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Education On Fire - Sharing creative and inspiring learning in our schools - Mark Taylor 4th January 2021
181: Challenging Learning with James Nottingham
00:00:00 00:50:14

181: Challenging Learning with James Nottingham

James Nottingham is the founding director of Challenging Learning, a group of companies with 25 staff in six countries. He is a world-renowned keynote speaker and author and creator of the Learning Pit®, one of the most popular ways to encourage and structure questioning, challenge, and reflection.

His first book, Challenging Learning, was published in 2010 and has received widespread critical acclaim. Since then, he has written many chapters for other people’s books teaching journals, as well as the following books as well as:

  1. Nottingham, J.A. (2020). The Learning Pit. Alnwick, Northumberland, UK: Challenging Learning.
  2. Nottingham, J.A., Nottingham, J., & Bollom, T. M. (2019). Learning Challenge Lessons: Secondary ELA. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  3. J. A. & Larsson B. (2018). Challenging Mindset: Why a Growth Mindset Makes a Difference in Learning – and What to Do When It Doesn’t. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  4. Nottingham, J.A. & Nottingham, J. (2018). Challenging Early Learning. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
  5. Nottingham, J.A. & Nottingham, J. (2018). Learning Challenge Lessons: Primary. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  6. Nottingham, J.A. (2017). The Learning Challenge: How to Guide Your Students Through the Learning Pit. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  7. Nottingham, J.A. & Nottingham, J. (2017). Challenging Learning Through Feedback. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  8. Nottingham, J.A., Nottingham, J., & Renton, T. M. (2016). Challenging Learning Through Dialogue. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  9. J. A. (2016). Challenging Learning (2nd ed.). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
  10. Nottingham, J. A. (2013). Encouraging LearningHow You Can Help Children Learn. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
  11. Nottingham, J. (2010). Challenging Learning (1st)Theory, Effective Practice and Lesson Ideas to Create Optimal Learning in the Classroom. Alnwick, Northumberland, UK: JN Publishing.
  12. Nottingham, J. (2007). Exploring the Learning PitTeaching Thinking and Creativity, 8:2(23), 64–68. Birmingham, UK: Imaginative Minds

It was as a teacher that he created the Learning Pit® – a student-friendly version of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Quite remarkably, the model has captured the imagination of educators around the world; indeed, do a search online for the ‘Learning Pit’ and you will find well over 200 million references. He also co-founded P4C.com, a resource and collaboration site for teachers using P4C (Philosophy for Children) as a way to develop critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinking.

Before training to be a teacher, James worked on a pig farm, in the chemical industry, for the American Red Cross, and as a teaching assistant in a school for deaf children. At university, he gained a first-class honours degree (a major turnaround after having failed miserably at school). He then worked as a teacher and leader in primary and secondary schools in the UK before creating an award-winning, multi-million-pound social regeneration project supporting education, community groups and businesses across North East England.

In 2006, James co-founded Challenging Learning with Jill Potter (now Jill Nottingham!). In 2009, Martin Renton joined the team and since then, the three of them have established Challenging Learning in six countries: the UK, Australia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the USA. Their team of 25 consultants, researchers, designers and admin staff support pre-schools, schools, colleges, and school districts with long-term projects that strengthen the lives of all learners.

James splits his work time between keynoting conferences, leading whole-staff training days; running demonstration lessons; writing and researching; and leading his team of company directors. He often headlines national and international conferences, as well as co-presents with well-known researchers such as Carol Dweck (Mindset) and John Hattie (Visible Learning). His presentations are characterised by a rare skill for blending arresting anecdotes, hard-edged research, gentle good humour and practical advice woven into truly compelling narratives.

Skolvärlden (Swedish Teaching Union) describes James as “one of the most talked about names in the world of school development” and the Observer newspaper in the UK listed him among the Future 500 – a ‘definitive list of the UK’s most forward-thinking and brightest innovators.’ In 2020, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, an award granted to individuals judged to have made outstanding achievements to social progress and development.

He lives beside the beach on the English-Scottish border with his wife, three children, two guinea pigs and two mini-sausage dogs. His family and friends think he’s a little too proud of his KWO Räunchermänner but still buy him one every year. He loves photography, beach walks, cliff runs, and cheering on his kids at their many sporting events.


Twitter: @ChallengeLearn @TheLearningPit @JamesNottinghm

LinkedIn: James Nottingham

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Show Sponsor

The National Association for Primary Education has an online conference on 8th March 2021 entitled:


Virtual Conference - Monday 8th March 2021, 4.15pm-6.45pm

The Conference, embracing a theme which has always been central to debate about children’s entitlements, has been highlighted by OfSTED as critical in curriculum development and its central importance has been further accentuated by the pressures under which primary schools are working in the post-lockdown phase as they prioritise what is perceived as essential in educational recovery.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on children's education may be perceived as a justification for narrowing the curriculum at the expense of the arts and the humanities, but this conference will explore the case for preserving young children's entitlement to as rich and diverse a curriculum as possible. Dr. Eaude's keynote lecture will set the scene, highlighting some key issues and considering some lessons to be learnt from the period of lockdown. The subsequent presentations will focus on classroom practice, providing a spotlight on innovations which have been implemented in school and offering guidance for the future.

All are most welcome at this event, including teachers, teacher assistants, governors and students and it's our hope that the conference will play its part in bringing together a range of stakeholders in primary education, all with a commitment to enhancing children's entitlement to a balanced and broadly-based curriculum.

To book or find out more https://nape.org.uk/conference