Carr & Claxton on Dispositions

I have read a couple of Margaret Carr’s articles on dispositions, including one she co-authored with Guy Claxton.  She borrows the Perkins, Jay & Tishman definition of dispositions as inclinations + sensitivity to occasion + ability, and she also draws on Lilian Karr.  Here are some of the ideas from these articles which seemed most interesting to me:

Dispositions are about learning in a social context (Carr, 1995, p. 2). Learning is more than thinking, because learning occurs through social discourse. As we think about a theory of blended learning, the social element is something we haven’t wanted to ignore, even when physical distance may separate the teacher and the students.

Dispositions are linked to the idea of “possible selves” (Carr, 1995, p. 4).  We may come to think that certain “achievement doors have closed already” (Carr, 1995, p. 4), and therefore assume that we are not disposed to do a certain thing.  Carr ties this to Dweck’s findings that “children’s beliefs about whether ability can change or not [create] views about their possible selves that influence their approach to learning” (Carr, 1995, p. 4).  How does one most carefully preserve their children’s or students’ conception of “possible selves”?  My three and a half year old still has a pretty fluid conception of “possible selves” — he’s OK having pink as his favorite color; he can play the boy or the girl character in imaginative play.  I feel pretty certain this will change within the next 6-12 months, however, as his conceptions of gender become more rigid.  I’m very much OK with him seeing himself as “all boy” (I remember as a child my mom would sometimes say to me, “Lisa, you’re all girl!”), but there are other “possible selves” that may get blotted out for negative reasons.

Carr then lists four conditions for the generation of “robust” dispositions (Carr, 1995, p. 13).  They are:

  1. children feel safe to explore possible selves: ‘secure attachments, revolving around positive affects, are related to children’s greater attention, patience, and persistence’ (Ratner & Stettner, 1991, p. 8).”
  2. “knowledge and skill are harnessed to meaning. The enterprises connect with social discourses and topics of interest to the child.”
  3. children can decide [agency?] whether or not to use their skills. In other words, children have a chance to practise connecting ability and inclination to sensitivity to occasion.”
  4. children can decide [agency?] what to do next. There are opportunities for children to explore multiple positions and a range of possible selves, to experiment with the uncertain.”

Are these conditions true only for children‘s learning and development, or more broadly applicable to learning?  Are these also essentials for learning as becoming?  The articles on transformative learning have also argued that a sense of safety and trust are absolutely necessary for transformative learning (becoming?) to take place.  Constructivism argues that learning must be meaningful for the learner.  And agency, being able to decide what to do, is something I feel certain is critical to learning — and especially to becoming.

Carr then goes on to say that those working with young children should do the following to encourage dispositions: “(a) provide examples or models of the disposition (b) encourage and orchestrate child-child and adult-child interactions involving the disposition, (c) directly teach the disposition and (d) value the disposition, so that chance remarks and attention provide implicit affirmation and support” (Carr, 1995, p. 13).  “Direct teaching” would echo Abrami et. al.’s argument that in teaching critical thinking (CT) skills/dispositions, it is important to use a pedagogy which includes explicit instruction about CT.

In the Carr & Claxton article, one point of particular interest was their discussion of dispositions or traits, versus situated learning.  They wonder whether we can speak of “dispositions” if the context or “surround” has such a big impact. They state: “…[T]he manifestation of learning dispositions will be very closely linked to the learning opportunities, affordances and constraints available in each new setting” and the assessment of learning “has to be concerned with the process of participation” (Carr & Claxton, 2002, p. 12). This idea also fits in with the argument Malcolm Gladwell makes through his book Outliers.


Carr, M.  (1995). Dispositions as an outcome for early childhood curriculum. European Conference on Quality of Early Childhood Education.

Carr, M. & Claxton, G. (2002). Tracking the development of learning dispositions. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 9(1): 9-37. doi:10.1080/0969594022011914.


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