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Habits of Mind Matter

I remember a few year ago the mantra at our school was that you can’t grade “behaviors”. What that translated into is all assessments only addressed content specific standards. What message does that send to our learners about what we value in them and what we want them to become? While the goal was to not put a grade on things like “completion of homework”, the result was assessments which only looked at part of the student as learner at not at habits of mind that are essential to creating learners.

In Students at the Center, Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda ask us to make habits of mind an explicit part of our instruction in order to shape learners who focus on learning rather than being assessed. In their book, they find the connections between Personalized Learning and Habits of Mind in the classroom. The goal of this work is to show how habits of mind (“soft skills” or learner dispositions) are not things that live on the side of learning, but are essential to creating lifelong learners.

To that end, the authors define 16 habits of mind key to success. I won’t worry about defining them here, that is the work of the text and why you need to dig into it.  By just looking at the list, I think we can easily see that they are essential to achieving success regardless of context.

When curriculum focuses simply on the defined standards of the course, habits of mind fall to the side. This is not to say that course standards are not important. They are what drive the learning in our classroom. All learning in our classes begin with the course standards. Standards, though, are written from a discipline perspective and measure the end point of learning.  This means they don’t address learner dispositions. So when we simply address the standards, we may miss the components essential to growing learners.

I'm going to step back for a second and say that not all content standards are written like this, but the majority I have dealt with in the past have been. I do think that in some respects there is a slight shift occurring. My district is currently beginning to align our science curriculum K-12 to the Next Generation Science Standards. As I look at the Next Generation Science Standards, they have a focus on specific science practices. Some of these practices directly align to several habits of mind. I hope to return with a specific reflection looking at NGSS through the lens of Habits of Mind. For those dispositions that are embedded, how they can be made explicit? For those not embedded, how can they be married to the standards?

I’m sure every educator introduces relevant standards to learners at the beginning of a unit but how many students understand them.  Educators spend tons of PD hours unpacking standards just to understand them and find a way to frame them for learners.  In fact this summer, science teachers in our district are spending many hours translating Next Generation Science Standards into learner friendly learning targets. These habits of mind should no longer be the hidden curriculum, but an intentional part of our instruction.

Kallick and Zmuda make it clear we need to move from a standards view to a competencies view to help prioritize these habits of mind.  Competencies are written with an eye to these learner dispositions or habits of mind. While standards focus on creating experts in a field of study, competencies focus on creating experts in learning and problem solving. Competencies are written in language that can be understood clearly by all stakeholders. Standards, because they are written by experts in the field of study, can be difficult to decipher by those not already versed in the field.

Chapter 3 of the book looks specifically at student and teacher goal setting.  I look forward to reflecting more on those ideas as I continue reading and the work of the alignment process.

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