An Introduction: Habits of Mind

I first came across the Habits of Mind when I began high
school. They are an integral part of our education, and I firmly
believe they help students reach their full potential, whether they
realize it or not. Although the Habits of Mind are mocked by
students, the teachers persist in using them in assignments and
lessons, and they eventually reach students. Habits of Mind are not
a quick-fix solution like dieting pills and any product you may see
on any current affairs program. They are meaningful tools that
require effort to make an impact. Like any worthwhile solution, you
should not approach the Habits of Mind as a simple get-smart-quick
scheme. You need to be prepared to put the effort into learning,
incorporating and noticing the Habits.

What are the Habits of Mind?

Habits of Mind are
coping strategies for dealing with problems one may face, relating
to, but not limited by, schooling. They were developed to
understand how students could best approach any problem they
encountered. A problem is ‘any question or matter involving doubt,
uncertainty, or difficulty.’ – Macquarie Study Dictionary

How are they going to help me?

You won’t see
the effects immediately, but by gradually incorporating the 16
Habits of Mind into your studying work flow, you will be able to
work through study and personal issues. The Habits aim to have the
student behave productively intellectually and productively, whilst
looking for opportunities to do so, noticing they are employing the
Habits, and choosing the most productive behavior.

They are characteristics of what intelligent
people do when they are confronted with problems, the resolution to
which are not immediately apparent.

– Describing 16 Habits of Mind,
Costa, A.L, and Kallick, B, pg 2

So, what are they?

list is fairly long, and I do go into detail, so if you don’t want
to read the whole post, here is a list linking to each section. For
each Habit, I will describe what the student needs to do in order
to have this Habit, and an example of using this Habit. And just a
bit of a disclaimer, I in no way, declare myself to be any sort of
expert in this field, these are my own interpretations, and I
encourage you to develop your own.


The student is able to
work through a problem systematically, using varying methods,
without giving up or quitting. They can see if a solution is not
viable, but remain positive and simply try again.


How many times
have you just given up, not even bothered to do an assignment,
finish a reading, or even turn up to class, because it was boring,
too difficult, or you didn’t have enough time? Persisting is
working through these problems. If a class is boring, ask yourself,
why? Is is that the professor is hard to listen to, or you’ve
already learned the material? Either way, you have to find a
solution to your problem, and even if that doesn’t work, look for



The student is able to
make informed decisions, without approaching the problem rashly.
Their judgments are formed through gathering information, listening
to others’ opinions, and taking time to consider the subject. They
approach projects by developing plans of their vision, and methods
through which to achieve it. When making decisions, they consider
all options, and their consequences and outcomes.


You have two options: go to your friend’s
friend’s party across town, and get plastered, or stay home and
write that 20-page essay for Ancient History. What’s going to
happen if you don’t write the paper? You’re going to fail the
assignment, and your grade for the semester will be lowered. What
if you do? You’ll get the passing mark you deserve, at least, and
have a good grade for the class. But what does your friend think?
They want you to go to their party. And your parents? Do your
assignment, of course. What about your professor? You may think he
doesn’t care either way, but all teacher’s want their students to
do well, it’s why they teach. If you managed your impulsivity, you
would write the essay.


Listening with Understanding and

The student is able to
overcome egocentrism,
which a child can do through
, according to Piaget. In other words, the student
becomes altruistic, as opposed to egotistic. Peter Senge claims
that listening isn’t just hearing, but identifying what they
speaker is trying to say, even if they don’t say it. Read the
second paragraph in Describing 16 Habits of Mind, Listening to
Others, link below. To listen with understanding and empathy is to
detect the emotions or feelings of others, and be able to
demonstrate their comprehension and compassion for their ideas,
problems, and emotions.

An Example

listening to a lecture, or any other class where you must listen
for long periods of time, don’t just zone out, or take copious
notes without really understanding the topic. Many teachers use
body language to place emphasis on important pieces of information,
or when to take notes. The smart student will take note of these
movements, and take action based on them. They will also be able to
tell when the right time to ask a question, ask for an extension,
or otherwise talk to the teacher.

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The student is able to
take different approaches to their thinking. They can move between
perceptual positions, such as egocentrism, allocentrism,
macrocentrism and microcentrism. Their thought process can be
described in many ways: lateral thinking, thinking outside the box,
or thinking from a different angle. They deal with many sources of
information, but remain confident in their instinctual decisions.

An Example

Students are often faced with
solving problems, and do so in a variety of ways, depending on what
works well for them. Next time you have to brainstorm a problem,
try a number of methods, instead of your usual. Try thinking about
it from a different perspective. What if you were approaching this
problem as if you caused it? What if you were living 100 years from
now? Shift through the perceptual positions we have already
discuss, as well as past, present, future, visual, auditory and


Thinking about Thinking

The student is able to
plan, manage, and evaluate their actions on a regular basis. They
are conscious of how they solve problems, and are able to identify
flaws in their methods. Metacognition assists in making time-based
and comparative decisions, as well as determining the readiness for
further development and analyzing behaviors, judgments and actions.
They are able to change their strategy mid-way through their
course, as they see problems.

An Example

have an enormous assignment, but it’s not due for another six
weeks. What do you do? Write a plan of action, of course. List all
the things that need to be done: research, outline, draft,
revision, etc; and how much effort each will require. From this you
can work out how long you need to spend each week working on the
assignment. But, what if you fall seriously ill, or you’re eaten by
piranhas, and you can’t work for a week. You need to reschedule
your time. All you need to ask yourself is, how much time and work
do I still have? This way, it doesn’t matter how dead you are, you
will be able to work as little as is possibly necessary to get your
work done, without pulling an all-nighter the day before it is due.

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Striving for

The student aims for
continual excellence through craftsmanship, mastery and
flawlessness, while being productive. They take time to check their
solutions, while reviewing the rules they must follow to create the
product. They learn beyond what is necessary, to perfect their

An Example

You finish your exam with
forty minutes left. What do you do? Swing on your chair, tapping
your pencil on the table? No! You spend the forty minutes
questioning the validity of your answers. Why did you answer this
question this way, could it be better another way? Are you sure
this is the right answer, doesn’t this one seem more plausible?

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Questioning and
Posing Problems

The student displays
the characteristic unique to humans: they want to look for problems
in their solutions. Whether this is pessimism coming out, or a deep
connection with perfectionism, it is unclear. The student asks
questions, not only of their own answers, but the statements of
others. How did you make this assumption? They make connections
between subjects. If we changed x, what would happen to y? They
hypothesize problems. If this happens, what will be the result?

An Example

Once again, you have a research
paper to write. You go to the library, or do a Google search, and
find all the information you need. Then, you ask questions, finding
gaps in your understanding. Although you know this isn’t necessary,
you find the answers to these questions. Then you write your paper.
And you read through it, finding further holes in your research.
Now you answer these questions, and add them to your paper. You
repeat this process for as long as necessary. When you are done,
you are proud of your work and have a solid understanding of what
you are saying.


Applying Past Knowledge to New

The student is able to
draw from past experiences when faced with a new problem. They look
at the problem as a reincarnation of a previous one, instead of a
new one. They use the brain like a search engine, to find
information relevant to their current situation. Information that
can clarify, support, and deny theories or data, and source methods
through which to solve problems.

An Example

You have a complex Mathematical equation to solve, and you have no
idea where to start. You recognize the perfect squares expansion,
the quadratic trinomial, and a few index laws. Soon, you have
solved the problem. Congratulations, you have applied past
knowledge to new situations. Often, you will not realize when you
are doing this, and that is the point of learning. You apply what
you have learned, to everyday problems. Ask any teacher, they’ll
back me up.


Thinking and Communicating with
Clarity and Precision

The student is able to
use their understanding of knowledge to express their thinking, in
written and oral forms. They are able to support their conclusions
and statements using a variety of explanations, comparisons,
quantification and evidence. They do not rely on
overgeneralization, deletion, and distortion to convince others,
and instead impress using precise and complex language, correct and
universal names and labels. They understand that by improving their
language skills, they will be able to think more effectively and
productively, then in turn, communicate their opinions more

An Example

Let’s compare two
students, one who reads books on a regular basis, lets call her
person A, and another who hasn’t read a book since writing her
eighth grade book report, person B. They are now studying the same
course, and are required to present their opinions of [insert
current news item here] orally to their class. Person A reads the
newspaper regularly and already has a sound understanding of the
topic. She begins developing her argument immediately upon learning
of the topic. Person B stresses, because she is unable to
understand many of the newspaper articles, and can’t find what she
is looking for on the internet. When the time to present comes,
person A arrives in class looking calm and confident, and presents
a well-rounded speech, which is to-the-point and uses complex
phrases. Person B walks to the front of the room, and trips over a
chair. When she reaches the front, she stumbles through her poorly
written presentation. Which do you think will get the higher mark?

To Top

Data through all the Senses

The student
understands that all of their information comes from the sensory
pathways: gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch),
kinesthetic (movement), auditory, and visual. The brain reduces the
environment to four things which send electrochemical signals to
the brain, for storage of information. These are photons of light,
molecules (smell), sound waves, and vibrations (touch). The student
takes all of this information in, rather than skipping over it.

An Example

You are completing an experiment in
the science laboratories, and are required to complete a chart with
your observations and measurements. Instead of simply writing out
the measurements, you can further develop your understanding by
drawing a diagram, writing any noises it makes, recording the
smell, and if it won’t burn your finger off, its texture. Using
this method, you are able to see what really happened in this
experiment, long after you have completed it. While you won’t
immediately see the point, I know, from experience, how hard it is
to write a practical report when I’ve forgotten what happened

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Imagining and Innovating

The student has
developed the ability to develop original ideas. The way they solve
problems is different to their peers, as they examine all the
possibilities, and take on different roles. They have intrinsic
motivation to achieve better ‘fluency, elaboration, novelty,
parsimony, simplicity, craftsmanship, perfection, beauty, harmony,
and balance.'(16 Habits of Mind, Costa and Kallick) They do this by
constantly taking risks in their work, and pushing at the edges of
their abilities. By seeking feedback, and being open to criticism,
they can consciously improve their work.


Pretend you’re in primary school again (or
elementary school, if that’s how things are done in your part of
the world). It’s time for art! Let’s imagine for a moment that you
actually enjoy art, even better if you actually do. You come
bounding into the classroom, because we all know art is always
after lunch. Your teacher tells you that today, you’ll be painting
portraits. This isn’t your favorite thing, you’re more of an
abstract sort of boy. Nevertheless, you push on, and at the end of
the lesson, you have a pretty good painting. And this time, you
mixed the colors! You’ve experimented, and it’s turned out pretty
well. That snotty little girl who always picks on you tells you
it’s stupid, but instead of retaliating, you ask the very innocent,
honest question ‘What’s wrong with it’. You’ve just exhibited the
Creating, Imagining and Innovating Habit of Mind.

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Responding with
Wonderment and Awe

The student enjoys the
process of solving problems, and marvels at the information they
uncover. They do not shy away from difficult subjects, on the
contrary, they delight in learning them. They are curious about the
world around them, and are able to be amazed by what they see and
find. They do not see these actions as hard work, unlike many of
their peers, instead they are enthusiastic about learning.

An Example

You are making subject selections
for next year. Your friends are picking all the ‘easy’ subjects:
[insert your school’s range of ridiculously easy subjects here].
But this year, you were really bored, and school was really
starting to get you down. For starters, don’t go with your friends.
And most importantly, choose the subjects that most interest you,
the ones that will challenge you. For me, that list will eventually
include Specialist Maths, Mathematical Studies, Scientific Studies,
Physics, Information Technology, and English Studies. Do what’s
right for your interests, and be excited about what you’ve chosen.
I definitely am.


Taking Responsible

The student is able to
move past the limits set for them, whilst maintaining a level of
security. Their behavior is not impulsive, as the risks they take
are carefully calculated and thought through. They accept
uncertainty and a high-level of failure, while viewing the problems
they encounter as a way to move forward.


You have to take one Mathematics class, but
you’re sitting on the fence between the standard and advanced
classes. You know that if you’re not doing too well in the advanced
class, you can drop back down to the standard level, but you’re
also afraid of what people will say if you fail the advanced class.
In this situation, taking a responsible risk would be enrolling in
the advanced class. Who knows, you could be a maths genius in


Finding Humor

The student takes
advantage of a unique human characteristic: the ability to find
humorous things in life, and laugh about them. The act of laughing
frees creativity from its shackles, and leads to higher level
thinking. The student anticipates things, finds innovative
relationships, and is able to visualize things, and generate

An Example

You’re writing a
narrative for your English, and its due today (because, of course,
you left it to the last-minute, and it’s two o’clock in the
morning). You’re typing madly away, and finally finish. When you
wake up the next morning, you print it off, and right in the middle
of the page, standing out loud and clear, is the word poop. ‘And I
didn’t hear another poop.’ Oh no! Then you start laughing. Because
one of the best things to do is laugh at yourself. It’s safer as
well, no chance of getting hit!

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The student identifies
the positive outcomes associated with working in groups. They
accept the human trait of sociability, and embrace this with the
traits necessary to work effectively with others. They exhibit the
Habit of Mind Listening with
Understanding and Empathy
, seek a consensus, display
leadership, support the group, and back down on an idea to support
a better alternative.

An Example

You guessed
it, you’re doing a group project. But this time, you’re doing it
right. At the start of the assignment, you all sit down and give
out roles and jobs (which all get done, of course). While working,
you constantly reject and accept new ideas, by reaching a majority,
and letting go when you didn’t win a vote. When you get to the end
of the project, you can all put your names on the assignment
without that feeling emanating through the
group.You know what I mean.

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Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

The student views life
as an opportunity to learn, whereas their peers see these
opportunities with a deep fear. The student has no fear of the
unknown, and their curious nature allows them to explore it.
Despite being taught to find the truth and leave it at that, they
develop the ability to think effectively, and act accordingly. They
are not content with the comfortable life of just knowing what they
know. Instead, they admit what they do not know, and consciously
try to rectify that.

An Example

And where
would an introductory post be without a reference to the blog? For
me, writing this blog allows me to not only improve my writing
skills, and develop a web presence, but to explore the facets of my
education and thinking methods which I have no knowledge in, and
provide you and myself with the answers. While writing these posts,
I have done, and will do a lot of research, which I love. So, I use
the Habit of Mind, Remaining Open to Continuous Learning. Have I
mentioned I also have an ego. We should go into that sometime.

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So, What Know?

Well, I want you to see which
one’s you’re already doing, and which you aren’t. Then, give
yourself a huge high-five, Barney Stinson style. Once you’re done,
come back and read the posts from the Habits which you don’t
display, and see some ways to improve. And I want you to do me a
favor. Let me know how you’re going. I’d love to hear from you. You
can use the contact
, or send me a message on Twitter. Or you
could stalk me, and tell me in person. I’d prefer the first two.
Until you turn up at my house, Katie

While writing this post, I borrowed heavily from Costa and
Kallick’s Describing 16 Habits of Mind, which you can view and
download here.


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About Katie Walker

Hey, I'm a student. I'm into web development, so currently I'm working on my blog, a few Tumblr themes, and a few web apps for various purposes. It's exciting stuff.

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