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Professional Learning Topics for all Staff

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Build Your Team’s Capacity

James helps staff from all phases of education strengthen their culture of learning by sharing effort-saving strategies, modelling effective practice, and drawing advice from the most up-to-date and compelling research.

Designed For Your Context

James does not have a ‘standard’ presentation.  He avoids quick fixes and pre-determined, externally imposed ‘solutions’ in favour of enhancing learner agency (staff and students), in a contextualised, sensitive manner.

Learning, Mastery, and Engagement

The guidance James offers is grouped into three broad categories: Learning, Mastery, and Engagement. Professional learning can draw on elements of all three themes or be focused on one in more depth.

His most popular topics include:
  • Challenge
  • Classroom talk / dialogic teaching
  • Efficacy (self & collective)
  • Feedback & assessment
  • Growth mindset
  • Learning to Learn
  • Philosophy for Children (P4C)
  • Questioning
  • The Learning Pit


The core function of education is learning. Ask parents why they send their children to school, and they’ll say, to learn! Ask staff why they went into teaching, and they’ll say, to help students learn. So, despite an increasing number of distractions, learning is – and should be – the primary focus of every classroom.

To strengthen this purpose, James gives guidance on the best ways to …

  1. Articulate Learning

Helping students better understand what success looks like for them, and why their learning is relevant to them; being clear about their progress so far and having frames of reference to articulate that journey; and identifying the steps they could take to deepen their learning and/or application.

Connected terms: Cognitive task analysis 1.29; Concept mapping .64; Effort Management .77; Metacognition strategies .60; Planning and prediction .76; Self-regulation strategies .54; Self-verbalization / self-questioning .59; Strategy monitoring .58; Teacher clarity .84; Transfer strategies .86

  1. Respond Positively Towards Challenge

Recognising that too many students avoid challenge for fear of making mistakes or being thought as slow or less capable, then designing constructive ways forward. This includes how to make challenging tasks more enticing; when to praise and when not to; revising rewards systems so that they no longer weaken intrinsic motivation; and making best use of questioning techniques to encourage all students to confidently step into their individual zones of proximal development.

Connected terms: Acceleration .62; Appropriately challenging goals .59; Critical thinking .49; Elaborative interrogation .66; Motivation and approach .38; Questioning .49; Scaffolding .58; Self-efficacy .65

3. Believe in Everyone’s Potential to Grow

Many students believe they’re just not sporty, creative, or mathematical; their parents give the impression that attitudes & talents are inherited by saying, “you’re just like me”; and there are still teachers who base instruction and within-class groupings on the notion that some kids are (and will always be) bright whereas others are not (and never will be). Sadly, these beliefs limit learning. So, James has designed – in conjunction with Carol Dweck, author of Mindset – systems and practical strategies that will help embed much healthier approaches to learning so that all students flourish and grow.

Connected terms: Acceleration .62; Attitude towards content domains .45; Collective teacher efficacy 1.36; Differentiation .46; Growth Mindset .15; Motivation and approach .38; Parental involvement .42; Positive self-concept .46; Teacher credibility 1.09; Teacher estimates of achievement 1.46; Teacher expectations .42; Teachers not labelling students .61


Mastery learning is based on the principle that when students fail to learn, the cause is more likely to be ill-fitting or incomplete instruction rather than students’ lack of ability. The term was first proposed by Benjamin Bloom (1968). He asserted that when achievement gaps exist, these will not be repaired if students are all given similar types and length of instruction. Instead, he proposed that time, pace, and pedagogy should be more closely matched to individual needs so that all students (or, according to many studies since, more than 90% of students) achieve mastery of subject areas.

To help make mastery a reality for your students, James offers assistance for you and your team to …

  1. Use Feedback to Refine & Thrive

Feedback is something of an enigma. With more than 1200 studies and 26 meta-analyses showing positive outcomes, it is clearly one of the most effective ways to improve student learning; and yet, is also one of the most variable factors with one third of studies showing a negative outcome. Indeed, this complexity is one of the reasons why John Hattie’s Visible Learning database now splits the original, singular heading of feedback into eight categories, with effect sizes ranging from 0.13 (small positive) to 0.92 (potential to considerably accelerate learning). James can guide your team through this tangle to help you determine the very best ways to ensure all your students flourish through feedback (with less strain on staff!)

Connected terms: Clear goal intentions .51; Feedback .62; Feedback (from tests) .48; Feedback (reinforcement and cues) .92; Feedback (tasks & processes) .64; Feedback (timing) .49; Formative evaluation .40; Peer assessment .44; Peer tutoring .51; Peer- and self-grading .42; Success criteria .88

  1. Build Collective & Self-Efficacy

Collective and self-efficacy come from Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura (1977). They are connected to the construct of agency (the ability to make things happen) and to confidence. Many studies have found that individuals (in the case of self-efficacy) and teams (in the case of collective efficacy) who have a strong belief in their abilities to overcome challenges and improve results, do exactly that … achieve more! Little wonder then that efficacy is such an attractive proposition. Unfortunately, though, it is also a somewhat elusive quality unless significant and sustained attention is paid to the mental models and classroom structures at work in your school. Which is where James comes in – he can guide you through the research, and help you identify the actions that will lead to enhanced efficacy for students and staff.

Connected terms: Collective teacher efficacy 1.36; Concentration-persistence-engagement .53; Growth mindset .15; Positive self-concept .46; Self-control .49; Self-efficacy .65; Self-regulation strategies .54; Self-reported grades 1.33; Teachers not labelling students .61

  1. Value Progress (as well as grades)

There is often an over-emphasis on grading, league tables, within-school rankings, and ability grouping: all of which place an emphasis on who is achieving and who is not. A healthier approach is to focus on the progress and growth of every student – not at the expense of achievement (after all, progress and achievement are inextricably linked) but as well as raising achievement. This is easier said than done because of outside pressures, but it is possible with the right systems and mental models. James can help you with exactly that: understanding the research; developing reward systems and ways of reporting to parents; tracking progress; and changing the ways in which your staff, students and learning community think about proving and improving.

Connected terms: Concentration-persistence-engagement .53; Explicit teaching strategies .57; Flipped classrooms .57; Growth mindset .15; Mastery learning .61; Piagetian levels 1.28; Scaffolding .58; Self-efficacy .65; Self-reported grades 1.33; Teacher estimates of achievement 1.46; Teachers not labelling students .61; Transfer strategies .86


There is a clear and well-established link between student engagement and positive outcomes. Indeed, it is often thought of as the glue that holds together all other aspects of student learning. When students are engaged, they gain academically, socially, and emotionally; not to mention, teaching is more joyful and rewarding! That said, engagement is a difficult concept to pin down: researchers consider it a ‘meta-construct’ that includes belonging, participation, motivation, self-efficacy, and school connectedness.

James helps increase student engagement by guiding staff in schools, preschools, and colleges to …

  1. Deepen Learning Through Questioning

Used effectively, questioning can be one of the best ways to engage learners, stimulate their curiosity, deepen their thinking, clarify their ideas, stir their imagination, and create an incentive to act more thoughtfully and judiciously. It can also give in-the-moment feedback about the misconceptions, as well as correct interpretations, students are forming. Unfortunately though, the most common form of questioning – Initiate/Respond/Evaluate – generally engages only students who are self-assured rather than everyone in the class. James has many, much more effective questioning strategies that he is happy to share (and demonstrate with your students if you would like him to).

Connected terms: Classroom discussion .82; Philosophy in schools .53; Piagetian levels 1.28; Questioning .49; Scaffolding .58; Strategy monitoring .58

  1. Guide Students to Connect & Explore

When students link ideas, concepts, skills, and theories together, they can form a more complete understanding of the world around them. This facilitates the move from surface to deep learning. If these connections also reach across disciplines, then transferability is enhanced. In boosting this type of engagement, students improve effort, persistence, attention & focus, asking questions, and participation. James can show you how to place these qualities at the heart of lessons through classroom discussion, exploratory talk, effective questioning, and transfer strategies.

Connected terms: Classroom discussion .82; Collaborative learning .39; Cooperative learning .45; Critical thinking .49; Jigsaw method 1.20; Questioning .49; Scaffolding .58; Self-regulation strategies .54; Teacher clarity .84; Transfer strategies .86

  1. Build Lessons Around Student Interests & Curiosity

As the old saying goes, some teachers teach the curriculum; others teach their students; but perhaps this is a false dichotomy. It is possible to do both if care is given to collecting students’ questions before a topic is taught and then matching their curiosity to the curriculum intentions. Further student voice activities enhance additional, holistic outcomes. The strategies James has developed to achieve these aims will also help to improve your students’ self-regulation, their confidence in approaching challenging tasks, choosing to go beyond curriculum requirements, putting more effort into mastering new knowledge and skills, and deliberate use of different learning strategies.

Connected terms: Constructivist teaching .64; Curiosity .90; Flipped classrooms .57; Goal commitment .40; Perceived task value .46; Teacher-student relationships .47

  1. Experiment, Examine, & Play

Experimenting should be a central practice of learning. It encourages trial & error, creates time to learn from mistakes, and values discovery and design. Too often though, students feel a pressure to complete tasks in a prescribed and efficient manner. To help ease this pressure – and increase motivation and engagement for learning – James has created a set of instructional strategies and learning sequences that will help your students achieve a balance between playful exploration and completion of curriculum tasks.

Connected terms: Attitude towards content domains .45; Concentration-persistence-engagement .53; Creativity .58; Deliberate practice .79; Effort Management .77; Planning and prediction .76; Questioning .49; Teacher-student relationships .47

Connected Terms

There are almost as many terms used in research as there are studies in education. James have chosen to use terms selected by John Hattie in his Visible Learning database. A definition for each connected term shown above can be found at

The effect sizes are included (the higher the ‘score’, the greater the probable effect on student learning), but please note that there is a story behind every headline! (which James will gladly share as part of his support for schools, pre-schools, and colleges).

Download Topic Brochures


Improving classroom talk to deepen learning


How to improve the impact of feedback

Learning Pit

Using the Learning Pit to engage & challenge

Lesson Ideas

Ideas to guide students through the Learning Pit

Long Term Projects

The Challenging Learning Process


Creating a growth mindset in all learners


Improving the effectiveness of questioning


Consultant, Author, Keynote Speaker

This site represents two tradenames:


This trademark is held by James Nottingham (reg. No. 6.381.157) Uses of the Learning Pit for educational and not-for-profit purposes are usually permitted when seeking permission via this site.


This is the name of the group of companies founded by James Nottingham (full details shown on the Contact Us page). It is also the name of his first book.

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