I’m just not good at …

How many times have you heard students excuse their lack of effort or poor performance by saying, “But I’m just not good at …“

Perhaps your students say, “I just don’t want to,” which is really just a cover story for, “If I tried, I think I’d probably fail, so I’m not going to try at all.”

Or perhaps your students constantly stay in their Comfort and Performance Zones, afraid of the mistakes that are likely to occur if they venture into their Learning Zone. If this is the case, they probably aren’t interested in reading the formative feedback you spent ages carefully crafting after their last assignment.

All of the above are symptoms of a Fixed Mindset: a student’s belief that they are unable to make much difference to their basic abilities. This means that if they aren’t good at, say, maths today, they believe they won’t be good at maths in the future.

If that were true, if they really couldn’t improve at maths, then their protests of, “I’m just not good at it,” would be justified. Why put effort into something if it’s impossible for you to do? They would be setting themselves up to fail – and to fail publicly. In that situation, it would make sense to stay in their Comfort and Performance Zones, doing what their limited abilities allow them to do.

Fortunately, a student’s belief that they can’t get better at maths isn’t true. But they behave as if it is. They aren’t being difficult, rude or uncooperative. They are acting in a perfectly reasonable way based on their Fixed Mindset view of their world.

Changing Mindsets

How do we change a student’s Mindset? How do we get them to understand they are capable of an unknown and unknowable amount of growth? And how do we invite them to engage in the process of learning in a skilful and effective way?

Most school-based strategies that try to change students’ Mindsets have failed to make an impact because they do not address students’ underlying beliefs. The “change your words, change your Mindset” posters on classroom walls get the message exactly back to front. It’s not change your words, change your Mindset. It’s change your Mindset, then your words will change. (Read more on this here.)

If you’d like to know more about why most Growth Mindset strategies fail and how we can do a more effective job at changing them, download my free e-book, The Mindset Continuum: How to implement Growth Mindsets and increase Learner Agency.

The Learning Landscape creates Growth Mindsets

In many ways, a person’s Mindset reflects how well they understand themselves as a learner. Someone with a Fixed Mindset doesn’t “get” learning. They think learning is a passive process where they discover their (fixed) abilities. Consequently, their abilities are a result of who they are and what they were born with.

As a student moves along the Mindset Continuum and develops a more growth-oriented Mindset, they come to understand themselves as a learner. They increasingly recognise that learning is about creating their abilities and that their abilities are a result of what they do.

Every time we use the Learning Landscape metaphor, we help students understand themselves as learners, and therefore help them develop a more growth-oriented Mindset.

The Learning Landscape emphasises that learning is an active process. We move through the landscape, scale mountains, fill our backpacks and climb out of Challenge Pits. We see the change in our abilities as we explore new parts of the Learning Landscape and climb higher on our journey towards the mountains of expertise.

Every time we engage in the Learning Landscape narrative, we bring learning to life as an active, skilful process. We help students understand themselves as learners. In turn, they build their Learnership, understand the nature of challenges and engage in the learning process in increasingly effective ways.

From the moment we introduce students to the Learning Landscape, with its absence of fences and boundaries, we remind students that they are not limited to or excluded from any part of learning. They aren’t able to say, “I’m just not good at it.” Instead, students can only say they haven’t journeyed to that part of the Learning Landscape yet. The onus is then on them to go there!

Every time we teach something new, learners are actively exploring the Learning Landscape. Each time a learner fails, we help them move past their limits by teaching them how to fill their backpacks with the Habits of Mind.

Each time a learner is confused, they are simply lost in the Learning Landscape and need signposts to reach their goal.

In the Learning Landscape, everyone is free to roam, climb and explore. There are no special types of people. Where you go, what you learn and how high you climb isn’t limited by who you are; it’s a result of what you do!

By consistently referencing the Learning Landscape, we help students understand themselves as learners. By presenting them with Learning Challenges and filling their backpacks with the tools to succeed, we help students experience themselves as learners. And as we teach them to take charge of their learning, fill their backpacks, recognise their Learning Zone, embrace challenges, use mistakes and tailor feedback, we help them become better learners.

All of which helps them to deeply understand their capacity for learning, nurturing a more growth-oriented Mindset in each and every learner.

Best Wishes,


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