We’ve already done Habits of Mind!
This was what my daughter came home saying after her teacher had “done” persistence for the third time this semester. And it’s the sort of thing I hear from lots of teachers and students just before their work with Habits of Mind falls over.
How do you avoid the “We’ve done this already” syndrome?
When you hear students or teachers saying we’ve done ths before what you’re really hearing is a misunderstanding of what the Habits of Mind are about. To suggest you’ve “done” Habits of Mind reflects the Habits are being taught like a topic – when in reality they need to be taught more like a subject. Let me explain.
A topic is a discrete idea. Something that can be covered, possibly even mastered, before moving on. Your 5 times tables is a topic. The space race is a topic. Photosynthesis is a topic.
On the other hand, a subject is something without bounds. It is something that is continually explored, investigated, delved into and developed further. Maths, History and Science are subject areas. They are never fully mastered. There is always more to learn.
It is very common for teachers, students, and parents, see the Habits of Mind as a topic. This is because it’s not immediately apparent how you develop a Habit of Mind. For example, in Math, History and Science (as well as other subject areas) we typically have growth and development in the subject well described for us. This comes in the form of curriculum guides and syllabuses.
Most people don’t have an understanding of what it means to get better at a Habit of Mind.
I’ve addressed this question in other blog entries. In this entry I ask if we should be using a word other than “Habit” to describe Habits of Mind because of the very reason people see Habits as being static. And in this entry I look at the Dimensions of Growth as a way of describing improvement / development in the Habits of Mind.
When the Habits of Mind are seen as something that can be “covered” then they inevitably are “covered”. And once covered they are left behind. To push on with the Habits of Mind in the face of people (students or teachers) seeing them as a topic, is a sure way to build resistance and it will ultimately lead to the Habits being another program that comes through the school. We must approach the Habits of Mind in a similar way as a subject that needs continual development if we are to sustain the work in the classroom.
My daughter groaned about “persistence” not because she thought it was unimportant, but because she didn’t understand how she’s expected to get better at it. She felt she was being taught the same thing again. To avoid the “we’ve done this before” syndrome, we need to ensure both that students understand the Habits of Mind are something you continually develop, and as teachers we must ensure that they way we address the Habits of Mind in the classroom focuses on their development / improvement / growth / increasing quality.