What are Habits of Mind? Are they a 'metacognitive must' for pupils?

Recently we were discussing the EEF guidance report about Metacognition and Self-regulation as a team; it’s always good to go back and read the key document! It was great to have a conversation about all the different elements and tools we can give to develop a self-regulating learner. At Thinking Matters, the student is at the heart of our ‘Big Picture’, surrounded by the knowledge, tools and strategies to help them develop as independent, self-regulated learners.

Costa & Kallick’s research into Intelligent Learning Behaviours led them to categorise sixteen Habits of Mind that were seen in expert problem solvers and highly successful people. The important thing to remember about any habits is that they are not fixed. They are constantly changing and we have the ability to break and change both our good and negative habits. When we think of habits, most people think of physical habits, such as waking up at 7am every morning or eating lunch at 1pm every day or holding your breath while walking under construction because of a superstition. Some of these habits are easy to break. Others are harder. If you are a nail biter, the urge can be tough to break but with hard work, and some outside support, it can be done.

Mental habits should be treated in the same way. They can be challenged and broken through hard work and with support. Teaching students explicitly that there are sixteen habits of mind and getting them to consider which ones would be a useful tool to use for that lesson, piece of homework, project or challenge gets them thinking! These behaviours are the most important basic elements needed to create resilient, life-long learners with the skills to tackle any problem.

“Habits of Mind are the characteristics of what intelligent people do when they are confronted with problems, the resolutions of which are not immediately apparent (…) A Habit of Mind is a pattern of intellectual behaviours that leads to productive actions (…) It is a composite of many skills, attitudes, cues, past experiences and proclivities (…)” Costa, A. and Kallick, B. (2008) Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind

Habits of Mind create a practical bridge moving students across the ‘choppy waters’ to expand their personal capabilities and increase their capacity as a meta-learner. As students become familiar with the different learning behaviours we move towards them self-selecting the appropriate behaviours for the situation or problem presented. We often draw attention to the habit of ‘persistence’ as this is a highly prized character trait. For many students, they might be persistent in a video-game setting or encouraging their parents to let them stay up later, however with challenging homework they might fail to employ this characteristic. By exploring our own personal behaviours we can begin to think about occasions when we need to develop our capability and consider how this might make all the difference to help us reach a particular goal. With anything, to become a self-regulated learner, you must be metacognitively aware and have an understanding of your own motivations… hence why some occasions make us more willing to be persistent!

Over time, Art Costa, talks about students becoming self-managing, self-directed and self-monitoring. In response to the opening question, are they a metacognitive must? I would say that ‘yes’ – we are wanting to embed Habits of Mind to create a deeper understanding of our character. Giving students the chance not to be flummoxed, but be able to effectively employ the Intelligent Learning Behaviour they need and decide if and when it is appropriate.

The Education Endowment Fund (EEF) research states that metacognition and self-regulation must be taught explicitly in all lessons. It should not be seen as a separate subject, but woven into the fabric of education in order for pupils to be able to use these skills in a multitude of scenarios.

Tools to support your Meta Learners:

Meta Mirrors: We offer a range of online metacognitive tools that help schools explicitly develop pupils’ ability to plan, monitor, evaluate and action their growth in a range of cognitive, behavioural and metacognitive processes. Meta-mirrors are a metacognitive tool designed to monitor, review progress and transform your pupils’ intelligent learning behaviours. For use by students and teachers. Click here to book a complimentary free trial and/or demonstration on how to use Meta Mirrors and how they can transform your school’s focus on developing independent learners.

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