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Using Habits of Mind to Support Personalized Learning

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What are the keys to implementing effective personalized instruction? After visiting several schools in our district to observe independent student work, we saw that helping students develop habits of independent learning was just as important as the content they were learning. So we started to search for a program that would help our students do more of that. Different from character education programs, we wanted a way to teach students skills that would help them succeed in school and their future professional endeavors.

We learned about Habits of Mind during one of our school visits. Developed by Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick, Habits of Mind are 16 characteristics and traits that describe behavior we hope to see in students. Many of them focus on productive ways young people can respond to challenge or approach their learning. By teaching these Habits, integrating them into each content area and using that common language throughout the school, we show students how these habits are a way of life, not just academically but personally, emotionally and socially.

But given the number of Habits, how do we ensure students develop all of the qualities they need to be successful? We didn’t want to overwhelm students and tackling all 16 at once could do just that for both teachers and students. We debated several approaches, from introducing them slowly to giving a broad overview of them all up front, reserving in-depth exploration for future months. I’m not sure there’s a right or wrong way, but we made sure to consider the age of the students and the capacity of the staff when making our decisions. The most important key is to avoid Habits being a separate stand-alone class. It’s more meaningful and effective when integrated into daily practices and everyday activities.

At first, teachers introduced each Habit by looking for examples in movies and other engaging media. To keep them alive through the school year, teachers had students journal and record personal examples of the Habits or demonstrations they’d seen by others. As teachers moved through their content, they discussed Habits exhibited by book characters or historical figures, or Habits needed by students to persevere through a math problem, when making inferences or when encountering a roadblock.

Habits of Mind isn’t the only program out there that develops students beyond their academic skill. It made the most sense for us and helped our students become more independent through the development of productive habits that will also help them succeed long term. Programs that nurture positive traits are a great complement to character education. When students are confident independent learners, the full potential of personalized learning unlocks, opening the door to better academic results.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.

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