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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sixteen Habits that Facilitate a Growth Mindset

by Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy

I distinctly remember a parent at our school (Quest Academy, a school dedicated to meet the needs of gifted students) proclaiming that “my child may not necessarily be gifted, but rather the school is helping my child in becoming gifted.” Such a statement naturally reflects the notion that giftedness or intelligence is not necessarily a fixed trait. Clearly, the work of Carol Dweck, summarized in her book Mindset, has helped us understand that developing a healthy growth mindset may be the single most important attribute required to develop one’s talents – this growth mindset implies that one internalizes the belief that one can continuously improve one’s learning and understanding or that one can “grow” and “exercise” one’s own intelligence.

While a healthy growth mindset may indeed be the supreme habit of mind, there are several habits of mind that may not be attributable to being intelligent but instead major contributors to becoming intelligent (or behaving intelligently). In the chapter “In the Habit of Skillful Thinking” included in the Handbook of Gifted Education (edited by Nicholas Colangelo and Gary Davis), habits of mind are defined as dispositions that must be applied when thinking strategically and effectively in a context of problem-solving, decision making, or knowledge generation.

We would be wise to list five characteristics that define a habit of mind, as outlined by Arthur L. Costa in the Handbook:

  • Valuing – “choosing to employ a pattern of intellectual behaviors rather than other, less productive patterns.”
  • Having the inclination – “feeling the tendency toward employing a pattern of intellectual behaviors.”
  • Being alert – “perceiving opportunities for, and appropriateness of employing a pattern of intellectual behaviors.
  • Being capable – “possessing the basic thinking skills and capacities to carry through with the behaviors.
  • Making a commitment – “reflecting on and constantly striving to improve performance of the pattern of intellectual behavior.”

Keeping those five characteristics in mind, let us review a list of 16 specific habits of mind, all of which transcend any one single academic domain and also are, according to Costa, “ageless developmental qualities.”
  1. “Persisting when the solution to a problem is not readily available.” This requires a repertoire of alternative strategies for problem solving. This habit of mind is similar to gifted education theorist JosephRenzulli’s attribute of task commitment, which along with high ability and creativity comprise his three-ring conception of giftedness.
  2. “Managing impulsivity.” Students who blurt the first answer out may at times be well served to reflect on several options. This habit may help one avoid a potentially frustrating trial-and-error approach.
  3. “Listening to others with understanding and empathy.” This habit of mind is described by Stephen Covey in the widely popular The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Costa recommends that “paraphrasing another person’s ideas” or “detecting indicators of another person’s feelings or emotional states.” He believes that the habit of listening is the “least taught skill in school.” Research shows that “we spend 55 percent of our lives listening.”
  4. “Thinking flexibly.” This habit requires a tolerance for confusion and ambiguity in addition to one’s willingness to change one’s mind when presented with additional data.
  5. “Thinking about our own thinking: Metacognition.” In a nutshell, this habit presupposes that one knows one’s own limits – what do we know and what do we not know. Fostering metacognition would include the act of rehearsing mentally prior to a specific performance and monitoring during the performance.
  6. “Striving for accuracy and precision.” This habit most certainly involves double-checking one’s work. I recall that as a teacher I never accepted a student’s test or in-class essay without challenging my students to double and triple check. I spent time instructing students how to double-check their work.
  7. “Asking questions and posing problems.” This habit is a follow-up to the habit of metacognition as one needs to learn to ask the questions to learn and understand that what one does not know.
  8. “Applying past knowledge to new situations.” This habit requires students to relate and apply previously learned material to new challenges.
  9. “Thinking and communicating with clarity.” Underlying this habit is that “fuzzy language is a reflection of fuzzy thinking.”
  10. “Gathering data through all senses.” This habit requires full attention to one’s environment and processing information coming to the brain via gustatory, olfactory, tactile, kinesthetic, auditory, and visual sensory pathways. Students with wide open sensory pathways will absorb more information than students who are “oblivious to sensory stimuli.”
  11. “Creating, imagining, innovating.” Students are well served in problem solving when they “examine alternative possibilities from many angles.” Students who exemplify this habit are unlikely to accept the status quo, instead seeking greater novelty.
  12. “Responding with wonderment and awe.” Joyful and energetic curiosity is a trait that defines this habit. This habit transcends the “Yes, I can” attitude, better characterized as “Yes, I enjoy.” I recently observed one of our math students assigning a problem that “will make your head hurt.” The advanced math students related to this challenge just as the math teacher intuitively had predicted – they were looking forward to the “brain teaser” problems.
  13. “Taking responsible risks.” Students who “accept confusion, uncertainty, and the higher risks of failure” are likely to exemplify this habit.
  14. “Finding humor.” This habit may best be exemplified by those students who “thrive on finding incongruity and perceiving absurdities, ironies, and satire.”
  15. “Thinking interdependently.” There is a reason why all good classrooms include group projects, as in our technological age “no one person has access to all the data needed to make critical decisions; no one person can consider as many alternatives as several people can.” Habits such as listening, seeking consensus and foregoing one’s own ideas and work and instead accepting someone else’s are part of working and thinking interdependently.
  16. “Remaining open to continuous learning.” This habit may best be described as keeping an open mind, “inviting the unknown, the creative, and the inspirational.”

In summary, teachers, parents, mentors, and coaches are wise to spend significant time in helping students develop these habits, in turn teaching them to “behave intelligently.” I would propose that a successful internalization of these 16 habits are all ingredients that facilitate a healthy growth mindset. 


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