In most traditional schools, academic work begins the first day of instruction. Teachers are seen as “on task” if they are assigning homework the first day. Little time is spent on developing the learning character traits necessary for solid academic work. It’s sort of like going into a gym, expected to bench press 250 pounds, without the benefit of stretching and warming up.
The first time I saw a school work on character traits was when I visited a Houston-based charter school. That campus took two weeks to build learner character traits needed for kids to perform at high levels later. But that was the only time I saw this type of work at the beginning of a school year in 35 years of being a public school educator. I continue to wonder why I didn’t see it more.
Characters of learning ideas have been around for as long as young people have been learning. The Greeks emphasized these ideas throughout their classical studies. Horace Mann described this type of learning exercise as “building habits – habits that are like cables; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it.” Habits of Mind became popular inside American education 30 years ago when researchers Art Costa and Bena Kallick focused on sixteen behaviors that improved learner capacity. Costa and Kallick wrote “A Habit of Mind is a composite of many skills, attitudes, cues, past experiences, and proclivities. It means that we value one pattern of intellectual behaviors over another; therefore, it implies making choices about which patterns we should use at a certain time.”
Let’s learn more about these habits of mind by defining each one and providing a question whereby you, as the adult learning coach, and your young learner can rate the young learner’s current condition (by rating each habit 1-5 with 1 being something to work on while 5 suggests an expertise with the habit):
Habit #1: Persisting
I persist in finishing uncompleted study tasks as quickly as possible.
How would you (the adult learning coach AND the young learner) rate your stickwithitness, or persistence?
Habit #2: Managing Impulsivity
I think before I act.
How would you rate your (remember both the adult learning coach and the young learner scores this) ability to think about and plan your learning?
Habit #3: Listening to Others with Understanding and Empathy
I listen to understand before speaking back.
How would you rate your (adult learning coach and young learner scores) to seek to understand before being understood?
Habit #4: Thinking Flexibly
I am able to consider many options when facing a problem.
How well do you think of options instead of one solution when trying to solve a problem?
Habit #5: Thinking About Our Thinking (Metacognition)
I think about what I learn on a daily basis.
How well do you think about your thinking on a daily basis?
Habit #6: Striving for Accuracy and Precision
Learners think about other possible answers before deciding on the final answer.
How well do you check your work?
Habit #7: Questioning and Posing Problems
I like to ask questions and think about problems.
How well do you ask different types of questions and think about problems?
Habit #8: Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations
I like to use what I’ve learned in everyday situations.
How well do you use what you’ve learned in everyday situations?
Habit #9: Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision
I like to communicate in writing and oral form.
How well do you write and speak in terms of clarity and precision?
Habit #10: Gathering Data Through All Senses
I like to use information to make decisions.
How well do I access information before I make decisions?
Habit #11: Creating, Imagining, and Innovating
I like to create new ways of doing things.
How well do you like to find new paths toward your learning goals?
Habit #12: Responding with Wonderment and Awe
I like to be known as a curious person.
How well do you like to be known as a curious person?
Habit #13: Taking Responsible Risks
I like to try new things.
How well do you embrace different?
Habit #14: Finding Humor
I like to laugh.
How well do you have fun while you are learning, even when you are struggling?
Habit #15: Thinking Interdependently
I like to work with others.
How well do you work with other people?
Habit #16: Learning Continuously
I like to be known as a learner.
How important is it to you to be known as a learner?
After comparing scores (adult learning coach and young learner), pick out 3 of these habits to work on over the next week or two. Define the work, plan the work, and then execute the plan. Make sure you build in some check-ins along the way to see how the young learner is coming along with their plan. At the end of two weeks (or sooner), be sure to have a short conference between the adult learning leader and the young learner to see how the work with these 3 habits is coming along. If one, two, or all three of the selected habits need more work, then adjust the plan accordingly. If one, two, or all three of the selected habits are judged by both the adult learning coach and the young learner as successful work, pick out another 3 habits to begin working on. Constant work on these habits will produce a life-long, independent, self-directed learner.