James Nottingham At Claremont College, 2018

Part 1

Our staff were incredibly fortunate to have James Nottingham here at Claremont College this week. James Nottingham came to Claremont in 2008 and again in 2009, and since then he has founded his company, Challenging Learning, which is a group of companies with 30 employees in 6 countries. His first book, Challenging Learning, was published in 2010. Since then, he has written 6 books for teachers, leaders, support staff, and parents. These books share the best research and practice connected with learning; dialogue; feedback; the Learning Pit; Early Years education; and Growth Mindset.

You can find more information about James at:

And you can find more information about Challenging Learning at:

There have been so many take home messages and practical teaching strategies for us, from our PD, that it will be difficult to capture all of them in one article. Therefore this article is in three parts.

In our first session, James talked about:

  • ‘Curling parents’ and ‘curling teaching’ (he does a lot of work in Scandinavian countries), where we are constantly smoothing the way for students. Children are not going to learn if we don’t allow them to make mistakes. This sounds a lot like Judith Locke, doesn’t it; ‘step back so they can step up’.
  • Mistakes mean we are out of our comfort zone, and when making mistakes we are learning, when we are not making mistakes we are within our comfort zone but we are not learning anything new. James says ‘Don’t rescue the students, encourage them’ to keep trying to find solutions. (The word encourage has a French origin and it means ‘to give heart’.)
  • We need to move children away from believing ‘easy is good and challenge is difficult’, and if they get everything right they will be praised. Praise, encouragement and feedback should be directed to the process. Our mantra for the day (and now is) Easy is boring, challenge is interesting.
  • Girls in particular get hooked on praise and know how to stay in their comfort zone to receive lots of praise for neat work, for getting things right, for being compliant in class. We need to ensure that we have no gender bias in our classes and that all students are challenged in their learning, and encouraged when they are challenged.
  • Do not give our student easy choices, give them choices that are: challenging, super challenging or ‘uber’ challenging. We want our kids to say ‘I love it when I am challenged’.  ‘Golden Hour’ or ‘free choice’ doesn’t work, children will always pick the easy option.
  • Celebrate mistakes, celebrate challenge, celebrate high expectations. Value effort, persistence, ‘having a go’.

Part 2

In Part 1, I summarised our morning session with James Nottingham, where he expanded on the following key points from James: 

  • ‘Curling parents’ and ‘curling teaching’,
  • ‘Don’t rescue the students, encourage them’,
  • ‘Easy is boring, challenge is interesting’,
  • Girls in particular get hooked on praise’,
  • ‘I love it when I am challenged’, and
  • ‘Celebrate mistakes, celebrate challenge, celebrate high expectations’.  

In Part 2, we will look at the second session, where James challenged us in a number of ways and reinforced some of our own research and directions too. He spoke about: 

  • Self-esteem vs self-efficacy: self-esteem is a value placed on an individual’s evaluation of his/her own worth, whereas self-efficacy relates to influence and a person’s ability to believe they can succeed or accomplish a task. While it is important to have both self-esteem and self-efficacy, as they go hand in hand in some ways, if you have to choose, James said to focus on self-efficacy – where students value challenge and therefore their ability to cope with challenge.


  • The value of ‘effort’ comments on school reports: James challenged us to think about the value of effort comments… do they just relate to compliance (or teacher pleasing), are they related to surface level learning, or do they actually relate to challenge and the effort a child displays when they are challenged? And/or are effort comments often related to grades and if they are, they really shouldn’t be.
  • SOLO Taxonomy: this taxonomy is James’ preferred taxonomy as it takes students from surface level learning to deep level learning. The first three levels are surface knowledge, the fourth and fifth are deep learning, therefore we need to consider how often we take students to the deeper two levels.


  • Challenge and students who receive Learning Support: James emphasised the importance of setting these students up for success and the value of ‘Preview’ in some areas of the curriculum. James used examples such as:
    • The value of ‘Preview’: Preview is a way for students to gather information at the pre, uni and even multi structural levels of learning, so that relational and abstract levels of learning can occur in class. Preview can be valuable in place of homework.
    • Homework: the most valuable function of homework, according to research, is the value of reading every night. Research is also showing that ‘preview’ is the other valuable use of homework or ‘home learning’, so over the coming weeks, terms and years students and parents will see preview become a more predominant part of homework. 
  • If a student struggles with their gross motor skills it would be helpful for them, and their parents, to know the skills that are coming up next, so they have an opportunity to try the skills before the lessons.

It is good to give students and parents the name of a topic that is coming up in some Key Learning Areas (KLAs), so that the child with their parents might have time to look up some information beforehand. Preview is not recommended for all topics and for all KLAs, especially where specific skills are taught in literacy and numeracy.

Part 3

This week we are going to look at the final session of the PD day our staff had with James Nottingham, where he spoke about The Learning Pit, challenging learning through questioning and dialogue, feedback, Learning intentions and success criteria, and collective teacher efficacy.

THE LEARNING PIT, OR LEARNING CHALLENGE Ref., We use this to let students know that we want them ‘in the pit’, out of their comfort zone. We have now used The Learning Pit as a teaching tool for almost 10 years at Claremont College. The Learning Pit is a great visual image for students to identify with and it helps them to understand what happens to them cognitively when they are being challenged, and when they are not being challenged. 


Ref., Nottingham et al, Challenging Learning Through Dialogue, 2017

Questions need to be challenging so that students need to define their thinking. Deeper conversations come from challenging questions. Listening to each other and thinking are the most important aspects of dialogue. The reasons that we challenge learning through dialogue are:

  • Dialogue helps us learn how to think,
  • Dialogue takes us from surface thinking to deeper thinking,
  • Dialogue creates a climate of trust,
  • Dialogue helps us to develop language to express understanding, and
  • Dialogue gives teachers (and parents) a valuable insight into students’ beliefs, questions and misconceptions.

Ref., Nottingham et al, Challenging Learning Through Feedback, 2017

James challenged us to think about how feedback is only beneficial if it is related to the Learning Intentions and/or Success Criteria.

Praise is not the same as feedback. Praise may make you feel good but it has no impact on learning. Feedback related to the task, the process or to the ability to be self-regulated, produces the most positive impact on student learning.

‘The effect of feedback on learning… suggests average percentiles on learning outcomes of between 50-83% improvement’. (Hattie, 2009)

Another important point to remember is that ‘when we give students a grade (a score), the learning stops. When we give students specific feedback and an extending question, the learner goes deeper’.

Ref., Nottingham et al, Challenging Learning Through Feedback, 2017

Learning Intentions (LI) and Success Criteria (SC) are teaching and learning strategies that we at Claremont have used for some years now. James Nottingham reinforced for us the importance of feedback being related to LI and SC because they help students to understand:

  1. What am I trying to achieve?
  2. How much progress have I made so far?
  3. What should I do next? 

The benefits of LI and SC are many. They:

  • Help teachers to design effective learning activities for children;
  • Give students an understanding of what they are aiming to achieve (LI) and what they can do to reach their goal (SC);
  • Provide a scaffold to support student progress;
  • Offer students a language which with which to articulate their learning;
  • Help students to be more self-motivated and independent;
  • Give teachers (and parents) a focus for asking learning questions and setting supplementary tasks;
  • Give students clear reference points for their feedback to each other and to themselves;
  • Increase self-regulation; and
  • Support effective learning reviews.

COLLECTIVE TEACHER EFFICACY John Hattie, in 2016, referred to Collective Teacher Efficacy as the strategy that has the greatest effect on student learning. 


At Claremont College, our students are fortunate to have a team of teachers through co-teaching, who support them every day and collectively believe in their ability to learn, to achieve, to improve and to succeed and flourish.

Mrs Janelle Ford
Deputy Principal