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Habits of Mind : Part One

Our school district is looking into taking the leap to become more dependent on PBL (Problem-Based Learning). District heads felt that one of the best building blocks for this would be to have us implement the Habits of Mind from Costa and Kallick. I, among others, was a little flustered with yet another new thing that the district still wasn’t sure how to implement. We simply want to know what to expect, how to teach it in our classrooms, but we keep getting confirmations that ‘It’s going to be great!’ without any answers.However, the Habits of Mind are something that I feel can benefit any school.

When you read anything from Costa and Kallick about the Habits of Mind, it can seem a little overwhelming, but in short, the goal is to help create successful students and human beings. Each one of these is a habit or mindset that will help drive a student to keep trying, to try a different approach, to be a good listener, and to ultimately help them be able to make good choices no matter the situation. For our district, each grade starting in Kindergarten focuses on 1-2 Habits of Mind until they have all 16. Kindergarten starts with Managing Impulsivity, whereas my 6th graders were focused on Metacognition and Persisting.

Below, I have the first 4 Habits of Mind. I’ve boiled it down to what each habit really means along with some ideas on how to implement it in your classroom.


“Winners are not people who never fail but people who never quit.”

- unknown

The ideas are easy; stick to it! Try to remain focused on the task at hand. If you’re stuck, look for other ways to reach your goal. For 6th grade, we boiled it down to Grit. We had students read an article about a football player that focused on grit. They had to use the circle map beforehand to write what they know about grit. Even this far West, the general consensus was that it was a food you find farther South and Southwest. We also had students take Angela Duckworth’s Grit Test to find out how Gritty they were and talked about how it isn’t static. We can get more. Each student sat down and thought of how they could use more persistence.

In class, I warn students beforehand if we are starting a project that I feel may be challenging. I let them know they’re going to have to use their grit and persistence to get through it. When students are having issues staying on task or hit a wall on a project I often have a one-on-one quickly with them about making sure that they are being persistent to get this project done and ask if they have any ideas on how to get them to their goal.

Managing Impulsivity

“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.” – Lorraine Hansberry

This habit is the first one that our district’s Kindergarteners have to focus on, and for good reason. I was a substitute in many Kindergarten classrooms and many kids at this age are still working on using their words instead of their fists when they are upset. However, even High School aged children have difficulty with managing impulsivity on occasion. This habit should get them closer to thinking before they act or speak, try to keep calm when things get difficult or frustrating, and to consider the options before making a rash decision.

In the classroom, this can be very helpful in behavior management. It happens; a student gets frustrated or stressed and they act out on other students, teachers, objects, or themselves. Sometimes it helps to remind students of this habit and help them generate alternative ideas to what their rash decision could be or already was. Remind students that the rash decision (anything from the words you say to deciding what college to attend) may not always be the best and it would benefit them to maybe sit and think awhile.

Listening with Understanding

and Empathy

“Listening is as important as talking. If you’re a good listener, people often compliment you for being a good conversationalist.”

– Jesse Ventura

The easiest way to explain this one is to put yourself in their shoes. This has helped a lot in language arts on two fronts. On the one side, we used it for thinking about audience. Whether you’re creating a fake commercial, writing an argument, or participating in Socratic seminar. Think about your opposition and what they might be thinking and why. In Socratic seminar, always try to understand how others came up with their ideas or questions. Never belittle someone because of their thoughts or questions; we all know it can be scary to put yourself out there.

In some cases, in might not be a bad idea to remind students how to properly listen. Look at people when you’re speaking to them. Put your distractions away (I still get on to my younger brother about playing on his phone when we try to talk!). Try listening without jumping to conclusions or judgments first.

Thinking Flexibly

“Did you ever notice how difficult it is to argue with someone who is not obsessed with being right?”-Wayne W. Dyer

Students that can think flexibly tend to be better at self-starting and thinking out complex situations. When you think flexibly you can look at problems and situations from different angles. You can accept that there could be more than one right answer, or a better one, even if it isn’t your own. You can change your perspective to try something new and look at something in a new way.

One of my favorite lessons that challenges students to think flexibly is to have them tell a fairy tale or fable from the villain’s point of view. I also remind students of this when starting a Socratic seminar. Not everyone sees things the same way. It benefits everyone if you can try to see this from other points of view.

Does your school embrace the Habits of Mind? How do you like to use it in your classroom? To read Part Two of this series, click here and add to the discussion below...

About Minnie

Minnie is a writer and English teacher with a degree in Secondary English Education and Vocal Music Performance from Colorado Mesa University. She has taught 6th grade English and Classes for those with severe special needs. While teaching 6th grade she created a weekly program to help students in need of help and their parents better understand Tolmann writing and co-taught a technology intensive research project.

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