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Habits of Mind, What Successful Students Do and Know

Habits of Success

Jenny Edwards and Arthur L. Costa

No matter what path they choose, students need more than academic knowledge.

As educators, we are focused on helping students acquire core knowledge that prepares them to become skillful thinkers, pass tests, and complete entry-level college courses. However, it's important for us to ask ourselves whether that's all students need to succeed in college, in careers, and in life.

David T. Conley (2010) suggests that students also need a set of key cognitive strategies—such as goal setting, time management, and persistence—that enable them to apply what they know and what they are learning in complex ways. We see deep connections between these cognitive strategies and the 16 habits of mind that we helped develop and implement in schools internationally (Costa & Kallick, 2000).

Habits of Mind

Students who develop the following habits will be ready for whatever path they choose:

  1. Successful students persist. They focus on the task and complete it successfully. They know how to proceed when they get stuck.
  2. Successful students manage impulsivity. They control themselves and act thoughtfully and deliberately in any situation.
  3. Successful students listen with understanding and empathy. They devote their mental attention to others and are able to build rapport easily and quickly. They can identify with another's point of view while keeping their own.
  4. Successful students think flexibly. They are able to view a situation from many perspectives, and their minds are open to change. Such open-mindedness helps them deal with the novelty and ambiguity often encountered in the study of new material.
  5. Successful students control and execute metacognitive processes, such as problem solving and decision making. They are able to make a mental plan, monitor their thinking, evaluate and modify their processes, determine new ways to proceed, and learn from the experience.
  6. Successful students strive for accuracy and precision. They know what level of precision is appropriate to the task and the subject area, and they are able to increase their precision and accuracy accordingly.
  7. Successful students ask questions and pose problems. They are curious and know how to search for problems to solve. They seek evidence rather than simply accepting any assertion. They analyze conflicting descriptions of an event or issue. They develop and apply multiple strategies to solving both routine and complex problems.
  8. Successful students apply knowledge to new situations. They can detect patterns and make connections, and they are able to transfer knowledge from one context to another.
  9. Successful students think and communicate with clarity and precision, both orally and in writing. They are specific in their communications, and they avoid generalizing, dismissing, and distorting ideas.
  10. Successful students gather data through all of their senses. They use the visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, and gustatory pathways to obtain information about the world around them.
  11. Successful students create, imagine, and innovate. They look for different ideas and are able to generate original ideas of their own.
  12. Successful students respond with wonderment and awe. They are fascinated with the world around them and are open to discovering new things.
  13. Successful students take responsible risks. They are continually learning and growing by living on the edge of their competence.
  14. Successful students find humor in the world around them. They are always ready for a good laugh, even at themselves.
  15. Successful students think interdependently. They participate successfully in study groups, know how to work together collegially, and seek opportunities to work with others.
  16. Successful students remain open to continual learning. They admit that they do not know something and are eager to find out. They are continually growing and learning.

Some preliminary research by Scott Behrens at Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan, found a significant positive correlation between the habits of mind as measured on his survey and college grade point average (personal communication, April 4, 2005). The habits that were the strongest predictors of academic success in college were managing impulsivity, persistence, and metacognition

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