How children think matters and without particular dispositions or habits of mind, learning can be lumpy and bumpy.
But these need to be taught and shared.
According to Costa and Kallick (2000), there are 16 characteristics of habits of mind that cut across every subject discipline:
“Efficacious people stick to a task until it is completed. They don’t give up easily.”
Persisting is a problem for children because they can quickly abandon their efforts when things don’t go well the first time. But persistent learners don’t throw in the towel. They are able to analyse a problem, to develop a system, structure, or strategy to attack a problem. They are able to draw on a repertoire of alternative strategies for problem solving.
They stick to a task, follow through to completion, have a can-do attitude and remain focused.
2. Managing impulsivity
“Effective problem solvers have a sense of deliberativeness: They think before they act.”
Being impulsive is commonplace in a classroom. Children might say the first thing that comes into their head or start working on something with understanding the instructions. Reflective learners don’t jump straight in but check what they need to do, develop a plan before they start and consider alternatives.
They take time to consider options, think before speaking or acting, stay calm when stressed or challenged. They are thoughtful and considerate of others and proceed carefully.
3. Listening to others with understanding and empathy
“Highly effective people spend an inordinate amount of time and energy listening.” (Covey, 1989).
The ability to listen to another person, to empathise with, and to understand their point of view is tricky for all of us and certainly not something we expect children to learn easily.
Senge et al (1994) note that to listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words. You listen not only to the “music”, but also to the essence of the person speaking.
Children who are active listeners pay attention to and do not dismiss another person’s thoughts, feeling and ideas. They try to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. They hold their thoughts at a distance in order to respect another person’s point of view and feelings.
4. Thinking flexibly
“Flexible people are the ones with the most control. They have the capacity to change their mind as they receive additional data.”
Some children can’t always see an alternative point of view or deal with more than one classification system simultaneously. They see their way as the only way.
Flexible thinkers are open to different ways of working, seek novel approaches and envision a range of consequences. They are able to change perspective, consider the input of others, generate alternatives and weigh-up options.
5. Thinking about our thinking (metacognition)
Metacognition means becoming increasingly aware of one’s actions and the effect of those actions on others and on the environment. It is our ability to know what we know and what we don’t know.
Metacognition is our ability to plan a strategy for producing what information is needed, to be conscious of our own steps and strategies during the act of problem solving, and to reflect on and evaluate the productiveness of our own thinking.
People that are metacognitive are aware of their own thoughts, feelings, intentions and actions. They knowing what they do and say affects others. They are willing to consider the impact of choices on themselves and others.
6. Striving for accuracy and precision
“Embodied in the stamina, grace and elegance of a ballerina or a shoemaker, is the desire for craftsmanship, mastery, flawlessness and economy of energy to produce exceptional results.”
People who value accuracy, precision and craftsmanship take time to check over what they produce. Children who lack this habit tend to hand in messy and sloppy work. They check for errors, ‘measure’ at least twice, nurture a desire for exactness,
fidelity and craftsmanship.
7. Questioning and posing problems
Effective problem solvers know how to ask questions to fill in the gaps between what they know and what they don’t know.
They ask a range of questions such as requests for more information to support others’ conclusions and assumptions, e.g.
“What evidence do you have…..?”
“How do you know that’s true?”
“How reliable is this data source?”
Children need to know and learn questions so they can understand that they vary in complexity, structure and purpose.
They ask themselves, “How do I know?” and consider what information is needed, choose strategies to get that information and consider the obstacles needed to resolve.
8. Applying past knowledge to new situations
We learn from experience by abstracting meaning from one experience, carry it forth, and apply it in a new and novel situation.
They use what is learned, consider prior knowledge and experience and apply knowledge beyond the situation in which it was learned.
They can often be heard to say, “This reminds me of….” or “This is just like the time when I…” They explain what they are doing
now in terms of analogies with or references to previous experiences.
9. Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
Intelligent people strive to communicate accurately in both written and oral form taking care to use precise language, defining terms, using correct names and universal labels and analogies.
Children use vague and imprecise language and describe objects or events with words like weird, nice, or OK. They call specific objects using such non-descriptive words as stuff, junk and things.
Effective communicators try hard to be clear when speaking and writing. They are clear and precise in the use of language, avoid overgeneralizations and support statements with explanations, comparisons, quantification, and evidence.
10. Gathering Data through All Senses
Some people can go through life oblivious to the textures, rhythms, patterns sounds and colours around them.
Intelligent people know that all information gets into the brain through the sensory pathways: gustatory, olfactory, tactile, kinesthetic, auditory, visual. Most linguistic, cultural, and physical learning is derived from the environment by observing or taking in through the senses.
They stop to observe what they see; listen to what they hear; take note of what they smell; taste what they are eating; feel what they are touching.
11. Creating, imagining, and innovating
Creative human beings try to conceive problem solutions differently, examining alternative possibilities from many angles.
What they don’t do is say things like “I can’t draw,” “I’m not very creative,” “I can’t sing a note,” etc. Creative people take risks and frequently push the boundaries of their perceived limits (Perkins 1985).
They think about how something might be done differently from the “norm”, come up with new ideas, strive for originality and consider novel suggestions.
12. Responding with wonderment and awe
They are creative thinkers who have a passion for what they do.
“Efficacious people have not only an “I CAN” attitude, but also an “I ENJOY” feeling. They seek problems to solve for themselves and to submit to others. They delight in making up problems to solve on their own and request enigmas from others. They enjoy figuring things out by themselves, and continue to learn throughout their lifetimes.”
They are intrigued by the world’s beauty, nature’s power and vastness for the universe. They have regard for what is awe-inspiring and receptive to the little and big surprises in life.
13. Taking responsible risks
“Flexible people seem to have an almost uncontrollable urge to go beyond established limits. They are uneasy about comfort; they “live on the edge of their competence.”
They accept confusion, uncertainty, and the higher risks of failure as part of the normal process and they learn to view setbacks as interesting, challenging and growth producing.
Children need to go against the grain, place themselves in situations where they do not know what the outcome will be, try out new ideas and be different.
Risk-takers are willing to try something new and different and face the fear of making mistakes or of coming up
short with positivity.
14. Finding humour
People with funny bones have the ability to perceive situations from an original and often interesting vantage point.
Laughter has been found to “liberate creativity and provoke such higher level thinking skills as anticipation, finding novel relationships, visual imagery, and making analogies.”
People with a sense of humour look for the whimsical, absurd, ironic and unexpected in life. They can laugh at themselves.
15. Thinking interdependently
Human beings are social beings and we draw energy from each other. Cooperative humans realise that all of us together are more powerful, intellectually and/or physically, than any one individual.
Children need to work in groups because it develops a range of skills:
“Listening, consensus seeking, giving up an idea to work with someone else’s, empathy, compassion, group leadership, knowing how to support group efforts, altruism – all are behaviours indicative of cooperative human beings.”
Those who can work as connected learners welcome the input of others and their different perspectives. They abide by decisions a group makes even if they disagree. They are willing to learn from others in reciprocal situations.
16. Learning continuously
Intelligent people are in a continuous learning mode. Their confidence, in combination with their inquisitiveness, allows them to constantly search for new and better ways.
“People with this Habit of Mind are always striving for improvement, always growing, always learning, always modifying
and improving themselves.”
They are open to new experiences to learn from, they are proud and humble enough to admit when they don’t know and welcome new information on all subjects.
These 16 habits of mind might be considered soft skills but these are essential skills that underpin all learning.