A little while ago a fellow teacher was talking to me and mentioned “The Habits of Mind” This was not something that I was aware of, so in my professional curiosity I looked this up and discovered the following reading online. Below are my notes and thoughts on this theory of thinking.

Describing 16 Habits of Mind by Arthur L Costa and Bena Kallick.


Habits of Mind describe the attributes that humans display when they are behaving intelligently. They are the characteristics of what intelligent people do when confronted with problems, the resolution to which are not immediately apparent.

The first Habit of Mind is Persisting:

Costa and Kallick include a quote with each Habit, this one from Marabel Morgan:

Persistence is the twin sister of Excellence. One is a matter of quality; the other a matter of time.

Efficacious people stick to a task until it is completed. They are able to analyse a problem, develop a system, structure or strategy to attack a problem. They employ a range of alternative strategies for problem solving. If one does not work they are able to back up and employ another option, and they recognise when this is necessary. They know how to begin solving a problem, know what steps need to be performed and what data will be needed or generated. Because of this, they are comfortable in ambiguous situations.

We need to teach persistence because students often give up when the “can’t do it” or find something too hard. It is our job to look for the cause of this – do they lack the attention or do they lack the necessary strategies in order to choose an alternative approach?

Managing Impulsivity:

Effective problem solvers have a sense of deliberateness: they think before they act. They withhold immediate judgement until they understand an idea. They are reflective and consider the outcomes of their actions before they make them.

We need to teach students to make considerate choices and consider more than one idea when attempting to solve a problem.

Listening to Others – With Understanding and Empathy:

Listening is the beginning of understanding. Wisdom is the reward for a lifetime of listening. Let the wise listen and add to their learning and let the discerning get guidance. Proverbs 1:5

Highly effective people spend an inordinate amount of time listening (Covey, 1989) Being able to paraphrase others’ ideas, detecting indicators of their feelings in their oral or body language and accurately expressing another person’s concepts, emotions, problems helps a student connect with the diverse perspectives of others.

To listen fully means that you pay close attention to what is being said under the words (Senge 1994).

We spend 55% of our lives listening, but it is one of the least taught skills in schools. We should be teaching students to learn to devote their mental energies to another person and invest themselves in others’ ideas.

“We wish students to learn to hold in abeyance their own values, judgements, opinions, and prejudices in order to listen to and entertain another person’s thoughts. This is a very complex skill requiring the ability to monitor one’s own thoughts while, at the same time, attending to the partner’s words. This does not mean that we can’t disagree with someone. A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.”

Thinking Flexibly:

If you never change your mind, why have one? Edward deBono

Flexible people have the ability to change their mind as they receive additional data. Flexible people create and seek novel approaches and have a well-developed sense of humour.

deBono refers to this as “lateral thinking”

To consider for further reading: Egocentrism, Allocentrism, Macro-centric – perceptual positions.

Thinking about our thinking (metacognition):

When the mind is thinking it is talking to itself Plato

Metacognition is our ability to know what we know and know what we don’t know. It 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. The major components of metacognition are developing a plan of action, maintaining that plan in mind over a period of time, then reflecting back on and evaluating the plan upon its completion.

Striving for Accuracy and Precision:

A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it is committing another mistake. Confucius.

Some students may turn in sloppy, incomplete or uncorrected work. They are more anxious to get rid of the assignment than to check it over for accuracy and precision. They are willing to suffice with minimum effort, rather than investing their maximum. They are more interested in expedience rather than excellence.

Of all the Habits of Mind, I find this the most challenging as a teacher. Having the persistence myself to return the work and not accept the work until it meets a higher standard. Teaching this is un-teaching laziness and takes commitment.

Questioning and Posing Problems:

The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advances. Albert Einstein.

This connects to the IB LPA of Inquirer.

Applying Past Knowledge:

I’ve never made a mistake. I’ve only learned from experience. Thomas A. Edison.

Intelligent human beings learn from the past. They bring past experiences to new problems to aid them in their understanding and problem solving.

Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision:

Enriching the complexity and specificity of language simultaneously produces effective thinking. It is important that we, as teachers, are teaching our students the right language to express themselves effectively and efficiently. If we do not have the right vocabulary, how can they learn?

Gathering Data through All Senses:

Intelligent people know that all information gets into the brain through the sensory pathways: gustatory, olfactory, tactile, kinesthetic, auditory, visual, linguistic, cultural, physical – learning is derived from the environment by observing and taking in through the senses.

Forming mental images is important in mathematics and engineering. Listening to classical music seems to improve spatial reasoning.

Creating, Imagining and Innovating:

Creative people take risks and push the boundaries. Creative people are open to criticism.

All human beings have the capacity to be creative – if that capacity is developed.

Responding with Wonderment and Awe:

Efficacious people not only have a “CAN DO” attitude, but also an “I ENJOY” feeling. They continue learning throughout their lives.

We want our students to be curious. We want them to feel compelled, enthusiastic and passionate about learning, inquiring and mastering.

Taking Responsible Risks:

Flexible people seem to have an uncontrollable urge to go beyond established limits.However, their risks are educated. They draw on past knowledge, they are thoughtful about the consequences and have a well-trained sense of what is appropriate.

The only way to succeed is to be brave enough to risk failure.

We need to guide our students so that they are not concerned with whether the answer is right or wrong, but driven to discover the right answer.

Students who are capable of being different, going against the grain, thinking of new ideas and testing them with peers as well as teachers, are more likely to be successful in this age of innovation and uncertainty.

Finding Humour:

Humour, and the ability to find humour can lead to higher level thinking.

Thinking Interdependently:

Working together for the greater good. Listening, consensus seeking, giving up an idea to work with someone else’s, empathy, compassion, group leadership, knowing how to support group efforts, altruism.

Learning Continuously:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Albert Einstein.

Intelligent people are in a continuous learning mode. People with this Habit of Mind are always striving for improvement, always growing, always learning, always modifying and improving themselves.

We should be developing capabilities for effective and thoughtful action in our students, rather than figuring out the truth.

From reading this paper on Habits of Mind, I see that I exhibit many of these and unknowingly perform these Habits in my teaching and in my life. I can see immense value in teaching these Habits and already see connections between subject content and the Habits. There is correlation between the Habits and the Learner Profile Attributes in the MYP and also the Approaches to Learning. I will be considering these the next time I am planning, and also consider them as I teach my way through this term. How can I use these in my day-to-day lessons and teach the Habits of Mind?

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Aristotle.