning (with capacities that build Reciprocal learners)
  • The Strategic …managing….domain of learning (with capacities that build Reflective (metacognitive learners)



The intention here is to emphasise the need to understand learning through the 17 learning capacities, for it is at this more detailed level that the language and self orchestration of learning really begins. Students come to understand and become conscious of the learning process by:

  • having words to describe what they are doing when learning…persevering or/and reasoning or/and  collaborating etc.
  • having ways of doing these things…knowing what helps them persevere, knowing what reasoning strategies to use, knowing what will help them to better imagine how things could be. 
  • reflecting on how well all of this is working, using an enriched language for learning. And ultimately…
  • orchestrating the use of all their learning powers in order to help them change and grow. 

A person’s Learning Power determines, even dictates, their propensity for change, and directs those behaviours that influence and underpin performance throughout life.


What does growing powerful learners mean?

Learning powered classrooms help to promote three dimensions of progress:

  1. The frequency and strength of the habit – how often it is used spontaneously as the need arises
  2. The scope of its use – the range of contexts within which the skill is used (from the familiar to new uncharted territory)
  3. The skilfulness of the habit – how the behaviour becomes more subtle, more appropriate to circumstances, more sophisticated.

Issues 1 and 2 are relatively easy to notice and even record but 3 (skilfulness) lies at the heart of building learning power. What are the stages of skilfulness? What does ‘getting better’ at noticing or reasoning or collaborating look like? It is this trajectory that impinges on what teachers do to guide and develop students’ learning power. However, once mapped, the impact on how you mentor, set targets, enable self and peer assessment, design tasks, and plan the curriculum etc. is immense.

Let’s look at one of the key behaviours as an example – Perseverance. We often hear from teachers that their pupils give up too readily, preferring the easy option of seeking adult help rather than persevering with something that they think might require effort. The reality, of course is not quite so simple – some pupils do indeed behave like this, or worse avoid effort whatever the level of difficulty, while others are independent and tenacious in pursuit of their goals. And most lie somewhere in between. 

There’s no on/off switch

Perseverance, like all other learning behaviours, is not like an on/off switch – either you can or you can’t. There’s a network of skills and beliefs that the highly perseverant learner possesses which are lacking in the ready giver-upper. Moreover, the ready giver-upper can’t be transformed into the highly perseverant with simplistic advice like ‘try harder’.

A quick reminder of perseverance.

Perseverance is about: keeping going in the face of difficulties; channelling the energy of frustration productively; knowing what a slow and uncertain process learning often is.

A mature learner understands that real learning requires effort and persistence, relishes opportunities to struggle with challenge, and believes that with effort they can become a more effective learner. If you think about that sentence you will recognise that there are a lot of different skills tied up in that single word ‘perseverance’.

If you are a perseverant person with a tendency to keep on going even when things get difficult you will:

  • relish tackling being stuck
  • be able to manage your own learning environment effectively
  • feel confident to deal with challenge and difficulty
  • be driven to keep going because you want to achieve a goal

So, as a starter, what might a general trajectory for, say, perseverance look like?

However, plotting what a good one does and what low might look like gives no clues as to the stepping stones that lie between…the chasm that lies between ‘Gives up’ and ‘Tenacious’ is unlikely to be covered in a single step.

Here’s your challenge for the week….

  • Have a go at filling in the steps from low to high for perseverance.

We’ll pick this up in next week’s blog to reveal our perseverance chart.


Questions you might want to ask.

  • Does the Supple Learning Mind, with its four domains of learning and seventeen learning ‘capacities’, yield insight for you?
  • Of the four domains, which are your personal strengths and relative weaknesses?
  • Think about your students – which are their strengths and relative weaknesses?
  • Which of these seventeen capacities, if you could magically improve it, would make the biggest difference to your students?
  • What are you currently doing to improve this? What more could you do?
  • Do you have a sense that students are becoming increasingly emotionally engaged, cognitively skilled, socially adept and strategically responsible as they move through your school? How do you know? How might you find out?


Download the card as a pdf
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