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Habits of Mind That Thinkers Use In Problem Situations

November 2012 • Sue Jackson

Studies suggest when students have the opportunity to participate in a problem-based, inquiry-learning environment where they are free to ask questions and explore ideas, they develop flexible knowledge which can be used in novel situations, build skill in effective problem-solving, and perhaps most importantly, develop the habits of mind necessary for success. This month's teaching tip explores: What are the habits of mind that thinkers use in problem situations?

Research into effective thinking and intelligent behaviour has shown that innovative and industrious thinkers demonstrate several identifiable characteristics; often referred to as the 'habits of mind'. The characteristics describe what intelligent people do when confronted with problems, the resolutions to which are not immediately apparent. In other words, the habits of mind are positive and productive thinking tendencies that guide intellectual behaviour. Costa and Kallick (2000) have outlined sixteen habits of mind. Of course, these behaviours are not performed in isolation—there are clusters of behaviours used in various situations.

In the classroom and at home these "thinking dispositions can be encouraged and guided, can be employed by individuals more consciously, and can also become nearly automatic. They can be taught." (Nine Thousand Straws: Teaching Thinking Through Open-Inquiry Learning, Knodt, 2008, p. 24)

The Habits of Mind

Persisting - Stick to it!
- staying at a task until it is completed
- remaining focused
- looking for ways to reach your goal when stuck
- not giving up
Managing Impulsivity - Take your time!
- thinking before you act
- remaining calm
- being thoughtful and deliberate
Listening with Understanding and Empathy - Understand others!
- listening attentively to another person's thoughts and ideas
- making an effort to understand another person's point of view or emotions
Thinking Flexibly - Look at it another way!
-being able to change your mind when you get new information
- generating alternatives
- considering options
Metacognition - Know your knowing!
- being aware of your own thoughts, strategies, feelings, and actions and their effects on others and the environment
- developing a plan of action
- evaluating your plan
Striving for Accuracy - Check it again!
- doing your best all the time
- setting high standards
- checking and finding ways to improve constantly
Questioning and Posing Problems - How do you know?
- have a questioning attitude
- knowing what data are needed
- developing questioning strategies to produce those data
- finding problems to solve
Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations - Use what you learn!
- accessing prior knowledge
- transferring knowledge beyond the situation in which it was learned
Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision - Be clear!
- striving for accurate communication in both written and oral form
- using precise language, defining terms, using correct names, labels, and analogies
- supporting statements with explanations, comparisons, quantification, and evidence
Gather Data Through All Senses - Use your natural pathways!
- paying attention to the world around you
- gathering data through all the senses: taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight
Creating, Imagining, and Innovating - Try a different way!
- generating new and novel ideas
- being fluent and original
Responding with Wonderment and Awe - Have fun figuring it out!
- finding the world awesome and mysterious
- being intrigued with phenomena and beauty
- being enthusiastic and passionate about learning
Taking Responsible Risks - Venture out!
- being adventuresome
- living on the edge of one's competence
- trying new things constantly
Finding Humour - Laugh a little!
- finding the whimsical, incongruous, and unexpected
- being able to laugh at oneself
Thinking Interdependently - Work together!
- being able to work in and learn from others in reciprocal situations
- working as a team
Remaining Open to Continuous Learning - I have so much more to learn!
- having humility and pride when admitting we don't know
- resisting complacency
Adapted from Describing 16 Habits of Mind by Costa and Kallick, 2000

If you would like further information about the habits of mind, check out the following websites:

• (for primary teachers)

Stay tuned for next month's tip which outlines strategies to help you teach the 'habits of mind'.

Sue Jackson, a classroom teacher for 20 years, is an enthusiastic and innovative author, speaker, consultant, and educator.

Scholastic Education
National Literacy Consultant

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Also available online, previous Teaching Tips for
Scholastic Education resources:

Literacy Place for the Early Years (K–3)

Moving Up with Literacy Place (4–6)

Stepping Up with Literacy Place (7–9)

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