What are Habits of Mind?

Posted in SSZ Briefings  ·  July 5th 2016

What Are Habits of Mind?

Most teachers can easily list the qualities they would like to see their students develop.  These include being:
•     independent thinkers
•     self-motivated
•     inquisitive and
•     persistent.
And this is exactly where ‘Habits of Mind’ come in.
‘Habits of Mind’ is a term created by 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 habits – these mental resources – the results are more powerful, of higher quality, and of greater significance than if we fail to employ these habits.

Habit is a cable … like a neural pathway

When teachers and students employ these Habits of Mind, it requires a combination of many skills, attitudes, past experiences, and inclinations. It means that they value one pattern of thinking over another, and therefore it implies choice-making about which habit should be employed at which time.
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 looked at studies from around the world and listed 16 characteristics of effective problem-solvers.  Their book opens with a quotation from Horace Mann:
“Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it.”
This is an image that we at Study Skills Zone have often applied to learning itself.  It describes accurately the way in which daily repetition and practice (the threads of learning) can become permanent.  In this way, the learner forms an unbreakable neural pathway – or cable.

16 Habits of Mind
Here are Costa’s 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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