‘Habits of Mind’

Posted in SSZ Briefings  ·  July 5th 2016

‘Habits of Mind’

Habits & Learning

“Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it.” (Horace Mann)

This is an image that we at Study Skills Zone have often applied to learning itself.  It describes accurately the way in which a neural pathway (for a new piece of knowledge or, as here, a new habit) can become permanent through repetition and practice.

What Are Habits of Mind?

Many teachers can easily list the qualities they would like to see developed in their students.  These include being more independent thinkers, more self-motivated, more inquisitive, more persistent, and greater attention to detail – to select just a few.  And this is exactly where Habits of Mind come in.

Habits of Mind was a term created by the two authors, Costa and Kallick in their 2009 book of the same name. (1)  Habits of Mind are dispositions that are skilfully and deliberately employed by intelligent, successful people when they are confronted with problems, the solutions to which are not immediately apparent.  When we draw upon these mental resources, the results are more powerful, of higher quality, and of greater significance than if we fail to employ these habits.

Commitment to continued self-modification

If teachers and students are to employ Habits of Mind, they require a combination of many skills, attitudes, past experiences and inclinations. It will mean that they value one pattern of thinking over another, and therefore it implies choice-making about which habit should be employed at which time. It includes being sensitive to the context of a situation, so that they know that it is an appropriate time and place to employ this pattern.

Using Habits of Mind requires a level of skill to carry out the behaviours effectively over time. Finally, it leads individuals to reflect on, evaluate, modify and carry their learning on to future situations.  It implies goal-setting for improved performance and making a commitment to continued self-modification.

While there may be more, Costa and Kallick listed 16 characteristics of effective problem-solvers from studies of these problem-solvers from many walks of life around the world. (1)  Their book opens with the above quotation from Horace Mann.

16 Habits of Mind 

1. Persisting
2. Managing Impulsivity
3. Listening with Understanding and Empathy
4. Thinking Flexibly
5. Thinking about Thinking
6. Striving for Accuracy
7. Questioning and Posing Problems
8. Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations
9. Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision
10. Gathering Data Through All Senses
11. Creating, Imagining, Innovating
12. Responding with Wonderment and Awe
13. Taking Responsible Risks
14. Finding Humour
15. Thinking Interdependently
16. Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

Students who have developed these Habits of Mind will be able to apply their learning to an ever-expanding array of challenges not only in commonly taught subjects in school, but also in their communities, in their world and in their lives.

(1) Arthur L Costa and Bena Kallick (ed), Habits of Mind Across the Curriculum, Practical and Creative Strategies for Teachers,  ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, USA), 2009


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