Tag Archives: habits of mind

Habits of Mind

This post is coming after a Twitter discussion with @jybuell, who is reading about the 16 Habits of Mind as described by Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick in this book (let me know if I linked the wrong book, Jason). It’s actually a collection of four books that were originally published separately. My school has been using these books as part of our School Improvement Plan, and I’ve read all four, though it’s been a while.

Briefly, the idea is that regardless of content, we should be teaching our students how to think. We want them to develop a habit of persisting when they don’t get something right away, not a habit of giving up. We want them to develop a habit of thinking flexibly, not a habit of wanting to know The One Way That Things Must Be Done. We want them to develop a habit of communicating with clarity and precision, not a habit of talking about, you know, um, stuff. (Wikipedia has an entry that lists all 16 of the HOM, for anyone who wants to see the list.)

Let’s look at that last one I mentioned and see a specific example. I once had a student who, in the middle of a class discussion, was on the verge of making a very good point, but was struggling to articulate it. He stumbled over his words a bit and then abruptly turned to me and said, “Mrs. D, can you do that thing where you take what I said and make it sound smart?” I was amused, but at the same time, a little ashamed. Although I use rephrasing a student’s ideas as a way to make sure that (1) I’m listening carefully and (2) they know I’m listening, I shouldn’t be robbing them of the opportunity to make themselves “look smart.”

What can I do instead? I can ask questions to encourage clear, precise communication, returning the responsibility for the communication to the student. When they give me something clear and precise, I acknowledge it, using the language of the HOM. Students are great mimickers, and once I started doing that, they did the same to one another. With an environment established where one can’t get away with unclear ideas, students correct themselves. Some take longer to speak, pausing as they internally make sure that what they’re about to say is clear and precise. Others will continue to speak out quickly, but will immediately follow up with, “No wait! I meant [more precise wording].”

Just for the record, I don’t have this down – I tend to go in cycles where I let my own bad habits (taking over for others) resurface. But when I’m being consistent, I do see these sorts of results.

I keep the HOM posted on a bulletin board or somewhere else in the room; the visual reminder is good for both me and the students. I remind them that these are habits they can use in any class, not just mine. It helps that the other teachers at my school are also working with this same idea, but even without that, I can ask them what they’re reading in English class and how they have (to continue the same example) used clear and precise language when talking about that particular novel.

One of my favorite habits of mind is metacognition, or thinking about your thinking. Sometimes during or after a discussion or activity, I will say, “Okay guys, let’s do some metacognition. Which habits of mind did you need to use to complete this task? Which habits of mind did Suzie just demonstrate? Can we try responding with wonderment and awe in this situation?” The more frequently I am doing that, the better responses I get, because they’re more comfortable with thinking about their thinking. And that is pretty awesome to see. :)