October 2016 Teaching Workshop: Habits of Mind

Educational outcomes in traditional settings focus on how many answers a student knows. When we teach the Habits of Mind, we are interested also in how students behave when they don’t know an answer. . . . We are interested in enhancing the ways students produce knowledge rather than how they merely reproduce it.


—Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick

Last Wednesday, the First-Year Writing Program held another workshop for instructors, this time on “Teaching Habits of Mind.” In individual writing, small-group work, and discussion, those of us in attendance considered an approach to teaching that emphasizes—even more than the written “product” or the writing “process”—the development among students of beneficial “habits of mind”: ways of thinking and being that often prove useful to students in contexts other than the composition classroom. These broadly applicable habits of mind tend to “transfer positively,” unlike a great deal of the learning that occurs as a result of narrow “skills-based” instruction.

Teaching just any set of habits of mind doesn’t cut it, of course. Instead, we must ask which habits of mind would most benefit our students. In our workshop, we compared the list of eight habits of mind highlighted in the 2011 Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, a joint publication of the Council of Writing Program Administrators, National Council of Teachers of English, and National Writing Project, alongside Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick’s list of habits of mind (quoted in Patrick Sullivan’s A New Writing Classroom: Listening, Motivation, and Habits of Mind). Then, after some thought and reflection, we answered the following questions:

  • If you were tasked with creating a list of habits of mind that instructors should try to develop in the teaching of writing, which would you include? Feel free to borrow from the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing and/or Costa and Kallick’s habits of mind.
  • Which habits of mind do you tend to value most highly as you assess student work? How does student writing evince these habits of mind? (For example, how would a student’s writing demonstrate “openness”?)
  • Which habits of mind does your teaching foster among students? What steps can you take to develop habits of mind more effectively?

I’d encourage all of you to give these questions a try as well: you have my PowerPoint slides here and the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing here. Send us an email to tell us what you’ve come up with!

I’ll start. These sets of habits of mind strike me—not unexpectedly, given that they’re habits of mind—as being very individualistically cognitive, with too little emphasis on the social. (It’s possible to practice different types of “social-mindedness,” with Costa and Kallick’s disposition toward “listening with understanding and empathy” offering one such example.) So I would suggest “generosity” and “always-seeking-out-new-technical-social-and-material-resources-available-to-you” as my additions. Can anyone help me come up with a better term for that second one?