Habits of the Mind

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Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind
Edited by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick
Table of Contents

Chapter 2. Describing the Habits of Mind
by Arthur L. Costa
When we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings. —Wendell Berry

This chapter contains descriptions for 16 of the attributes that human beings display when they behave intelligently. In this book, we refer to them as Habits of Mind. They are the characteristics of what intelligent people do when they are confronted with problems, the resolutions to which are not immediately apparent. These Habits of Mind seldom are performed in isolation; rather, clusters of behaviors are drawn forth and used in various situations. For example, when listening intently, we use the habits of thinking flexibly, thinking about our thinking (metacognition), thinking and communicating with clarity and precision, and perhaps even questioning and posing problems. Do not conclude, based on this list, that humans display intelligent behavior in only 16 ways. The list of the Habits of Mind is not complete. We want this list to initiate a collection of additional attributes. In fact, 12 attributes of "Intelligent Behavior" were first described in 1991 (Costa, 1991). Since then, through collaboration and interaction with many others, the list has been expanded. You, your colleagues, and your students will want to continue the search for additional Habits of Mind to add to this list of 16. Habits of Mind as Learning Outcomes

Educational outcomes in traditional settings focus on how many answers a student knows. When we teach for the Habits of Mind, we are interested also in how students behave when they don't know an answer. The Habits of Mind are performed in response to questions and problems, the answers to which are not immediately known. We are interested in enhancing the ways students produce knowledge rather than how they merely reproduce it. We want students to learn how to develop a critical stance with their work: inquiring, editing, thinking flexibly, and learning from another person's perspective. The critical attribute of intelligent human beings is not only having information but also knowing how to act on it. What behaviors indicate an efficient, effective thinker? What do human beings do when they behave intelligently? Vast research on effective thinking, successful people, and intelligent behavior by Ames (1997), Carnegie and Stynes (2006), Ennis (1991), Feuerstein, Rand, Hoffman, and Miller (1980), Freeley (as reported in Strugatch, 2004), Glatthorn and Baron (1991), Goleman (1995), Perkins (1991), Sternberg (1984), and Waugh (2005) suggests that effective thinkers and peak performers have identifiable characteristics. These characteristics have been identified in successful people in all walks of life: lawyers, mechanics, teachers, entrepreneurs, salespeople, physicians, athletes, entertainers, leaders, parents, scientists, artists, teachers, and mathematicians. Horace Mann, a U.S. educator (1796–1859), once observed that "habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it." In Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind, we focus on 16 Habits of Mind that teachers and parents can teach, cultivate, observe, and assess. The intent is to help students get into the habit of behaving intelligently. A Habit of Mind is a pattern of intellectual behaviors that leads to productive actions. When we experience dichotomies, are confused by dilemmas, or come face-to-face with uncertainties, our most effective response requires drawing forth certain patterns of intellectual behavior. When we draw upon these intellectual resources, the results are more powerful, of higher quality, and of greater significance than if we fail to employ such patterns of intellectual behavior. A...
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