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Habits of Mind : Part Two

In part 2 of the Habits of Mind, I will continue to try to unravel the Habits of Mind to try to make them more understandable, less intimidating, and ultimately more approachable. Part 1 can be found here.


“To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.”

– Edmund Burke

Metacognition is thinking about your thinking. It’s one thing to have the right answer, but it’s another to be able to explain how you know. Students who possess this habit are aware of their thoughts and feelings as well as how what they say and do affects others.

One of the easiest ways that may throw your students off the first time is make them back up what they say. I had a student tell me what he thought a character’s intentions were and I asked him, ‘how do you know?’. He was flabbergasted for a second and didn’t know what to do. I asked him to prove it, which prompted him to find the passage he was thinking of and explain how he came to this conclusion. Thinking maps are also a great way to have students see how they think.

Striving for Accuracy

“We aim above the mark to hit the mark.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I think the most challenging part of this habit is having students set standards for themselves. I’ve had the students who go above and beyond every time in everything they do; I was one of them. I also have the students who give up when they don’t get it right the first time and the students who don’t care to try in the first place. For students to strive for accuracy in the first place, they need to believe that it’s possible.

I feel for this one to really take effect, a lot of it falls on your classroom atmosphere. I set high standards for all of my students. When students realize that you’re not going to let them skate by with the bare minimum like so many before you have allowed, it can often light a fire, albeit a frustrated one on occasion. When my lower class realized that they were being asked to do exactly the same thing as the Challenge students (Gifted and Talented), they wanted to prove that they could do it. Set high standards for all of your students, implement the ‘3 before me’ rule for submitting working, and let them know that you are expecting the best.

Questioning and Problem Posing

“Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge.” – Kahlil Gabran

Students who have this habit of mind not only have inquisitive minds, but they know how to pose questions in order to get the information they need. They understand that sometimes you need to rephrase a question or even plan ahead if there is something you want to get to the heart of. These students also understand that not knowing the answer is okay and sometimes, there is no clear answer.

Socratic seminars are fantastic for developing this habit of mind. Often times, students have an answer they want to hear, and they have to think about how to articulate their questions so others understand. Sometimes they have to rephrase to get the information they want. I often give my students time before a Socratic seminar to generate higher-level questions. To help the conversations go along. Another idea, just for fun, is the questions game. Students must hold a conversation asking questions only. People are eliminated as they stumble and answer with a statement or can’t think of anything. It really makes them think on their toes!

Applying Past Knowledge

to New Situations

“Some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up and touch everything. If you never let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you.”– E.L. Konigsburg

Teachers can always try to help facilitate this one when starting something new. Have students reflect on what they know about something similar. Show them the connections they can make to things they already know until it becomes more natural. Sometimes we just need to point out that they are using previous knowledge for them to realize how easy it can be.

Remind them that they are constantly using this habit When you read and have that sneaking suspicion that something is going to happen a certain way; how do you know that? You know because it’s familiar. You’ve seen something similar before. It can help students better understand how inferencing works. When you learn CPR, you will be expected to use what you learned in a controlled environment in a stressful situation. When you start Algebra, you’ll be expected to use what math knowledge you’ve already gained to help you understand new concepts.

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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