ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

How to Create Independent Thinkers

Alina Davis

Post written by Alina Davis, an ESOL K–8 resource teacher in Orlando, Fla., 2010 ASCD Emerging Leader, and regular contributor to ASCD's Inservice blog. Connect with Davis on the ASCD EDge® social network.

Do you have habits? How about your students? I am sure you can think of a few habits you'd like to break. But are there a few you wish would develop? Although we can't make our students think, we can teach them how to be skillful, creative, and strategic in their thinking. We do this by helping them develop Habits of Mind (free webinar).

At a workshop hosted by Florida ASCD last month, Art Costa led educators in "Discovering and Exploring the Habits of Mind." After interviewing successful people from all walks of life, Costa came up with 16 habits (described here) that you can teach your students to use to extend their thinking. Costa says these habits are "dispositions displayed by intelligent people in response to problems, dilemmas, and enigmas, the resolution of which are not immediately apparent." In other words, they're what you use when you don't know the answer. These habits are nothing new, and you probably use many of them every day. But our students don't have the awareness or vocabulary to express how they think and may not know they are capable of using these dispositions.

By activating and engaging habits of mind—like persistence, questioning and posing problems, thinking flexibly, finding humor, thinking interdependently, and taking responsible risks—our students become better problem solvers. Specifically, they grow in five dimensions that help them move from teacher support to increasingly independent thinking.

  1. Exploring meanings: As students learn to articulate the meanings of the habits, they develop greater capacity and can create complex analogies and later connect them to their experiences.
  2. Expanding capacities: As students continue to practice the habits, they become more skillful, have a large repertoire of strategies, and begin using metacognitive strategies.
  3. Increasing alertness: Students are more sensitive to cues from the environment. It's easy at first to practice habits of mind in simple contexts. But in new and complex situations, they may need support from the teacher to help them know when to use the habits. With practice, the students become self directed and apply them in the right situation.
  4. Extending values: When students begin to effectively use the habits, they begin to make predictions about when and how to use the habits. They can reflect on their implementation and deepen their value of the habit. It becomes a behavior they use in their lives, a habit.
  5. Building commitment: This is where students are self-directed, self-managing, self-improving, self-monitoring, self-reflective, and self-evaluating.

So what does this look like in the classroom? To support students in developing their habits of mind, teachers can

  • Infuse the thinking verbs into their questions.
  • Engage kids in activities where they have to come up with the answers on their own.
  • Create rich tasks that require skillful thinking.
  • Teach listening skills (pause, paraphrase, and probe).
  • Explicitly teach students how to transfer knowledge from one situation to another.
  • Teach them how to think across the curriculum.

"Our job as educators is to create effective decision makers," said one of our workshop participants, New Point Education Partners School Director Niko Demetriou. Teaching habits of mind is an easy way to make this happen.

How are you developing your students' habits of mind?

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