Characteristics of People with Habits of Mind
In spite of the claims of many commercial programs on improving thinking, most experts in the field agree that there are few thinking skills that can be applied generically to all learning areas (Wegerif, 2002). Analyzing a poem is different from analyzing statistical data, and solving a problem about the disposal of toxic waste is very different from figuring out where to put furniture to create a comfortable flow from room to room. Nevertheless, certain attitudes and beliefs do support thinking in all disciplines. Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick (2000) call these attitudes Habits of Mind, and they transcend all subjects and learning areas and apply equally to all ages.
Costa describes five characteristics of people who exhibit the Habits of Mind that make people good thinkers.
Inclination means that, in general, people are inclined to want to think carefully about the problems they confront in life. They may, of course, make quick decisions at times, but usually they’re likely to use whatever resources they can to use good thinking strategies.
This characteristic is similar to inclination, but is more related to the emotions of a thinker. Thinkers who value thinking critically believe that such practices as weighing different alternatives, examining the credibility of evidence, and listening to opposing viewpoints are worthwhile. They believe that this kind of thinking is important, even ethical, and is worth considerable effort to do. For example, a Grade 5 learner putting together a presentation on immigration takes the time to interview local immigrants because she wants to tell the truth about their experiences.
Having a repertoire of thinking strategies and skills, even being very accomplished at using them, is of little value if a person doesn’t notice when a particular type of thinking is appropriate for a specific task. For example, a learner working on a research report should realize that categorizing her notes will help her come up with a structure for the paper. Recognizing the right mental tool for the job is important for efficient and effective thinking, and this demands sensitivity.
Teachers have the most control over the ability of their learners to perform appropriate thinking skills. While learners may not choose to use the thinking skills they have, no amount of inclination, value, or sensitivity will help someone who doesn’t have the capability to perform the kinds of thinking that problems demand. Learners of all ages can develop their abilities to compare and contrast objects and ideas, create categories to organize facts, and use logical arguments to persuade others. This area is the responsibility of the teacher, and although some learners can develop the thinking skills they need on their own, many learners will not develop these skills without support.
Thinking is hard work. Sometimes it means sacrificing long-held beliefs and practices. Sometimes it means admitting a mistake and starting over. A commitment to deep and careful thinking means a person is continuously learning new skills and knowledge. For example, proficient Senior Phase learners develop their mathematical skills not just for a good mark but because they want to be better at maths. Commitment means not just wanting to learn, but doing the work necessary to make learning happen.
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