Habits of Mind : Part Three
Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision
“A word to the wise is not sufficient if it doesn’t make sense.” – James Thurber
This habit actually has two different sides to the same coin; on the one side, students need to know how to write legibly and be able to speak so others can hear and follow what they say. On the other side, they also need to be able to get what’s in their head out on paper or out in words. I have seen students who can say exactly what they want out loud, but putting it on paper is challenging, and students who write brilliantly but have trouble speaking even in small groups. In higher grades, more of the focus on this habit is on being precise in what you say and avoiding vagueness and generalizations.
Sadly, being in middle school, we don’t have much time to focus on legible handwriting, but I have returned students work asking them to slow down because I can’t read their handwriting. I let them know that I work on my handwriting as well, and I allow my students to let me know when my writing gets hard to read. I always have opportunities where students are expected to share their thoughts to the class and small groups. I have even implemented a ‘chip’ rule to push students to use their three chips to speak, and for those who like to talk too much, to think before they waste them. I also do not tolerate any teasing when it comes to public speaking. Public speaking isn’t as easy for everyone as it may be for someone else. We need to be patient and understanding. As for writing, I had the chance to work with students from another class that had fallen behind on their bloguments (about 2 weeks late at that point), and saw that many of these kids could articulate what they wanted to say to me. They had trouble getting out what they wanted to say on paper. I made sure to give them an outline of what their essay should sound like as well as examples. I spent time talking with them about their issues. One girl, I even typed as she spoke and I read back what she had said. She was amazed that she could sound so... smart! Outlines and examples tend to help these students, as well as being able to talk with someone. Bouncing ideas and having a physical audience seems to help.
Gather Data through All Senses
“Nothing reaches the intellect before makings its appearance in the senses.”
- Latin Proverb
We live in a digital and fast-paced world. I feel part of this habit is to slow down and pay attention. Take it all in and give yourself time to process. Another part is to use all of your senses. We often rely solely on what we see and forget to tune in to our other senses.
One of my favorite ways to get students to think about using their other senses is to have them write sensory papers on any room they could think of. My middle schoolers thought it was a little elementary at first until I started sharing some of my favorites, such as the beach cabana room and the medieval torture chambers. I also bring in the idea of Sherlock Holmes. One of the greatest mystery solvers in time that keeps popping up will not only look closely at a crime scene but will also listen, touch, sniff, and even taste things to help him solve a crime. You could also do activities to deprive them of a sense to see how it affects the other senses. I’ve had them ‘listen’ to music with noise canceling headphones so they could only feel the beat. I’ve had them eat food without looking at it, which makes them rather apprehensive. There are a lot of ways to remind them to open their minds to their other senses.
Creating, Imagining, and Innovating
“The principle mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers.” – Arthur Koestler
Celebrate your individuality and creativity! I try to keep options and creativity in my lessons as often as possible. I also remind my students that I’m not expecting everyone’s stuff to look or sound the same. It shouldn’t. I want my students to put themselves into their work and to feel comfortable to try new things. What better place to try new creative things than in school where you can get input and feedback?
To keep this habit, it helps to allow for options for your students. Even when it came to writing prompts, I would try to give them two options at least to choose from. For their blogument project, there were several prompts that were ready to choose from, but students could propose any topic they liked. When it came to end of semester projects, we had a tic-tac-toe board that they had to pick 3. There were acting, writing, speaking, crafting, and technology-based ideas. I’ve noticed that choices help nurture this habit and students are always excited when they have a choice.
Responding with Wonderment and Awe
“Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.”
– George Hegel
This habit can branch out to a lot of different facets of the same idea. For one, I see this habit as meaning to not be so jaded, which can be a challenge for some secondary students. Other meanings can be to enjoy the little things in life, let the sublime touch your heart, and find your passions in life that bring you happiness and drive.
I always try to encourage my students to take a minute to enjoy things. I let them know that I love going to botanical gardens because flowers and plants make me overwhelmingly happy. I still drop flying seeds because it’s fun, I color, and I will never say no to a dog that desperately needs a head rub and scratch. There’s nothing wrong with finding happiness in ‘silly’ things. It makes life enjoyable. I also love to teach them about the sublime – those things that fill you with such overwhelming happiness or awe that you don’t know what to do. I tell them of the story of my cousin when he was about 2. I was taking photos of him and he saw a trumpet vine that made him so happy, so awe-stricken, that he ate. He was so excited about it, he didn’t know what else to do!
The other facet of this is to find your passion. Find several! Find that thing that you love to do that gives you a drive; that makes you want to hone your skills. At the beginning of the year, I always share my passions with my students. I love designing my own costumes and going to Comic Cons. I’m a published writer and photographer. I’m a passionate baker and cook. I love painting and I’m working on a comic. I learn about my students and their passions as well and do my best to encourage them in everything from looking at art journals to going to school games and concerts. Your students know when you genuinely care and the relationships you build will benefit you both.
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.