Discover Art Costa's Habits of Mind, a framework for effective thinking and problem-solving strategies used by successful individuals.
What are Habits of Mind?
Art Costa's Habits of Mind represent a comprehensive framework that encapsulates the cognitive processes employed by effective people. These habits are not innate traits exclusive to gifted individuals such as composers, artists, or writers, but rather, they are a frame of mind that can be cultivated and refined over time.
The Habits of Mind are essentially a set of cognitive and behavioral strategies that successful individuals utilize when faced with problems, particularly those problems that lack immediate or clear solutions. These habits involve a complex skill set, attitudes, cues, and past experiences. They require the application of mental energy, the use of precise language, and the ability to draw upon a repertoire of problem-solving strategies.
In essence, these habits are about developing resilience and flexibility in thinking. They are not just about finding alternative solutions, but also about reflecting upon, evaluating, and modifying behaviors based on the outcomes of past experiences. This process of ongoing learning and adaptation is a cornerstone of Art Costa's Habits of Mind.
Costa outlines several key characteristics of individuals who exhibit these habits, including persistence, thinking before acting, listening with empathy, using metacognition to connect with past experiences, employing critical thinking, and being innovative. These characteristics provide a common language for understanding and discussing effective thinking and problem-solving strategies.
The continuous learning model, inspired by the ideas of John Dewey and Jerome Bruner, is central to the development of these habits. This model involves students interacting with a given stimulus to make meaning, thereby providing a rich opportunity for deep learning. As teachers, we can support problem-solving practices, develop resilience, and foster these habits by creating a learning environment that encourages exploration, experimentation, and reflection.
For example, consider a student faced with a complex math problem. A student who has cultivated the habit of persistence would not be easily discouraged by the difficulty of the problem. Instead, they would apply various problem-solving strategies, reflect on the effectiveness of each strategy, and persist until they find a solution.
According to a study by Gary G. Andersen, teachers' perceptions of a culture of thinking within their classrooms are crucial in building classroom and school cultures of thinking. Another study suggests the use of Art Costa's Habits of Mind to ensure a caring and courageous education that empowers students to reach their full potential.
In the words of Arthur Costa himself, "Habits of Mind are the characteristics of what intelligent people do when they are confronted with problems, the resolutions to which are not immediately apparent." This quote underscores the essence of the Habits of Mind as tools for effective thinking and problem-solving.
According to a survey developed by Ritchhart (2015), there are eight forces of cultures of thinking: expectations, language, modeling, time, opportunities, routines, physical environment, and interactions. These forces provide a comprehensive framework for understanding and cultivating the Habits of Mind in educational settings.
Habits of Mind and Thinking Hats
Habits of mind can be linked to effective thinking, which enables students to have a more positive approach in the way they approach tasks set.
Edward De Bonos Thinking Hats helps support a more flexible way of thinking. By employing the use of different hats, students can examine a problem from different perspectives. Habits of mind linked to higher-order thinking skills develops mental functioning through a problem-solving approach which De Bono's hats seek to do.
As Albert Einstein once stated that instead of feeling stuck, we should encourage our students to think outside of the box; using the model below will support this idea. The model can be employed when students are given different hats and perspectives to approach a problem.
Creativity in Art Costa's Habits of Mind
When we talk about habits of mind, it is often referred to in the context of being creative and innovative. Linda Niama offers useful ideas to boost creativity which can be equally applied to the teaching environment.
In her blog posts, she talks about whole-brain thinking based on Hermann's research that suggested that each of us has a preferred mode of thinking, which determines how we absorb and process information.
This is a powerful idea when we consider the differing needs of the students within our classrooms and how they each process the information given to them. Niama suggests some simple techniques to support the four modes of what she terms Whole-Brain creativity thinking: analytic, experimental (artistic), relational, and operational. She suggests supporting and fostering an environment where students are allowed to
- Discover - by choosing a strategic topic to focus on and learn about and having the time to research the topic, and asking what you need to understand. What are the opportunities embedded in problems?
- Empathize - by placing themselves in peers' shoes. As teachers, we should then be supporting students in exercising our emotional intelligence to boost self-esteem when students fail.
- Frame and reframe with teachers supporting students by asking the right questions. Can you see patterns, themes, or relationships from your collected information?
- Ideate - Allowing students to explore the "What if…." Brainstorm ideas that create and deliver value. Linda uses drawing, painting, storytelling, and improvisation to stimulate discussion.
A "Habit of Mind" means having a disposition toward behaving intelligently when confronted with problems, the answers to which are not immediately known. When humans experience dichotomies, are confused by dilemmas, or come face to face with uncertainties–our most effective actions require drawing forth certain patterns of intellectual behavior.
When we draw upon these intellectual resources, the results produced are more powerful, of higher quality, and greater significance than if we fail to employ those patterns of intellectual behaviors. This approach does not, however, consider those students who have difficulty articulating their needs or ideas or adopt a flight or fight mode reaction to a situation due to their neurological makeup.
With such students, a humanistic and cognitive behavioral strategy is useful, with restorative practice central to this approach. Using Cognitive behavioral ideas of solution-focused activity supports students to have perspective on a problem, find ways to approach a situation that threatens them or gives anxiety positively, and then find positive outcomes to approach the situation.
This approach can support students in achieving realistic goals, facilitate awareness of underlying barriers, provide them with strategies to cope with situations and enable them to employ these strategies to succeed.
Put simply by teachers asking why you are having difficulty and what they can I do to support you will support the development of resilience, habits of mind, and a Growth mindset.
The Role of Persistence in Art Costa's Framework
If we look to define habits of mind further, we are very much looking at the limited mindset and Growth mindset ideas of Carol Dweck and Judith Beck. Carol Dweck identifies Growth mindset characteristics as
- You believe that achievements are down to effort, not just inherent talent.
- You're willing to learn from your mistakes and find value in criticism.
- You believe that your intelligence and ability can be developed.
- You're willing to ask questions and admit when you don't know something.
As teachers supporting our students to fail, being able to act on and listen to feedback, and allowing our students is always a challenge and takes time. It requires teachers to use specific language, be emotionally intelligent and employ a sense of deliberativeness in what they do.
However, simple coaching techniques borrowed from Whitmore, Mezirow, or Goodman can support a growth mindset and foster habits of mind. For example, Meziow's transformational deep learning ideas have supported a CLEAR model of solution-based learning by contracting the problem, listening to the issues, exploring solutions, formulating actions, and reviewing progress.
Similarly, Goodman suggests asking for meaning, building a new perspective, creating a bridge, and developing action. In contrast, Whitmore suggests Looking at the issue, finding a realistic timetable to solve the problem, and then putting actions in place.
Habits of Mind and Growth Mindset
Judith Beck (1995) outlines three levels of cognition that affect our ability to develop a Growth Mindset; these are:
Automatic thoughts can lead to thinking errors. Some examples of these are
- Mind reading /jumping to conclusions /If I don't work past this assignment, I will get thrown off the course.
- All or nothing thinking evaluating experiences on extremes- she always arrives late.
- Blame for not taking responsibility- It's the tutors' fault; they should have told me to revise.
- Taking events personally- If our presentation fails, it's my fault.
- Labelling – I failed this exam, so I am a failure.
- Magnification or awfulizing – blowing events out of proportion – was the worst lesson ever, so I will never pass this exam.
Intermediate beliefs - attitudes, rules, and assumptions influenced by Bourdieu and his ideas of Habitus. Put simply, where we are born and the social circles we develop will pre-determine our views on the world and, therefore, our experiences.
As such, students will bring different experiences to the classroom. This could have the potential to reproduce social injustice as teachers often assume students will understand situations and expressions or have been exposed to the same experiences when we know that students have differing home situations depending on their socio and economic location.
He further argued that the education system does little to bridge the inequalities.
John Holt's ideas are helpful to consider here in that he said the education system teaches children to avoid situations of embarrassment and disproval so they play safe to protect themselves, educators are therefore training children out of the desire to learn and to form new ideas or develop deep learning.
Core beliefs developed in childhood are influenced by Kohlbergs and Bowlbys attachment theory and Bandura's social learning theories. Those children whose early attachments have not been formed are more likely to have a fixed mindset, being more willing to not draw attention to themselves.
Early childhood experiences can also lead to students being unable to relate to the teachers' language due to having a different cultural register. Bernstein wrote about the different registers used in schools inhibiting students' ability to succeed.
Without thinking, teachers use subject-specific language or use academic language. It is useful, therefore, to ensure that our students are supported through a scaffolded learning experience to unpick the meaning of terms used in the classroom. One useful tool to do this is the Frayer model.
Promoting Habits of Mind
To not view intelligence as static, see challenges as an obstacle to development and have a lack of awareness of how to achieve a healthy life and employ effective behaviors, teachers can employ simple Socratic questioning techniques to support solution-finding to problems.
They can find realistic timescales to achieve the end goal by asking students what problems or issues they face. In terms of behavior, using this simple technique to give students ownership for their actions, e.g., what will be the consequences of your actions if you did that adopts a transactional action technique of using the adult's mind to find ways forward.
Bill Rogers talked about behavioral techniques such as tactically ignoring or giving framed consequences to support students to make the right choices in their behavior e,g you have two choices here you can either complete your task now or later after school.
Another simple tool is to create a "parking lot" area in the classroom which is stocked with post-it notes, where students can post questions that may not fit into the pace or format of a given class. Or teachers can ask students what they know or do not know about a topic as the starting point for a classroom discussion.
Teachers then highlight the better questions periodically or use them as jumping-off points for discussion or lesson planning.
Another technique is to have supporting reference material available for students to enable them to see that trying once does not mean failure. Students can then use reference materials resourcefully to figure something out, advocate for the help they need, or try a new way of approaching a problem.
Students need to know that being unable to do something the first time means there's more to figure out, not that they're 'not smart enough.'
Embracing Habits of Mind in Your School
Habits of mind have many definitions and are something, as teachers, we can foster in students with some simple questioning techniques. This is coupled with our willingness as teachers to give students opportunities to fail by scaffolding learning to ensure final success.
It is also about the emotionally intelligent way we approach our students by recognizing trigger situations and putting in place actions to support students. Using various techniques drawn from restorative practice, coaching, and Humanistic counselling can help and support our students to develop habits of mind.
Habits of mind that we seek to foster enable students to problem solve, face failure and have strategies to help them succeed. The following list will provide school communities with some practical ways to embed habits of mind strategies throughout their classrooms.
- Promote a Culture of Deep Learning: Encourage students to delve beyond surface-level understanding and engage in deep learning. This involves exploring abstract meanings, making connections, and applying knowledge in new contexts.
- Foster Flexibility in Thinking: Encourage students to be flexible thinkers who can adapt to new situations, consider alternative strategies, and find innovative solutions. This flexibility is a hallmark of creative people and is crucial for problem-solving.
- Encourage Precise Language: Promote the use of precise language in both verbal and written communication. This specificity of language helps students articulate their thoughts clearly and enhances their understanding of complex concepts.
- Implement Continuous Learning Mode: Emphasize the journey of learning rather than the destination. This continuous learning mode encourages students to view each experience as a valuable opportunity for growth and learning.
- Develop a Bank of Learnings: Encourage students to reflect on their experiences and build a bank of learnings. This involves evaluating the effectiveness of their actions, modifying their behaviors based on these evaluations, and carrying these learnings forward to future applications.
- Promote Problem-Solving Skills: Encourage students to develop problem-solving skills. This involves not only finding solutions but also reflecting on the process of problem-solving and learning from it.
- Use Visual Imagery: Encourage the use of visual imagery to enhance understanding and memory. Visual imagery can be a powerful tool for learning, particularly for complex concepts.