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Habits of Mind | Know how to behave and think intelligently.

What is a Habit of Mind?

A Habit of Mind is knowing how to behave intelligently.


A Habit of Mind is knowing what to do when we are unsure or unclear of the next step or when we DON'T know the answer.


21st century learning is not just about gathering information but about knowing how to act on it, knowing what questions to ask of it and being able to thinking critically about content and origin. The Habits of Mind give us the behaviours that shape effective inquiry and encourage independent learning.


The Habits of Mind give learners of all ages and at all stages, a framework for autonomous, lifelong learning. They show us how to behave intelligently, independently and reflectively.


The Habits of Mind:

  • Persisting
  • Managing Impulsivity
  • Listening With Understanding and Empathy
  • Thinking Flexibly
  • Thinking About Thinking (Metacognition)
  • Striving For Accuracy and Precision
  • Questioning and Posing Problems
  • Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations
  • Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision
  • Gathering Data through All Senses
  • Creating, Imagining, and Innovating
  • Responding with Wonderment and Awe
  • Taking Responsible Risks.
  • Finding Humour
  • Thinking Interdependently
  • Remaining Open to Continuous Learning


The Habits of Mind were derived from studies of effective, skillful problem-solvers and decision makers from, many walks of life.  They are synthesized from the works of such leaders from the fields of education, philosophy, psychology and the arts as Alan Glutton and Jonathan Baron[i], Reuven Feuerstein[ii], Edward de Bono[iii], Robert Ennis[iv] Arthur Whimbey[v], Robert Sternberg, [vi] and David Perkins[vii].

While each of these authors have different labels for describing the characteristics of thinking, their intentions were similar: to describe how people behave intelligently by becoming more flexible and open in thinking, monitoring one’s own thoughts, being curious and having a questioning attitude. Gradually these studies were synthesized by Arthur Costa into what was originally titled,   “Intelligent Behaviors” and described 7 behaviors. With further reading and research, the list expanded from the original 7 to 12 then 14 and now 16 and there could be more.

If these are the attributes of successful, intelligent, creative, effective decision makers and problem solvers, might these characteristics be taught to students?  Lauren Resnick[viii] stated, “One’s intelligence is the sum of one’s Habits of Mind.“ We’re not concerned merely with behaviours, we want students to get into the habit of effective thinking:  Not just solving a problem but also becoming an effective problem solver.  So, we adopted the term, Habits of Mind,

To understand the intent of the Habits of Mind, there needs to be a shift in perspective of what’s important in learning.   Traditionally, parents and educators are impressed with how many answers students know—scores on tests, for example. Although right answers are important, the critical attribute of efficacious human beings is not only having right answers or information, but also knowing how to act on it.  With Habits of Mind, we are focused on how students behave when they don’t know the answer! As we consider the uncertain environment in which our students will take a role, we need to ask: Are we preparing students for a life of tests, or for the tests of life?

A "Habit of Mind, ” therefore, means having a disposition toward behaving intelligently when confronted with problems. When humans experience dichotomies, are confused by dilemmas, or come face to face with uncertainties--our most effective actions require drawing forth certain patterns of intellectual behavior.  When we draw upon these intellectual resources, the results that are produced are more powerful, of higher quality and of greater significance than if we fail to employ those intellectual behaviors.

Employing "Habits of Mind" requires a composite of many skills, attitudes, cues, past experiences and proclivities.  It means valuing one pattern of thinking over another and therefore it implies choice making about which pattern should be employed at this time.  It includes alertness to the contextual cues that signal this as an appropriate time and circumstance in which the employment of this pattern would be useful.  It requires a level of skillfulness to employ and carry through the behaviors effectively over time.  It suggests that as a result of each experience in which these behaviors were employed, the effects of their use are reflected upon, evaluated, modified and carried forth to future applications.

Substantial research is being collected (although more is needed) which indicates that students prosper intellectually, socially and emotionally as they learn the Habits of Mind, teachers form stronger bonds with their colleagues, schools develop a culture of mindfulness, and individual teachers report renewed dedication, energy and excitement about their teaching.  All this takes time. The journey towards internalization of the Habits of Mind is never fully complete.  And that is what gives the Habits of Mind dignity.  They are as good for adults as they are for students.  All of us can get better at the Habits of Mind.

[i]  Glatthorn, A. & Baron, J. (1985).  The Good Thinker.  In A. L. Costa (Ed.), Developing Minds: A Resource Book for Teaching Thinking.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

[ii] Feuerstein, R, Rand, Y, Hoffman, M and Miller, R. (1980) Instrumental Enrichment:  an Intervention Program for Cognitive Modifiability.  Baltimore, MD.  University Park Press.

[iii] DeBono, E.  (1991) The Cort Thinking Program in A. Costa (Ed) Developing Minds: Programs for Teaching Thinking.  Alexandria, VA pp. 27-32: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

[iv] Ennis, R. (2001) An Outline of Goals for A Critical Thinking Curriculum and Its Assessment in Costa, A. (Ed.) Developing Minds: A Resource Book for Teaching Thinking.  Alexandria, VA:  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

[v] Whimbey, A.  and Whimbey L. S.  (1975) Intelligence Can Be Taught.  New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

[vi]Sternberg, R. (1984).  Beyond I.Q.: A Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

[vii] Perkins, D. (1985).  What Creative Thinking Is.  In A. L. Costa (Ed.), developing minds: A resource book for teaching thinking.  pp. 85-88 Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

[viii] Resnick, L (2001) Making America Smarter: The Real Goal of School Reform. In Costa, (Ed) Developing Minds:  A Resource Book for Teaching Thinking:  Alexandria, VA:  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

Habits Of Mind

Tomorrow’s Learning is the UK Affiliate for the Institute for the Habits of Mind and is fully accredited to offer CPD in Costa and Kallick's Habits of Mind. See the online learning options or book an INSET Day.


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