What constitutes a habit?

Speaking to one of our parents this week, they were telling me that their children had been out of school for nearly 32 weeks since April 2020. Is it going to become more habitual for pupils to engage with learning in a different way? It is statistics like this that really do remind us of the cost for children who have suffered so much with the disruption to their curriculum and sense of what they gain from school. How do we develop habits that see us through challenging times and teach us to adapt to the changing landscape? 

Art Costa and Bena Kallick categorised 16 intelligent learning behaviours and thinking they saw in people who were highly successful. Habits of Mind do not stand alone and are not yet another task for a child to tick off from a list. They are habits or positions to adopt and weave into everything we do. 

Good habits

When discussing Habits of Mind with our team of cognitive coaches, we ask them to pick their top three that they think will make the most difference if regularly adopted. As you can imagine, there is no consensus. A maths teacher might tick ‘Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision’ as it will develop the use of precise language and accurate terminology to present ideas and show workings. Within creative writing, it makes sense that ‘creating, imagining and innovating’ is most useful to remind children that they have the capacity to generate ideas that are novel, original or clever. When a child gets stuck, we want them to take risks and push the boundaries of their perceived limits. 

Crucially, habits do not appear overnight, they take time to adopt and refine. At school, I was a consummate nail biter and my mother had to help me actively break the habit. It took a year for her to test out different strategies to help me move it from a subconscious action to a conscious action that I could begin to change. These “Habits of Mind” can be developed and implemented through repeated practice and self-reflection. The key action is to strengthen a pupil’s learning habits to effectively tackle new problems or challenges. They are the most important basic elements needed to create resilient, life-long learners. 

The role of the coach

As a cognitive coach, putting ourselves in the position of a pupil is very important. To be a better coach and teacher, I need to remind myself how do I react when the going gets tough: do I give up or do I push on? The answer is not straightforward. It totally depends on the framework and the complexity of the challenge. Testing non-verbal reasoning questions is my nemesis. Rarely do I have the patience to look for the pattern and to choose the correct answer. However, I hate getting them wrong, but not enough to really change my habits. I have totally ignored ‘striving for accuracy’ in this situation. Being pushed too far out of my comfort zone will only bring on panic and a sense of failure. So what would I do if coaching a pupil? 

Rewiring the brain

Telling children to be persistent or manage their impulsivity is not always the best strategy. Their prefrontal cortex is still developing. Its main message is to tell them to give up and go down the path of least resistance. Asking insightful questions helps children to reflect on the specific cognitive task. A few changes later and with the help of an expert they could affect the outcome in the future. By setting goals, focusing on the target, framing the stepping stones to get there will help them embed micro-mastery and release dopamine. 

This summer, all of our workshops will introduce pupils explicitly to the Habits of Mind and encourage them to pick out one or two as tools to employ when engaging in a particular task. They will not be adopted by the end, but provide a foundation for each child to push themselves that little further and to gain the giant kick when we step outside of our comfort zone!

Sign up for one of our holiday workshops: Become an Expert Learner, Creative Writing, Maths Skills, Introduction to 11+ Reasoning.

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