How do we develop intelligent learning behaviours?

Art Costa & Bena Kallick Habits of Mind

Our 11+ Big Picture shows the ideal behaviours for the best learning possible. These behaviours are the most important basic elements needed to create resilient, life-long learners with the skills to tackle any problem. 

Just like the multiple layers of rock surrounding a diamond help to shape it into the most precious stone, our Intelligent Learning Behaviours, supported by research, are another key influence shaping your child ready for success. 


At Meta Prep, our goal is to get each pupil to evaluate and reflect on their learning, this leads them to become an expert meta-learner.  Reflection time is often underestimated or undervalued. Without space to sit back and think or take stock how can we expect improvements or progress?  It is important for each pupil to deeply reflect on the strategies that they used.  To help prompt them we often throw in a few questions: how well did it work? What could I change next time I use it? Where can I use the same strategy again? 

Self-reflection only works when you are honest with yourself and thinking critically about your process. It is tough to get started – who really wants to look back at mistakes or problems they have encountered – however it is invaluable to develop reflective practice and to use this opportunity to shape future thinking. You need to deliberately practice the skill of self-evaluation with the support of an experienced person, like our trained Cognitive Coaches, who support the development of meta-learners. 


Self-regulation is the ability to understand, monitor and temper your thoughts, emotions and behaviour. Good self-regulation has the wonderful effect of producing positive results in exams, relationships and increasing confidence. With anything, to become a self-regulated learner, you must be metacognitively aware and have an understanding of your own motivations. 

The Education Endowment Fund (EEF) conducts research into what makes schools and learning better for students. It compares the effectiveness of different strategies for pupil achievement and provides resources and toolkits to use in schools. The EEF explored metacognition and self-regulation stating that these must be taught explicitly in all lessons. It should not be seen as a separate subject, woven into the fabric of education in order for pupils to be able to use these skills in a multitude of scenarios. Thinking Matters guides schools to use a common language of thinking and learning to ensure that children are being nurtured to think reflectively and take responsibility for their own learning.

When we begin to notice our triggers for stress and distraction, we are practising the skill of self-regulation. This leads us towards the sweet spot, knowing how we best learn. It allows us to calm ourselves and refocus, when needed, resulting in high levels of achievement and satisfaction. A much better use of time and energy. 

Creating and Breaking Habits of Mind 

Habits intergral to learning: Art Costa’s nested model

Costa & Kallick’s research into Intelligent Learning Behaviours led them to categorise 16 Habits of Mind that were seen in expert problem solvers and highly successful people. We talked about this in our last blog.

The important thing to remember about Habits of Mind is that they are not fixed. They are constantly changing and we have the ability to break and change our habits of mind. 

When we think of habits, most people think of physical habits, such as waking up at 7am every morning or eating lunch at 1pm every day or holding your breath while walking under construction because of a superstition. Some of these habits are easy to break. Others are harder. If you are a nail biter, the urge can be tough to break but with hard work, and some outside support, it can be done. Mental habits should be treated in the same way. They can be challenged and broken through hard work and with support. Teaching children explicitly that there are 16 habits of mind and getting them to consider which ones would be a useful tool to use for that lesson, piece of homework, project or challenge gets them thinking! 

Exercise, Diet, Sleep 

Our brain is a constantly growing and changing organism that needs energy to function well. We need to look after our bodies and brains to be able to produce the best possible versions of ourselves. Exercise, diet and sleep are the main drivers keeping the brain functioning. 

  1. Exercise has proven to increase memory and attention and your control over these things. It allows our brain to grow and increase the neurological pathways and connections between different parts of the brain. 
  2. Diet is not about restricting your eating. In fact, restricting eating is detrimental to learning and brain function. Diet is simply balancing the foods that you eat. It is about eating the foods that support your brain and body through gaining the right amount of nutrients. 
  3. Sleep is arguably the most important of all three. Sleep renergises us, allowing our brains to mull over the day’s learning and thinking. When we wake up, we are more able to focus and may even have new ideas about how to solve a problem or start a new creative project. 

During the 11+ exams and throughout your life, it is so important to take care of your body and mind. These three activities can also bring a huge amount of joy to your life, including finding new passions for a hobby, sport or cooking. 

Conclusion: These intelligent learning behaviours are integral to a successful life and are behaviours and activities we need to be consciously completing every day.