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


Habit of Mind
Managing Impulsivity
Taking the time to deliberate before acting.
Listening with Understanding and Empathy
Making the effort to perceive another person’s perspective.
Thinking Flexibly
Considering Options and Changing Perspectives.
Striving for Accuracy
Setting high standards and finding ways to improve.
Persevering in a task to completion and not giving up.
Thinking about one’s thinking. Being aware of how thoughts, feelings and actions affect others.
Questioning and Problem Posing
Findings problems to solve, seeking data and answers.
Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations
Accessing prior knowledge and applying that knowledge to new contexts.
Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision
Striving for accuracy in oral and written communications.
Gathering Data Through all Senses
Paying attention to the world around through taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight.
Creating, Imagining and Innovating
Generating new and novel ideas.
Responding with Wonderment and Awe
Being intrigued by the mystery in the world.
Taking Responsible Risks
Living on the edge of one’s competence.
Finding Humor
Enjoying the incongruous and unexpected. Being able to laugh at oneself.
Thinking Interdependently
Being able to work and learn as a team.
Remaining Open to Continuous Learning
Resisting complacency in learning and admitting when one does not know.
  Adapted from Campbell4


I want to improve my physical fitness so I will feel healthier and have better control of my weight. I think if I write a plan and monitor it daily I will stick with it. My plan will focus on two goals: to exercise on a regular basis and to cut out eating between meals and taking second portions at meals. My exercise goal will begin with walking a half hour twice a week and will increase to walking four times a week. Walking with a friend will hold me more accountable for getting out; I will ask Sue to join me. Keeping track of my progress in a fitness journal will be a good way of reflecting. I have read the information on exercise and healthy eating, have a positive attitude, and I tell myself I can exercise and control my weight.

How often have you heard comments of this nature or even said them yourself? People of all ages say they want to change some aspect of their lifestyle but have trouble accomplishing the task. Why is it so hard to alter behaviors? Health experts say it has to do with changing long-standing habits, established dispositions of the mind, some of which have roots early in life. Ultimately, habits reflect how one thinks about fitness, and to be successful with any regimen means changing habits of the mind. A common theme prevails in self-help or how-to-succeed books: develop productive habits of mind. A well-known model is presented in Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989).

Cultivating productive mental habits is a lifelong process. Changing behaviors requires a focus on habits such as managing impulsivity, communicating with clarity and precision, or remaining open to continuous learning. These habits not only affect personal behaviors and lifestyle; they also permeate educational settings that create and support literate environments.

Societal and economic changes as well as disheartening reading scores on standardized tests have caused schools to broadly emphasize literacy. Employability rests on the ability to read. For example, in 1974 auto technicians were responsible for 5,000 pages of print; in 1994 it increased to 500,000 pages; and by 2000 car mechanics needed to understand 1,000,000 pages of service manuals to fix an automobile. Students must be equipped with strategic reading competencies to navigate and succeed in this information age.

Educators lament that their students lack the requisite knowledge, skills, and mental dispositions to read and comprehend text. Teachers complain that students are not motivated to read. Yet teachers themselves often say they are too busy to read, and current research indicates that many upcoming teachers actually dislike reading. A shift in thinking must occur in which all educators focus on reading. It is time for teachers to examine their own reading habits, and, in regard to their students, not only to focus on young readers but also to give increased emphasis to the literacy needs of adolescents.

A common cure for attacking literacy deficiencies is the use of appropriate strategies. In an effort to focus classroom instruction on reading, districts are mandating that teachers use well-established reading strategies such as graphic organizers, the Frayer Model (Frayer, Frederick, & Klausmeier, 1969) vocabulary strategy, or Anticipation/Prediction Guides (Herber, 1978). Although reading strategies are helpful, the engagement in reading is not the product of strategies alone but a fusion of strategies with mental dispositions. Because reading is “thinking cued by text,” readers create meaning by interacting mentally with the words on the page. Reading is more than simply moving one’s eyes across the page of written symbols or word calling. The complex act of constructing meaning from text involves intellectual processes or dispositions that can be taught, learned, and optimized over time. For example, strategic readers know how to think flexibly and persist in order to better comprehend the text.

These intellectual processes or dispositions, frequently referred to as Habits of Mind, are emphasized in Art Costa’s foreword for Strategic Reading in the Content Areas: Practical Applications for Creating a Thinking Environment (Billmeyer, 2004). He believes that through conscious use of Habits of Mind students will expand their capacities for reading more strategically in all content areas. Thus, the type of thinking emphasized coupled with a specific strategy has potential to develop strategic readers. The purpose of this chapter is to explain how Habits of Mind are integral to the development of strategic readers.

What Is a Strategic Reader?

Strategic readers are focused and in charge of their reading. They are aware of the mental dispositions necessary for comprehending a passage. Strategic readers know that reading has to make sense, so they develop a tool kit of formal and informal strategies to focus and monitor thinking before, during, and after reading. They are curious knowledge seekers who choose to read because they know reading opens doors of learning. Specifically, a strategic reader works actively to construct meaning, is independent, and reads to learn.

Which Habits of Mind Develop Strategic Readers?

Strategic readers possess and apply productive mental habits. They are aware of their thinking, feelings, and behaviors as they complete a task. They know how to manage, monitor, and modify their thought patterns. Art Costa suggests that all readers must develop three broad reading comprehension habits: self-managing, self-monitoring, and self-modifying (Billmeyer, 2004).

Strategic readers are self-managing. They approach their text as a form of problem solving; the problem is to create meaning from the text. They come to the task equipped with a purpose for reading, questions in mind, a flexible plan, data drawn from past experiences, anticipation of success, and creative alternatives for constructing meaning. Key Habits of Mind that help readers self-manage are applying past knowledge to new situations and questioning and posing problems.

Strategic readers are self-monitoring. Metacognition, thinking about one’s own thinking, occurs when students are aware of what goes on in their minds as they read. They monitor their thinking before, during, and after reading. Strategic readers establish metacognitive strategies such as making connections to previous learning, visualizing scenarios, and comparing with other resources. They monitor their own comprehension, conscious not only of the meaning they are making but also of the adequacy of the processes they are employing to construct that meaning. Specific Habits of Mind that help readers self-monitor are thinking about thinking and thinking and communicating with clarity and precision.

Strategic readers are self-modifying. They reflect on, evaluate, analyze, and construct meaning. They are open to altering their perceptions, biases, and conclusions, and to synthesizing new learning and applying it to future activities, tasks, and challenges. Strategic readers view each reading task as a skill-building experience—an opportunity to continually evaluate and improve meaning. Specific Habits of Mind that help readers self-modify are thinking interdependently and remaining open to continuous learning.

Reading Strategies and Activities to Foster Habits of Mind

Each comprehensive habit is supported by specific Habits of Mind necessary for developing strategic readers. This chapter examines six key Habits of Mind and makes reference to other Habits of Mind as appropriate. The key habits are the following:

  • Applying past knowledge to new situations
  • Questioning and posing problems
  • Thinking about thinking (metacognition)
  • Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
  • Thinking interdependently
  • Remaining open to continuous learning

Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations

The background knowledge of the reader greatly influences how the text is understood. Comprehension is a mental construction of what is on the page correlated with what is already known. The more knowledge a student has about a topic, the easier it is to derive meaning from new printed material on that topic.

Teachers should think of the prereading phase as an opportunity to give students a purpose for reading, to draw forth what is already known, to create interest, and to arouse curiosity. Johnston and Pearson (1982) believe that activating prior knowledge is a more accurate predictor of reading performance than IQ or test results. Because teachers are experts in their content areas and aware of what needs to be learned, they know which areas of prior knowledge should be activated to help students make the connections that will lead to understanding. For example, when approaching a reading selection on force in science, it is essential to have students draw upon what they know about mass and acceleration.

The gap between what students know and what the passage presents helps teachers determine what instruction is required during prereading. Sometimes students have misconceptions about the topic, and if teachers are aware of students’ inadequacies, they can focus particular attention on those areas. Concepts can then be explored, clarified, and approached from different perspectives. Helping students compare the differences between their misconceptions and accurate information enhances retention and understanding. Prior knowledge can be organized into two categories: knowledge about the topic and related concepts, and knowledge about the vocabulary.

In addition to the often-used K-W-L (Know, Want to Know, Learned), two prereading strategies that focus on knowledge about the topic and related concepts are the Anticipation Guide (Herber, 1978) and the DRTA—Directed Reading/Thinking Activity (Moore, Readence, & Rickelman, 1982). Strategies such as these motivate readers and activate past knowledge.

The Anticipation Guide focuses attention on the major points of a concept to be studied. Before reading, students react to statements developed about the topic. The goal is to arouse students’ curiosity by challenging their prior knowledge. The DRTA strategy asks students to record what they already know about the topic, what they are interested in learning, and finally, what they have learned about the topic during study. Whereas the Anticipation Guide is a teacher-directed strategy, the DRTA emphasizes student initiative. These strategies help the reader apply past knowledge to new situations. When teachers jump-start students’ thinking before reading, comprehension increases. (Figure 12.1 shows examples of the use of these two strategies.)

Figure 12.1. Examples of Two Prereading Strategies

Anticipation Guide
Topic: First Nation in Cyberspace
Before You Read After You Read
Agree Disagree Agree Disagree
______ ______ 1. The Internet, first developed by Paul Baran, was originally intended to be a military command-and-control system. ______ ______
______ ______ 2. The Internet is now an uncontrolled electronic freeway that circles the globe. ______ ______
______ ______ 3. Because the United States first developed the Internet, the U.S. government owns and maintains the Internet. ______ ______
______ ______ 4. The Internet has no restrictions, meaning that anyone can say anything on it at any time. ______ ______
DRTA—Directed Reading/Thinking Activity
Topic: Ancient Civilizations
What I Know I Know: Egypt is in North Africa. The Nile is the longest river in the world.

What I Think I Know: Egypt had pharaohs for their rulers. They built pyramids.

What I Think I Will Learn: How hieroglyphics were invented and how they were decoded.

What I Learned: The Rosetta Stone was key to deciphering.

Another type of prior knowledge focuses on vocabulary. It is important to help students make connections with critical terms related to the topic and to familiarize them with the meaning of words in new contexts. Comprehension improves when students are aware of critical vocabulary terms. Some teachers use the structure shown in Figure 12.2 to help students assess background knowledge about critical vocabulary terms.

Figure 12.2. Self-Assessment Tool for Vocabulary

Vocabulary Assessment—Ancient Civilizations
Unknown—I have never seen this word. Familiar—I have seen this word. I need to think about what it means. Recognized—I automatically know what this word means. In-depth—I have extensive knowledge about this word.
Platonic Pharaoh Spartan Hieroglyphics

Questioning and Posing Problems

Students do not take responsibility for their comprehension when the teacher or the textbook is the “keeper of the questions.”

Questioning is a powerful metacognitive tool to guide and monitor student learning. Self-questioning is one of the most potent cognitive tools for stimulating content learning; question generation prompts readers to search for answers that are of interest to them. The Question/Answer Relationships strategy (Raphael, 1986) is beneficial because it categorizes questions into four types: Right There, Think and Search, On My Own, and Author and You. Providing students with a cue card like that shown in Figure 12.3 supports their efforts with self-questioning.

Figure 12.3. Cue Card for Students’ Self-Questions

Right There—Literal Questions (who, when, where)

Think and Search—Interpretive Questions (draw conclusions, analyze, predict)

On My Own—Evaluative Questions (imagine, speculate, hypothesize, believe)

Author and You—Thinking Beyond Questions (interact, connect, associate)

The Enlighten Your Thinking strategy (Billmeyer, 2006b) offers a comprehensive list of questions developed for the 16 Habits of Mind. Questions can be used as an introduction to a lesson, during the lesson, or as a closure activity. Figure 12.4 shows sample questions for three of the habits.

Figure 12.4. Sample Questions Derived from Habits of Mind

Habit of Mind Sample Questions
Applying past knowledge to new situations How does the passage relate to events or experiences you have had?

How does knowing the findings of the scientist help you to understand the physical world?

Questioning and posing problems What problems led the scientist to pursue experimentation?
Thinking about thinking (metacognition) How did the author cause you to think? To feel?

When students learn how to access and build their own background knowledge, they become strategic readers. Struggling readers are often unaware of what they can bring to comprehending and learning from text. Frequently students are not aware of their own background knowledge and how they can use it to interact with the passage or to solve problems when reading. Strategic readers, on the other hand, ask themselves these kinds of questions before reading:

  • What do I know about the topic?
  • What vocabulary is related to the topic?
  • Which words or ideas might I encounter?
  • What do I know about myself as I read this type of text?

All students can learn how to think, reflect, and question in a competent manner. Questions linking content to a reader’s life provide connections when learning factual information. Training all students to generate high-level questions helps all students learn how to think effectively before, during, and after reading. The goal of strategic reading is comprehension; strategic readers use the Habit of Mindquestioning and posing problems to enhance understanding.

Thinking About Thinking (Metacognition)

Metacognition, or thinking about your own thinking, is at the heart of strategic reading. What we know today about strategic reading is a direct result of the research on metacognition.

Strategic readers use metacognitive strategies to facilitate active thinking and continuously check to see if they understand the author’s message. Strategic readers are aware of their thinking as they read, selecting appropriate self-monitoring tools. When all students are strategic readers equipped with thinking about thinking strategies, reading in the content areas will be more productive.

The Think-Aloud (Davey, 1983) causes thinking, a covert process, to become overt. It explicitly helps students understand what goes on in the mind of the reader. For example, before reading a selection the teacher might say to the class, “As I preview this passage I am wondering what enthymeme means, and I’m thinking I better find out so the passage will make sense,” or “I’m mulling over a prediction for this reading. I’m thinking it will be about three different rain forests and what makes them different.” A benefit of the Think-Aloud strategy is that it helps students understand how the mind constructs meaning when reading as well as how it thinks through difficult spots. Figure 12.5 shows a Think-Aloud self-assessment guide and strategic reading journal.

Figure 12.5. Think-Aloud Self-Assessment and Reading Journal

While I was reading, how much did I use these Think-Aloud strategies? All the time Quite often Not much Some Very little
Forming a mental picture
Connecting what I read to what I already know
Creating new questions
Strategic Reading Journal
Before Reading:

  • Write down what you’re trying to learn.
  • Brainstorm what you already know.
  • Predict what you think will happen.
  • Ask yourself a question.
During Reading:

  • Use a sticky note to mark the places in the text that jump out at you, surprise you, connect you to something in the text, or tell about something you already know about.
  • Jot your thinking on the sticky note so that you remember what your reaction was.
  • Copy some of the passage so that you can refer to it.
  • Note your reactions in the column next to the copied passage.
    • This reminds me of …
    • I was thinking about …
    • This is like …
    • This explains why …
Passage Reactions
After Reading:

  • Answer the question you asked yourself in the beginning.
  • Summarize what happened or key points in a paragraph or an outline.
  • Tell why what happened is important.

To become a strategic reader means developing awareness of oneself as a reader and knowing fix-it strategies to solve problems that may occur when reading. Through direct teaching of the Habit of Mindthinking about thinking, students can become strategic readers.

Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision

One of the biggest challenges in creating strategic readers is to teach students to think about and to engage in meaningful use of vocabulary. In her presentations, Heidi Hayes Jacobs (2006) has been heard to say, “If I were to do one thing to raise test scores, even on standardized tests, it would be to build vocabulary. In chemistry, for example, students would write ‘Dilute the solution with three milliliters of water’ rather than simply, ‘Add more water.'”

Vocabulary activities help students think and communicate with clarity and precision. Two examples of such activities are “word walls” and “words in the news.”

Word walls. The saying “Out of sight, out of mind” highlights an important concept related to vocabulary development. Words need to be used at least six times before students internalize their meanings. Words can be displayed on a word wall to remind students to use them. Teachers and students record new or interesting words on butcher paper hung on the wall. Words can be organized into categories according to mathematical or scientific concepts, themes, origins, or letter patterns. Word walls provide quick and easy access for students during writing activities, when defining other words, or as a reference. Effective word walls are organized, placed at eye level, and highly readable.

Words in the news. A meaningful way to help students communicate with clarity and precision is to link vocabulary with current events. Teachers list the concept words from the text and ask students to make connections between the concept being studied and the current event (see Figure 12.6).

Figure 12.6. Linking Vocabulary with Current Events

Words in the News
Title and summary of the article: _________________________
Concept words:
empathy physical systems human systems
economic systems nation-state scarcity
citizen culture technology
I chose the word ____________ because _________________.
I chose the word _____________ because ________________.

Learning vocabulary words is a complex task. To gain and retain vocabulary words, students must listen to them being used multiple times, use the words as they speak, read them in context, and finally use them in meaningful writing activities. To become skilled users of new words, students will find that incorporating two Habits of Mind in particular—persisting and taking responsible risks—can pay big dividends.

Language is the visible edge of thinking. Observations, class discussions, interviews, and written surveys are methods used by teachers at all grade levels to determine students’ habits and perceptions about themselves as readers. Surveys are beneficial because they alert readers to key elements of reading, and students can monitor how their attitudes and competencies change over time. Figure 12.7 presents examples of survey questions.

Figure 12.7. Student Reading Surveys

Open-Ended Response Statements

  1. How would you describe yourself as a reader?
  2. What are your favorite topics when reading? Why are they your favorites?
  3. How do you feel when someone reads aloud to you?
  4. How do you prepare yourself to read an assignment?
  5. When you don’t understand what you read, what strategies do you use?
  6. If you were the teacher, how would you encourage students to read?
  7. If you could change one thing about yourself as a reader, what would that be?
  8. If someone gave you a $50 gift certificate from a bookstore, what would you buy?
  9. Describe the place where you feel most comfortable and confident about your reading.
  10. Why would you say reading is an important skill for life?
Short-Response Statements
Always Sometimes Never
1. I like to read at home.
2. I enjoy going to the library.
3. I like to discuss what I read with my family or my friends.
4. When I need information on a topic, I seek out reading material about it.

Survey results focus the teacher’s perception of students’ likes and dislikes, and competencies and deficiencies, thereby assisting in effective planning. Information can inform instruction in the following ways:

  • Determine which books or sections of text to read aloud
  • Determine supplemental reading material to be displayed in the classroom
  • Guide individual students toward specific books, articles, or authors
  • Determine which reading strategies to incorporate
  • Share information with other teachers who instruct the same students
  • Group students according to themes for projects or for Literature Circles
  • Share information when planning with parents or guardians

Thinking Interdependently

When readers think interdependently, they are able to work with and learn from others in reciprocal situations. Learning and talking with classmates causes readers to be active composers of meaning. Collaborative work fosters positive interdependence. Not only is content stressed, but also all students are responsible for helping group members experience success with the assigned task. Numerous reading strategies cause students to think interdependently.

The Pairs Read strategy involves students reading aloud to each other, stopping to clarify ideas as needed, and then summarizing the information read. Figure 12.8 summarizes this strategy.

Figure 12.8. Pairs Read Strategy

Read to Analyze
1. Determine the selection to be read with a partner.
2. Students work in pairs, with one student as the “reader” and the other assuming the role of the “coach.”
3. The reader reads the first paragraph or section aloud to the coach. The length of each section to be read is determined by the difficulty of the selection. Students might stop in the middle of the paragraph to discuss complex ideas, asking “What’s going on here?”
4. The reader summarizes the main idea of the section read. To push for analytical thinking, the coaching partner asks clarifying, probing, and inferential questions.
5. Students reverse roles and continue with the next section.

The L.E.T.S. Connect strategy (Billmeyer, 2006) engages the mind of the learner during a read-aloud or a video. Periodically the activity is stopped so paired learners can share with each other what they are thinking about the topic at that moment. L.E.T.S. Connect is an acronym with the following meaning:

L = Listen to the selection.

E = Engage with the content.

T = Think about the ideas and details, vocabulary, or sequence of events.

S = Say something to your partner about your thoughts.

Connect = Do all of the above steps and connect with the author, content, and other student’s thoughts. Connections are any related thoughts that enter the listener’s mind.

Although the L.E.T.S. Connect strategy emphasizes thinking interdependently, it also reinforces the Habit of Mind listening with understanding and empathy.

Discussion is a structured form of talking in which groups of students share their ideas to refine thinking and explore issues. Interactive discussions allow readers to closely examine a topic by exchanging understandings, ideas, and questions. Through dialogue students develop an awareness of their own beliefs and values about a topic. A sense of creative freedom evolves that encourages ownership of ideas and helps to build strategic readers. Two reading strategies that incorporate structured discussion are Reciprocal Teaching (Palinscar & Brown, 1984) and Literature Circles. Reciprocal Teaching is an interactive dialogue focusing on four reading attributes: predicting, clarifying, questioning, and summarizing. Students are organized into groups of four, with each student responsible for discussing one of the attributes. As students progress to the next paragraph or section in the selection, they rotate the reading skills.

Literature Circles encourage students to engage in and collaboratively process text. A Literature Circle is essentially a book club, a meeting in which people who are encountering the same text come together to discuss it. The best use of Literature Circles is when students are selecting texts they want to read, perhaps from a list predetermined by the teacher. Students assume roles to facilitate interdependent thinking; examples of roles are literary critic, conversation captain, and concept connector (Billmeyer, 2004). Strategic readers talk and listen with understanding and empathy to stimulate their thinking and to extend and refine their understanding of the content they have read. Strategies that cause readers to think interdependently not only create active minds but also deepen understanding of the selection read.

Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

Becoming a strategic reader is a lifelong process. If the goal is to create strategic readers who are independent, it is important that they exercise control of their own reading processes. Strategic control of the reading process means readers know and understand themselves as readers. For this to occur, students must establish one key Habit of Mind—remaining open to continuous learning.

An important reading attribute identified in Capturing All of the Reader Through the Reading Assessment System (Billmeyer, 2006a) is “Reflects on own reading process.” Art Costa and Bena Kallick (2000) state, “To be reflective means to mentally wander through where you have been and to try to make some sense of it” (p. 61). For students to be able to transfer the use of strategies from one context to another, they need to reflect on how individual strategies assist comprehension. As teachers incorporate strategies, it is important that they help students understand how the strategy works and why it is effective in building comprehension.

Students then can use reflective feedback to construct meaning from text and to analyze themselves as readers. Reflective opportunities range from informal conversations between the teacher and the students (“What did you learn about yourself as a reader when using the anticipation guide strategy to study cell division?”) to formal writing activities, such as writing a letter to summarize their learning or writing a letter to themselves citing insights they have gained as readers.

Journal writing is beneficial because it offers the reader time to reflect and project. When thinking is recorded, students gain a historical perspective of their work as well as an opportunity to plan. Some students find journal writing difficult; sentence stems can stimulate thinking and cause thoughtful reflection. Here are some examples of sentence stems for journal writing:

  • What I learned about myself as I used this strategy …
  • This strategy caused me to …
  • I know how to adapt strategies when …
  • When reading informative text …
  • Ideas to remember about [topic] are …

The Write to Learn strategy (Billmeyer, 2006b) allows students to think critically, explore, and experiment with ideas, and to internalize content in a different way. Students are free to express personal ideas, concerns, and questions about the concepts they are learning. This unstructured writing encourages students to remain open to continuous learning. Teachers frequently use response journals, reading logs, or learning journals as tools for free writing. Figure 12.9 is an example of a response journal for science.

Figure 12.9. Example of a Student’s Response Journal for Science

Topic: Climate, Section 1-1

I developed the book questions but have these extra questions I’m interested in too.

  • Is CO2 also in the air we breathe inside buildings?
  • Since there is a rise in CO2 will the food we eat be affected and toxify us?
  • What is El Niño?
  • As a scientist do you come up with everything yourself? What about the process of doing research and experiments?

Topic: Climate, Section 2-1

This stuff on climate isn’t half bad. Here are some things I learned. The climate is affected by two basic factors: temperature and precipitation. Latitude, elevation, and the presence of ocean currents are three factors of temperature, and prevailing winds and mountain ranges affect precipitation.

The development and monitoring of a personal reading plan, in which students set and reflect on personal reading goals, encourages students to focus on their own reading habits. Creating a personal reading plan also helps the reader develop the Habit of Mind of persisting. Writing a plan and implementing it are two different things. When students monitor and adjust their plans, they learn to persist and try another approach. Figure 12.10 shows the outline of a personal reading plan.

Figure 12.10. Personal Reading Plan

Name _________________________________

Personal reading goals:

Steps to accomplish these reading goals (which Habits of Mind will be helpful?):

Reasons why these goals are important:

Strategic readers are never complacent about their level of performance. They always strive to learn more about their competencies, attitudes, and responsibilities as readers. Because reflection is not an inherent quality of most learning environments, it is important that teachers model habits of continual learning through reflection.

How Can Students Acquire Productive Habits of Mind?

Insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

—Albert Einstein

If Einstein’s statement is true, then it seems evident that productive Habits of Mind need to be an integral part of the instructional process. Habits of Mind are alterable; people can learn to question, reflect, and think interdependently. Knowing and understanding productive mental habits encourages students to think about situations in different ways and to approach solutions with a greater probability of success.

Once students are knowledgeable about and skillful with Habits of Mind, they will become accustomed to asking themselves, “What Habits of Mind will help me to be successful in reading and understanding this material?” Changing a habit requires a conscious and conscientious effort on the part of the learner. Because nonexistent, underdeveloped, or self-defeating habits lead to poor learning, it is important to identify and teach specific mental dispositions. As teachers focus on content, it serves well to focus on Habits of Mind to increase student success. A clear, congruous correlation between course content and the Habits of Mind enhances learning of both.

Questions to consider when teaching the Habits of Mind include the following:

  • Which concept or content requires the use of specific Habits of Mind? For example, success in mathematics depends upon striving for accuracy.
  • Which habits will be introduced?
  • Which habits need to be reinforced or emphasized?
  • What is the best approach for teaching the habit? What real-life examples will help students understand?
  • How will the Habit of Mind be reinforced?
  • How might growth, refinement, and internalization of the Habit of Mind be monitored and evaluated?

Long-Term Goals

The complex act of constructing meaning from text involves Habits of Mind that are taught, learned, and optimized over time. The goal is to have students automatically employ these mental dispositions. A strategic reader, one who self-manages, self-monitors, and self-modifies, knows that mental habits influence thinking, comprehending, and learning. Just as monitoring food intake, nutrition, and exercise becomes a habit of a fit person, so does the use of Habits of Mind as they are embedded within reading strategies. As students experience success with these Habits of Mind, they will draw upon them when faced with challenging situations in reading and learning.

Teachers will discover countless ways to apply Habits of Mind to reading instruction. Just as these mental dispositions will support capable readers, so too will reading strengthen the habits and pave the way for their application throughout life. For this to occur, it is imperative that teachers consciously integrate Habits of Mind into their lessons. When the habits are intentionally taught, all students will have opportunities to acquire productive habits. A major goal of reading instruction must be to support students in developing and habituating these mental dispositions until the applications of Habits of Mind and the acts of comprehension are so interdependent as to be indistinguishable.

Billmeyer, R. (2004). Strategic reading in the content areas: Practical applications for creating a thinking environment. Omaha, NE: Rachel & Associates Inc.

Billmeyer, R. (2006a). Capturing all of the reader through the reading assessment system: Practical applications for guiding strategic learners (2nd ed.). Omaha, NE: Rachel & Associates Inc.

Billmeyer, R. (2006b). Strategies to engage the mind of the learner: Creating strategic learners (2nd ed.). Omaha, NE: Rachel & Associates Inc.

Costa, A., & Kallick, B. (2000). Assessing and reporting habits of mind. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Covey, S. R. (1989). The seven habits of highly effective people. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Davey, B. (1983). Think aloud: Modeling the cognitive processes of reading comprehension.Journal of Reading, 27(1), 44–47.

Frayer, D. A., Frederick, W. C., & Klausmeier, H. J. (1969). A schema for testing the level of concept mastery (Technical Report No. 16). Madison: University of Wisconsin Research and Development Center for Cognitive Learning.

Herber, H. (1978). Teaching reading in content areas (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Jacobs, H. H. (2006). Active literacy across the curriculum. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

Johnston, P., & Pearson, D. (1982). Prior knowledge, connectivity and the assessment of reading comprehension (Technical Report No. 245). Champaign: University of Illinois, Center for the Study of Reading.

Moore, D. W., Readence, J. E., & Rickelman, R. J. (1982). Rereading activities for content area reading and learning. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Palinscar, A. S., & Brown, A. L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1(5), 117–175.

Raphael, T. E. (1986). Teaching question-answer relationships, revisited. The Reading Teacher, 39, 516–522.


Getting into the right mindset for better learning

Getting into the right mindset for better learning

Developing a desire to learn
Embracing challenges
Persisting in the face of setbacks
See EFFORT as the path to Mastery
Learn from criticism

So where do we sit as teachers? It’s a tough job teaching, and it’s getting harder and harder with all the bureaucratic requirements. Regardless, though, are we willing to accept the Fixed Mindset in our students? Or in ourselves?
OR are we going to embrace the Growth Mindset model and strive to get every one of our students to improve through our and their hard work?
Reflect for a moment on the five categories within the Infographic’s take on Mindsets.
CHALLENGES: Do we avoid challenging our students/ourselves for fear they/we will struggle?
Do we embrace the potential benefits of the struggle and grow as a result?
OBSTACLES: Do we allow our children/ourselves to give up when learning becomes too difficult and stay in a growth- limiting ‘comfort zone’?
Do we expect our childen/ourselves to persist until we overcome those obstacles and celebrate the achievement of success against all odds?
EFFORT: Do we resign ourselves to a predetermined level of achievement and accept that trying is fruitless and improvement is impossible?
Do we realise that sustained effort is the path to real learning FOR ANYONE?
CRITICISM: Do we avoid/ignore/complain about justifiable criticism because we are more worried about self-esteem than improvement?
Do we actively seek out critical feedback for our students and ourselves to improve learning?
SUCCESS OF OTHERS: Do we avoid helping and working with others, seeking advice from others because we are threatened by being seen as inferior or worried we are making others look better than you (applies to students and us)?
Do we actively seek out help, get inspired by others’ work, learn from their successes and improve ourselves as a result of trying to match them?


Good listener and Bad listener

The Habits of Mind are defined as the dispositions that are skillfully and mindfully employed by characteristically successful people when confronted with problems, the solutions to which are not immediately apparent.

The Habits of Mind were derived by Art Costa and subsequently expanded upon by himself and his co-author Bena Kallick. In the video below Professor Costa briefly describes what the Habits of Mind are

16 habits of mind

habits of mind summary sheet



Using mind maps to develop writing
Submitted by TE Editor on 24 January, 2005 – 12:00

Mind maps can be used for a multitude of purposes. This article outlines how they can effectively be used to help support and develop students’ writing skills.

  • A mind map is …
  • The advantages of mind maps
  • How to make mind maps with your students
    • Choosing a topic
    • Note making
    • Feedback
    • Organising mind maps
    • Writing
    • Continuation

A mind map is …
A mind map, or spidergram, is a strategy for making notes on a topic, prior to writing. It is a structured strategy, which shows the (hierarchical) relationship of ideas, as opposed to an unstructured strategy, such as brainstorming, in which students produce notes at random on paper.

Having an organised display of information from the outset of the writing process may help some students, as it is more easily converted into a draft, whereas in brainstorming, the random recording of ideas might lead to problems with the structure of students’ texts.

The advantages of mind maps
Making a mind map should be a spontaneous pre-writing activity. Students start with a topic at the centre and then generate a web of ideas from that, developing and relating these ideas as their mind makes associations.

Mind maps work well as their visual design enables students to see the relationship between ideas, and encourages them to group certain ideas together as they proceed. Mind maps work especially well when created in groups, since the discussion this engenders aids the production of ideas, and makes the task livelier and more enjoyable.

How to make mind maps with your students
Choosing a topic
Traditionally, students are given a topic to write on by the teacher. However, with certain classes, students may prefer to nominate the topic themselves. This can lead to greater interest in the task on the part of the student, as well as, perhaps, greater knowledge of the topic under study.

The mind map strategy can be used to explore almost any topic, though discursive essays and narrative work particularly well as they front students’ ideas and lend themselves to discussing ideas in groups.

I usually start by writing the topic on the board. In the last writing class I taught, with a group of upper-intermediate students, I chose a discursive essay with the title “Why do people start smoking?” I chose this genre as we had recently been looking at the language used to give reasons and explanations. The discursive text is useful in highlighting this feature of English, and in raising awareness of the noun phrase, a particularly tricky area for intermediate students.

Note making
Once the topic has been introduced, I encourage my students to close their eyes and think about it for a minute or two, in silence. They then have two minutes in which to note down their ideas. If they do not know a word in English, they can write it in L1 at this stage, as dictionaries or too much teacher intervention tend to halt and inhibit the creative flow.

Then, working in groups, they can compare and discuss their ideas, perhaps adding to their mind maps as they go. This stage also provides the opportunity for peer teaching, as other students may be available to provide the English word for the idea that was noted down in L1.

The next stage, in which the teacher makes a collective mind map on the board, is optional, but is useful for students who are new to the idea of mind maps, or for weak classes. It is also in this feedback stage that any remaining language problems can be ironed out. As the teacher elicits students’ ideas, and reformulates expressions or corrects, students will learn how to express their ideas in English. Such personalisation is said to aid vocabulary learning.

Download an example of the mind map at this stage 90k

The map is fluid and changeable, and new connections or subgroups can be made, or branches added, as the students make suggestions. The end result should be an organised display of information, showing the central topic, and a number of subtopics and further points that stem from it.

Organising mind maps
In the next stage the students organise their mind maps into a linear format to decide the best way in which to present their points. They should first think about the overall structure, i.e. the order in which to relay the information, and then focus on the precise function each paragraph will have in their final text, as this helps to clarify their writing. This can be done in groups, or as a class with the teacher leading the discussion.

However it is carried out, it is important to provide a context and audience. I told my class, who were writing about drugs, that they were writing for their college magazine. Having an audience in mind helps students to decide which ideas are most important, and also helps students to choose the appropriate style.

Students should then begin to write their compositions, working in pairs if they wish. After two paragraphs, they should exchange their compositions, so they become readers of each other’s work. This allows for feedback, and possible re-writing. Once they have finished, they should again exchange their texts. This gives their texts a communicative purpose, as well as developing an awareness of the fact that a writer is always producing something to be read by someone else, rather than for the display of writing alone.

Once students are familiar with the idea of making mind maps, they can be encouraged to use this skill for further writing activities. It is a useful technique and often improves the clarity and organisation of student texts.

Further Reading
‘Process Writing’ by Ron White and Valerie Arndt
‘How to Teach Writing’ by Jeremy Harmer
‘Writing’ by Tricia Hedge
‘Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers’ by Michael McCarthy