Virginia Mahlke

Virginia Mahlke is a consultant who works with educators and administrators nationwide. Her experience as both a teacher and administrator allows her to connect with all levels of school staff.

School Is a Home for the Mind

"School is a home for the mind." - Arthur Costa

Ask most teachers and they will tell you they wish they had more strategies/training/resources to challenge their students to think for themselves; to acquire and use a repertoire of strategies that will help them attack a problem or situation for which there is no immediate or obvious answer. The importance of this aspect of student learning has become glaringly obvious with the increased rigor of Common Core standards and the assessments used to measure proficiency in those standards.

When we confronted this issue at my school, we did some action research and shared learning to see what we could infuse into our instructional program to teach students to be confident problem attackers and solvers. We settled on Arthur Costa’s Habits of Mind as our guide.  Rebecca DuFour refers to these as “dispositions of learning.” 

At the time we brought these into our lesson planning, there were 16 of them:

  1.  PERSISTENCE – keep trying; don’t give up
  2.  DECREASING IMPULSIVITY – think before you say or do something
  3.  LISTENING TO OTHERS WITH UNDERSTANDING – listen well and try to imagine yourself as the other person
  4.  FLEXIBILITY IN THINKING – try hard to think of lots of ideas or answers
  5.  METACOGNITION – think about how you learn and process information
  6.  CHECKING FOR ACCURACY – always go back and check your work; look hard for mistakes
  7.  QUESTIONING AND PROBLEM POSING – ask questions to help you learn more
  8.  DRAWING ON PAST KNOWLEDGE – think about what you already know and how it can help you learn something new
  9.  PRECISION OF LANGUAGE – try to find the BEST word, not the first word you think of
  10.  USING ALL THE SENSES – be aware of things around you and use your eyes and ears, as well as your brain
  11.  INGENUITY AND ORIGINALITY – try to think of a question or an answer that no one else will think of
  12.  WONDERMENT AND CURIOSITY – always be ready to learn something new; make learning an adventure
  13.  TAKING RESPONSIBLE RISKS – try new things that seem hard, always keeping safety in mind
  14.  FINDING HUMOR – have fun learning; laugh at situations, not at people
  15.  THINKING INTERDEPENDENTLY – work well with others; share ideas and materials
  16.  REMAINING OPEN TO CONTINUOUS LEARNING – always keep an open mind; you can learn something from each person in the class

We asked our K–6 students to:

  •          Set a personal goal to improve on a habit
  •          Determine how characters in a story demonstrated the habits
  •          Analyze how historical figures used the habits
  •          Talk about the habits when they went home

We asked our teachers to:

  •          Emphasize the habits in all of their content
  •          Inform parents of the habits they were working on
  •          Incorporate the use of the habits into assessments

The outcomes surprised us. We had parents ask for a list to take to work. We had a first grader tell her parents “I know – I need to decrease my impulsivity” when scolded for acting out at the dinner table. Students, including those in kindergarten, began to talk in an informed way about the habits. Classroom management issues were resolved by discussing the habit the student needed to work on. Students became clear about not only WHAT they needed to learn but also about HOW they needed to approach learning.

As I have worked with the PLC at Work model, with the emphasis on teacher collaboration, I see definite and specific applications of Costa’s Habits of Mind to the collaborative process. I’d recommend them to a team looking for more sophisticated and substantive norms to drive their work (those teams who are ready to move on from norms addressing being on time or coming prepared with materials).

Resources that may support your research and application of Habits of Mind:

1.     Habits of Mind Across the Curriculum: Practical and Creative Strategies for Teachers, Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick, 2009

2.     Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success, Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick, 2008

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