What are the mindful habits of successful learners and how can an understanding of these habits help us better achieve our learning goals? This is the question Art Costa Bena Kallick set out to answer with their study of the Habits of Mind. In 'Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind' Costa and Kallick identify sixteen habits which when utilised promote deeper understanding, unlock creativity, encourage reflective thinking and scaffold problem solving for individuals and groups. Exploring the Habits of Mind leads you away from definitions of intelligence as a fixed unitary attribute towards an understanding that it is a diverse set of traits and dispositions and that its growth is within the control of the individual. The implication of this for educators is made clear by Costa & Kallick; 'We need to develop learning goals that reflect the belief that ability is a continuously expandable repertoire of skills, and that through a person's efforts, intelligence grows incrementally.’
A more detailed discussion of the expandability of intelligence is presented in 'Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind’ and builds on the thinking of Arthur Whimbey who argues that intelligence can be taught. This coupled with an understanding that intelligence comes in multiple flavours is covered in great detail by Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas in ‘New kinds of Smart’ and reading this is recommended to any educator with a desire to better understand the role they can play in expanding the intellectual capacity of their students.
Once we accept that intelligence is neither fixed nor unitary we are obliged to do something with this understanding. This is the point where the ‘Habits of Mind’ play their part. Incorporated into a culture of thinking the Habits of Mind provide insights into the patterns of action which result in intelligent thinking and acting. The Habits go beyond theory into readily applicable action theories that show individuals and groups how they may act in particular circumstances to achieve the desired results. In many respects the habits of mind are what intelligent actors deploy when they don’t know what to do and are the sort of actions required by the challenges of twenty-first century thinking and learning.
A common misunderstanding can occur when teachers attempt to deploy the ‘Habits of Mind'. Out of fear of overwhelming our students we feel compelled to introduce the habits gradually. A small number are often identified for targeting in a term and with these come the focus of thinking throughout that time. This is not an entirely bad thing but it means we miss out on many opportunities to identify the habits as they are being used within the class. The truth is we do not use a subset of the habits in our daily lives instead using a mix of many of them as the situation demands. Costa & Kallick identify this reality 'These Habits of Mind seldom are performed in isolation; rather, clusters of behaviors are drawn forth and used in various situations.’ Claxton and Lucas write of an orchestra of Habits in which at times one instrument comes to the fore while at other times more than one plays an essential part.
I like to use the metaphor of a recipe where each habit is an ingredient in the meal we are producing. Faced with a situation which requires us to act intelligently we call upon a range of habits as we initially encounter, analyse, understand and solve the problem we are confronted by. Intelligent actors are able to consciously determine which habits they are using at any point in time and also are able to call on the habits which will best serve their needs. The habits we deploy are determined by our understanding of their utility to the situation we are in. We mix and match ingredients to suit our needs and can then describe what we used and why.
The challenge for teachers is to build this understanding in our students. Our task is to enable their intelligence by helping them to understand the habits of mind and to then empower our students to make intelligent choices about the habits they deploy.
With this goal in mind I developed a website that explains each of the Habits, provides examples and questions to shape one’s understanding of each and connects them with thinking routines. The goal is to have a resource that teachers can use with students as they take on the challenge of identifying the right mix of habits to use and while reflecting on their current use of the habits. This site can be found online at - http://www.rediquest.com/
The next evolution of this idea is to create and share a set of ‘Habit Cards’ that students and teachers can use to readily construct representations of thinking recipes. Each card describes the Habit accompanied by an image that helps younger audiences understand what the habit is about. On the back are questions to ask about your thinking and thinking routines. The cards can be laid out on a table in the order they were used and can become a talking point in reflective practices. A student might begin by placing the ‘Responding with Wonderment and Awe’ card on the table and could describe how the stimulus material used in the lesson made them feel. Next that might identify their use of ‘Questioning’ to unlock their wonderings about the topic or problem being explored before ‘Applying past Knowledge’ as a habit to engage their memory. The cards bring a physical dimension to the reflective practice and would allow students to compare the habits they use with the patterns chosen by others. Not only will students discover new ways of approaching problems through the process of sharing the habits they are using they will develop a deeper understanding of the choices they are making and the choices they have available.
The cards are at a first draft stage and I warmly welcome feedback.
By Nigel Coutts