A conscious understanding of the thought process can help learners build knowledge through their own experiences – habits of the mind build knowledge. Making learners understand their mental states and cognitive processes is key to developing thinking.

In project and problem-based learning environments, there are generally three elements at play: learning goals and objectives are drawn from given standards, some kind of instruction is given and learning outcomes are assessed. These assessments provide data that inform the direction of further learning.

Unfortunately, missing in this clinical sequence are the habits of the mind that often define the learner’s success or failure in the mastery of the subject matter. In fact, it is these personal habits rather than the standards or assessment where success or failure in the classroom actually begins.

So, what are the habits of the mind for teachers?

These are dispositions that are carefully and deliberately employed by characteristically smart, successful individuals when confronted by challenges. These habits are not new at all. In fact, significant effort has been made to demystify these thinking habits.

However, the 21st-century learning environment, typically flooded with information, connectivity, and stimulation, is a newfound context for their application.

Habits of the mind curriculum

Developed by Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick, these 16 Habits of Mind do not merely represent sherds of practice that you can add on to what you are already doing. Rather, they are new ways to think about how modern students are learning.

1. Share thoughts

The more your learners publish and share their thinking, the more opportunities they will have for cognitive interdependence. Therefore, encourage your students to learn from their peers in reciprocal situations and hold on to their decisions.

2. Revisit learned concepts

Encourage your students to intermittently revisit old concepts, writing, and projects to potential areas that need revision, improvement or development. This is especially important in digital domains where content is constantly changing.

In light of the overwhelming evidence, learning experts acknowledge that the learner’s success cannot be measured by milestones like Passed geometry in high school or Learnt Chinese in sixth grade but by how they process information.

3. Inspire patience

Inspire the culture of patience in your classroom, including wait time during group discussions or adoption of helpful sentence stems that are reflective of intentional choices. The idea here is to encourage your students to explore various scenarios and think before speaking.

4. Attributes of persistence

Have your learners identify attributes of persistence manifested by individuals in well-known incidents, or imagine what might have happened if characters showed more or less persistence in a given situation. The goal is to get your learners to appreciate the importance of sticking with a problem, even if it is difficult and seems hopeless.

5. Empathetic listening

Highlight the most common listening set-asides in class discussions so learners can begin to identify common errors that people make in everyday communication. Some of these errors may include judging, comparing, giving strong opinions, or placating rather than really taking time to listen and understand the message.

The key point here is to pay attention to rather than dismissing other people’s feelings, thoughts, and ideas.

6. Learned understanding

During class discussions, use question stems like Have you ever seen something like this before? or What do you remember about this? Whether you are operating on prior knowledge or simply trying to get learners more comfortable and in tune with what they already know, it can be a significant boost to the learning. The idea is to factor the students’ prior knowledge and experience.

7. Keep an eye on errors

This has to do with keeping an eye on errors. Encourage your students to check, and cross-check, their assignments before handing them in for correction.

8. Open to questions

As a teacher, try to create a “parking lot” area within the classroom environment where learners can submit questions that may otherwise not fit into the format or pace of the class. Then periodically highlight the better questions, or use them as starting points for lesson planning or class discussions. The idea here is to develop a questioning culture and attitude.

9. Transmit clarity

Consistently remind your learners to avoid abstraction and vagueness during conversations. Most importantly, let them know why they should avoid the use of abstract or vague words. The goal is to ensure clarity in written and spoken communication.

10. Allow passions to exist

Do not just allow your learners to choose topics, formats, or learning pathways … insist on them. Avoid the temptation to move the class forward before they can bring their own passions into the learning process.

11. Safe risk-taking

Consider introducing your learners to new but safe concepts. Do not let the fear of failure stand on your way. Instead, create a learning environment where failure is analyzed and corrected rather than punished or ridiculed.

12. Gathered resources

In a relaxed environment, encourage your learners to cite traditional textual sources as well as sensory data sources. Also, encourage learners to include gathered resources in their assignments for assessment.

13. Other perspectives

Using Role, Audience, Format, Topic or RAFT assignments where learners get to assess a situation, speech, poem, or letter from a perspective different from their own, or that of the original authors. The point here is to train your learners to consider other group members’ input.

14. Meta-thinking (thinking about thinking)

Ask your learners to try and map out their individual thinking processes. This can be done by diagramming the relationship between needs and wants, or gestures and the need to gesture. Then, try to make it a little complex by getting the class to try to map how characters in a book arrived at a certain starting or stopping point.

The idea is to think about the impact of choices on the self as well as other people.

15. Pursue perfection

Provide your learners with consistent sources of inspiring designs, thoughts, or multimedia through discussion points, writing prompts, or simply as a routine class closure. Besides inspiring creativity, this also motivates learners to pursue perfection while broadening their skills. The key here is to think about how certain things might be done differently from the norm.

16. The quest of humor

Humor is a well-recognized as the antidote for everything from disagreements to stress and tension, all the way to sorrow and unhappiness. As a teacher, do not hesitate to point out humor even when it is not very apparent. This will help establish the relativity of things, encourage open discussions and support accurate analysis. Humor has a unique way of making everything better.

The habits of the mind for teachers takeaway?

One curated list of mental skills that have become an educational buzz over the years is Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick’s list of 16 Habits of the Mind. It is important that every teacher figures out how to integrate these habits into their classrooms.