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Independent Study – Contemplating Habits of Mind in the Classroom Context

Thoughts on Habits of Mind

Habits are repetitive acts that form our action and reaction patterns throughout life. Aristotle says,

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore, is not an act, but a habit.

Habits of mind are learned from our environment. Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, in Activating & Engaging Habits of Mind, emphasize the use of habits of mind in the classroom and make suggestions to create a “thoughtful” environment to facilitate their inculturation. Their definition of “thoughtful” implies not only an environment of learning, but also of empathy. A “thoughtful” classroom, they say, is built around five teacher behaviors that form the acronym S.P.A.C.E.

  • Silence- giving students and teachers time (3-5 seconds) to formulate responses to questions.
  • Providing Data- giving students adequate verbal, written, or other resources to support successful learning.
  • Accepting Without Judgment- accepting student input with a non-judgemental response style, i.e. “passive verbal acknowledgement” (“Let’s add that as a possibility”) and paraphrasing rather than ineffective praise.
  • Clarifying- attempting to fully understand what the student is saying by asking questions.
  • Empathizing- the teacher recognizes that emotion and learning are deeply intertwined as a unique social response to circumstances outside the classroom.

cc image posted at Flicker by lay – initially

After looking at four lists of habits of mind for classrooms, I was able to synthesize three that stood out to me as reflecting the “watchwords” of Erica Lindemann’s ideal discourse community (261).

  • Thinking interdependently (Costa and Kallick) — Collaboration.
  • Listening with understanding and empathy (Costa and Kallick) — Community.
  • Responsibility (NCTE) — Personal responsibility and group accountability.

Focus on Habits of Mind

Responsibility: Responsibility is a habit of mind that is the root of all community action; it is our responsibility to and for the society in which we live. It is also a habit of mind by which we either hold or relinquish our personal power over our circumstances. Our choices have far-reaching and cumulative effects for ourselves and those around us. Teachers and students are accountable to each other; this commitment must be clearly stated, agreed on, and upheld. This does not mean rigid adherence to rules, but actions that demonstrate mutual caring and respect.

 In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Teaching Habits of Mind in the Digital Writing Classroom

Responsibility – the ability to take ownership of one’s actions and understand the consequences of those actions for oneself and others. Responsibility is fostered when writers are encouraged to:

• recognize their own role in learning;

• act on the understanding that learning is shared among the writer and others—students, instructors, and the institution, as well as those engaged in the questions and/or fields in which the writer is interested; and

 • engage and incorporate the ideas of others, giving credit to those ideas by using             appropriate attribution.

Course Design

Erica Lindemann, in  A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers, offers a logical course design process that reflects a “thoughtful” classroom:

  1. Decide on your preferred class structure. Lindemann makes suggestions and comparisons between different styles of class structure. What, or subject class style is represented by the typical lecture dominated class. Who styled classes (thoughtful classroom), on the other hand, provide a more individualized, interactive, student-centered model.
  2. Choose a model. Lindemann offers two models for process-based classrooms; individual/ expressive and, probably more pertinent to the class I will be helping to  plan this semester, a collaborative/discourse community. The latter should be student centered and based on real-world context
  3. Survey your students. I like that Lindemann stresses knowing the academic interests and abilities of students in order to determine meaningful reading and writing assignments and the type of support services they will need (computer lab, written or video tutorials, detailed handouts). Here’s a link to Atomic Learning’s technology assessment resources.
  4. Write 5-10 goals for the class. What will students know, and what will they do in clear and simple language.
  5. Create scaffolded assignments.
  6. Write syllabus. Lindemann defines this process as “discovering the relationship between the ‘paragraphs’ or units” of the course.
  7. Write lesson plans. Lindemann emphasizes plan flexibility, recognizing that student’s needs supercede the class schedule. I’m glad she included an end of class questionnaire to assess: what students enjoyed, what things too much time was spent on, and what students needed more help on next class period.


Costa, Arthur L., ed. and Bena Kallick, ed. Activating & Engaging Habits of Mind.    Alexandria:ASCD, 2000. Print.

Lindemann, Erika. A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers. 4th. NY: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.