Learning Dispositions

“The fundamental purpose of education for the 21st Century, it is argued, is not so much the transmission of particular bodies of knowledge, skill and understanding as facilitating the development of the capacity and the confidence to engage in lifelong learning. Central to this enterprise is the development of positive learning dispositions, such as resilience, playfulness and reciprocity.”

- Claxton and Carr 2002

Many writers describe learning dispositions as a combination of learning inclinations, sensitivities to occasion, and skills, participation repertoires and “Patterns of learning” - patterns of behaviour, thinking and interaction. Dispositions to learn are often seen as tendencies towards such things as persisting, questioning, collaborating, taking responsibility.

Dispositional language describes the 'Child as Learner' and supports their own thinking about themselves as “I am someone who… tries new things…, keeps going when it is hard… knows when to stop and ask…, learns from making mistakes” etc.

Many teachers are working with a dispositional framework to analyse and describe the learning they see. Some of this noticing and recognising is documented in Learning Stories as “What learning do I think happened here?” Teachers are foregrounding dispositional learning by describing learning as being able to try something new, being playful, persisting, using trial and error, making mistakes, choosing hard work, keeping going when things get tough, being brave, and curious.

These kinds of dispositions to learn will support learning for a lifetime, no matter the subject, interest, or level of challenge because they cross traditional curriculum boundaries and act as motivator. This results in learners putting effort and practice into the learning goals they set themselves. Learning dispositions describe what it means to be a learner in the 21st Century. They make instant and direct connections to the Strands of Te Whāriki.

Margaret Carr (2008) says: “It is not about the blocks or the dough. It is about the activity being the vehicle for the acquisition of the disposition to learn.” Teachers are supporting and writing about the child’s learning of useful dispositions while engaged in experiences of interest and challenge.

A child working with the blocks may at one level/layer be involved in learning about his/her ability to stick with it and persevere and on another be working with trial and error, numbers, area or physics. The activity (blocks) is the vehicle for many layers of learning, and the fore-grounded learning is around dispositions that drive a desire to learn.

Reflecting on multi-layered teaching and learning is an important facet of teaching. Teachers in early childhood education in Aotearoa/New Zealand don’t merely teach subjects or Strand of Te Whāriki. They work in and reflect on the multiple layers of teaching and learning. An aspect of this multi-layered teaching and learning involves many ways of recognising learning and responding to it.


Carr, M. (2008) Presentation to Hui Topu - Professional Development for Early Childhood Education. May 28th, Wellington.
Claxton, G. & Carr, M. (2004) A framework for teaching learning: learning dispositions. Early Years International Journal of Research and Development, 24(1) 87-97.

Last updated: 3 April 2012