The Creation (and Harnessing) of Habits
We are pleased to share with you today a piece from our storytelling series of reflections and noticings coming out of our convening in Tucson!
Please stay tuned for more writings from our team of storytellers and revisit the blog here to see them all in the coming months.
A number of storytellers captured their thoughts in images and short pieces. We'll be sharing those as well as the longer writing.
By Jessica Bernal-Mejia
Habits of Mind: An interview with Michelle Daum and Craig Gastauer
By Nicole Allard
How do we listen so that we can truly be impacted by others’ thoughts?
Nicole: Craig, what are the habits of mind?
Craig: The habits of mind are what intelligent people do when they are confronted with challenges or situations in which a solution is not immediately apparent. So, what are the behaviors, the thinking strategies, the actions that somebody might take intentionally to be able to help them to propose ideas, prototype ideas, and come up with those solutions to help them with that challenge.
Nicole: Michelle, I heard there was a student in your session, and when the session was over, they went to go get their teacher to have you talk with them about it. What makes habits of mind so appealing to students?
Michelle: I think it gives them the toolbox to be able to access the content and the skills in which they’re engaging with every single day. And, so the student was making a connection in a math class to being asked to create a kite, but she didn’t have the tools to be able to access and make the connections she needed. And, she recognized that this was a missing piece in helping her engage with the curriculum.
Craig: So, after the session, she went running out of the room, she and the student that was with her, got their teachers so that they could describe what they had heard about in terms of the Habits of Mind, and told the teachers they had to come back to our session room to talk with Michelle and me to talk about what the habits were and get some resources. They were adamant the habits needed to be brought to their school so that their students could be able to build the toolboxes necessary to think in more critical and creative ways.
That is so cool! That’s a heart moment. So, when you spoke to the teacher that came in or when you presented in your session, what are some real world examples of how you use Habits of Mind when you teach?
Michelle: Some are just starting with being aware of and really metacognitive of what are the skills they need and what are they practicing and being able to recognize them in their own lives. And then, as they’re moving forward with building their own awareness to when and how they need to apply them.
Craig: As an example in my own classroom this last semester, I noticed that my students would not speak to each other - not that they couldn’t, not that they were having difficulty - they literally were not speaking to the point where two students next to each other - I’m asking them to communicate, collaborate, and one finally says, “Can I text the person next to me? It’s easier.” So, for me, the Habit of Mind of thinking interdependently, the idea of bouncing ideas off of one another, of building up each other’s ideas so that you come up with an idea that’s greater than your own ideas by themselves, became an essential component of the class.
I asked the class, “How do we start learning to build ideas off each other?” So, as Michelle pointed out, the idea of awareness, that there are these thought processes going on in our minds. How do we share them, how do we listen to them so that we can be truly impacted by other people’s thoughts. How can we use them to then start building new ideas, combine ideas, synthesize new ideas. And, as we went through that, my practice changed because we started putting up posters around the room that said “thinking interdependently,” and what were the strategies that the students found themselves using in order to practice this skill.
It was no longer a top down, teacher-driven class. Instead, the students were building these knowledge bases of skills and strategies that they could begin using, reflecting upon, and then, as they self-assessed, figuring out the next steps to continue to improve upon. Over time, every single lesson had a component of thinking interdependently, and you could see the level of conversations and the depth of learning increase throughout the year because we were focusing on that habit.
So, Craig touched on how his practice changed in the moment and then moving forward. Overall, how has teaching and learning been impacted because of implementing Habits of Mind?
Michelle: I would say it’s been a shift for me from focusing on the task or the problem to how my students are going to engage with the task so that they can have the success that they’re reaching for.
Craig: To continue that idea, I have heard so often, teachers telling students they need to try harder or work harder, But, what that actually looks like has been a complete mystery to the students. So, whether we call them soft skills or Habits of Mind, whatever term we want to use, we’re intentionally helping the students to be aware of their thought processes, increase that metacognition so that they can interact more intentionally around whatever challenge or problem that they’re facing.
Thank you! Are there resources to share about the Habits of Mind if people want to learn more?
About the Storytellers
Jessica Bernal-Mejia: Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, a Mother of two intelligent little people, partner to Rene Bernal and daughter to Maria Moreno and Jose Mejia. She is a Mentor teacher in the Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Instruction Department in the Tucson Unified School District. She taught Culturally Responsive History and Government at Pueblo High School for 6 years before taking a mentor position. In addition to working with teachers and students, she also organizes a youth symposium focused on Social Justice and Youth Participatory Action Research, called Collaborative Research in Action Youth Symposium (CRiA).
Nicole Allard is an education consultant. She was formerly Executive Director of Educational Excellence and Innovation at Vista Unified School District in Vista, California.