Teaching the Habits of Mind

Step 1 – Valuing Habits of Mind for yourself:
For the Habits of Mind to have meaning for students they have to have meaning for teachers. Exploring and unpacking what is meant by each of the sixteen habits means to you and your colleagues is a great place to begin. Once teachers see the value of the Habits, it is easier and more authentic to help our students see their value.

Eg: Persisting:

  • When have you had to persist in your professional work?
  • How do you overcome obstacles, barriers or demanding tasks in your work?
  • What do you do when Plan A hasn’t worked?
  • How do you feel when you have to persist at a task that doesn’t inspire you?
  • What behaviours might others see in you when you are persisting in your work?

Step 2 – Direct instruction in Habits of Mind
Teach the students about each of the Habits of Mind in turn. Allow them the opportunity to develop their own understandings and own examples to help them value the habits. Give experiential learning to immerse the students in the practice of the habits.

Step 3 – Infuse Step 5 – Habits of Mind across the curriculum
No one is expected to focus on all sixteen habits, all of the time. A simple way of developing the potential of the habits across the curriculum is to consider which of the habits will help students learn like a subject specialist; what will help a student of Maths,  think like a mathematician?

Eg Learning like a mathematician
Several years ago I visited a maths departments in a secondary school who were choosing one Habit of Mind to focus on. My question to them was “What is it about the way your students  learn Maths that holds them back? What change to their learning behaviours would improve their working and attainment in Maths? After some discussion, the department felt that the obstacle preventing students acting and thinking like mathematicians was their lack of risk taking. When the students were stuck they immediately put their hands up to ask the teacher to help them become “unstuck”. The students were not taking risks to find their own ways of being ‘unstuck’ and therefore were entirely dependant on the teachers to be the problem solvers. A way of using Habits of Mind was devised and introduced across the department. The teachers soon saw students who were increasingly independent as they became problem finders and problem solvers.

Step 4 – Habits of Mind at the centre of learning:
If schools are the home of the mind, then the Habits of Mind must be at the centre of learning. In an age of over-assessment and a crowded curriculum it is easy to allow other considerations to rule learning. Yet the habits are at the heart of effective, student-centered, lifelong learning. By considering which habits will help student learn in a particular subject, topic of year level at the planning stage we shape how our students can behave intelligently.

Habits of Mind offer their full potential when students are able to select and deploy which habit/s to use, how to use it and why its a good choice for a particular task. This isn’t something students can walk straight into. Its takes time and teacher-modeling. We need to show that we value the habits, we put the habits at the centre of our own learning and within any classroom the habits are seen as ways of being an effective learner.

How can you ensure Habits of Mind are at the centre of learning at your school?

  • Include the habits when planning the curriculum
  • Include the language of the habits in classroom talk
  • Refer to the habits when writing reports home or when setting targets
  • Use the habits in wall displays and classroom notices
  • Draw out habits that are central to the topic being taught
  • Praise students for using the language of the habits
  • Reinforce the habits through your own use

Habits of Mind shaping effective teaching

One common concern amongst the teachers I work with, in the UK and in other countries, is that students are not good at taking responsibility for their own learning. This may be seen when students ask for help the moment the become stuck rather than trying to strategise to find a solution themselves.  How can we encourage students to manage their own learning effectively? to take risks in their learning? to behave in ways that will help them learn better?

One approach to this dilemma is to teach the students which behaviours will support their learning and how to develop these behaviours.
An example below is by a secondary school Technology teacher. He has selected three Habits of Mind that will shape the way the students work over a term. The students will be working on their own projects and all be at different stages in the task, yet habits give shape and from to the way the students manage their learning to achieve in this task. This is a simple but highly effective use of the Habits of Mind in teaching and learning. In this example, Max, the teacher, has selected the habits that he thinks are most valuable for learning. you may want to select the habits your self or ask your students which habits they predict will be of greatest value in the forthcoming task.

Step 5 – Habits of Mind across a thinking school

Students need to see the Habits of Mind modelled across a school by teachers, school leaders, counsellors, librarians and parents. If we want students to value the habits, we need to show that we value them our selves. How do you embed  Habits of Mind across a school? Ideas may include:

  • Start of term assembly introducing a story, fable or current event  and how the habits play a role in it
  • Principal’s Newsletter – explain which Habit of Mind is being focused on this term and what everyone can do to develop it in themselves
  • Posters, wall displays and other visual representations that show how students and staff are developing the habits
  • Certificates students take home and get signed off by parents whenever they show they are practicing a habit
  • Stickers or book marks given to students when they are demonstrating a habit
  • Inclusion of the Habits of Mind when report writing or target setting

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