The Habits of Mind are "characteristics of what intelligent people do when they are confronted with problems, the resolutions to which are not immediately apparent." (Costa, 2000, p. 21)

Costa, A., Kallick, B. (2000). Habits of mind: Discovering and exploring. Virginia; Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. All Habits of Mind concepts and material is used on this Web site with the express permission of Art Costa, and with our gratitude. Click here to visit Art Costa's Habits of Mind Web site.


People who achieve their goals do not easily give up. These people: expect barriers and problems, are able to analyze problems, and can create or select strategies to deal with problems. Persistent people know when to stop, reassess, and select another strategy. Persisting means sticking with the problem, being able to sustain focus on the problem, and organizing strategies for its solution.

Managing Impulsivity

Impulsivity in a middle school student can appear in many ways: blurting out the first answer that comes to mind, starting to work without fully understanding directions, approaching a problem without a strategy or plan, making an immediate judgment about something without really understanding it, or not considering alternatives before acting.

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Listening With Understanding and Empathy: "Good listeners (really) try to understand what other people are saying." (Costa, 2000, p. 24) If they disagree with what someone says, it is only after truly understanding them. Highly effective and intelligent people spend quite a bit of time listening… trying to understand another person's point of view. They listen to more than what the person is saying, they try to put themselves into the other person's "shoes" (empathy). Effective listeners hold back on their values, opinions or prejudices. They can give examples for another person's ideas, and they build on the ideas of others. Poor listeners are not really listening to what others are saying, but are just thinking about what they want to say while the other person is talking.
Thinking Flexibly Some middle school students have difficulty seeing different points of view to a problem or situation. Their way to solve a problem is the only way… their minds are made up before they consider something else. Flexible thinkers can use several different strategies for different situations. They can see the obvious consequences of actions, and the hidden consequences… the ones that may later. Being able to see the big picture allows flexible thinkers to visualize the future based on what is going on now. Flexible thinkers understand and can work within regulation or criteria, but they are always seeking new and novel ways of doing things. They have a well-developed sense of humor.
Thinking about Thinking (Metacognition): It took Thomas Edison several thousand attempts before he succeeded in inventing the light bulb (He was very persistent). When things didn't go well, or when they did, he would think about his thinking: Ø He would reflect: What worked? What didn't work? Why? Ø He would wonder about new ways of looking at the problem. Ø He would imagine a new approach and rehearse it in his mind. Ø He would try the new approach, always watching and thinking about what he was doing and why. Some middle school students do not take the time to wonder why something worked or didn't work. They need to ask: Ø What were they thinking here? Ø Why did they do it this way? Ø How did they solve this problem?
Striving for Accuracy: Some middle school students: Ø Hand in sloppy, incomplete, or uncorrected work. Ø Are more interested in "getting rid" of the assignment than making sure it is complete and accurate. Whether you are a ballerina, a hockey player, or a horse trainer, taking time to make sure that what you are doing is accurate, or precise, or flawless is what makes the difference in mastery, excellence and success. Just as sloppy work is a habit that is developed, striving for accuracy is a habit that can be developed and used in all parts of life.

Questioning and Posing Problems: "The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution…" Albert Einstein

Many of our best ideas are a result of asking the right question at the right time. Many middle school students are quite natural at being curious and asking questions but are not always satisfied with the answers. They have not thought about the wording of the question. The wording has a lot to do with how the question is approached. Many students will also simply believe what they hear, sometimes not ask questions that are important to ask, such as: Ø How do you know that's true? Ø How reliable is that source of data? Ø Who's point of view is this information coming from? Ø How are these two events related to each other?

Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations "I've never made a mistake. I've only learned from experience." Thomas Edison

Sometimes, middle school students will approach a problem or task as if they have never done anything like it ever before, even if they have done something quite similar or exactly the same. These students do not think about what they have done before and that could help them in a new activity. Sometimes, students keep experiences and events separate, not allowing the lessons from one activity to help them in another. Intelligent people learn from experience. Some students, after learning how to use tables for Info Tech, immediately began experimenting with tables for other uses and in other classes.

Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision: Some middle school students are not clear or specific in the language they are using. They can be heard using words such as "weird" or "good" to describe something; they may name specific objects as "stuff" or "thinger"; they may judge something as "its better" or "it sucks". "Fuzzy language is a result of fuzzy thinking." (Costa, 2000, p. 31) Trying to make language more precise and accurate has the effect of making thinking sharper.

Gathering Data Through All Senses:

Intelligent people are open to and absorb the environment around them through their senses (touch, movement, taste, smell, sound and sight). Students who use their senses absorb more information from their surroundings, are more aware of what is going on around them, and have a better understanding of how their surroundings effect them.

Creating, Imagining, Innovating: Some students feel that they are not born with creativity. "All human beings have the capacity to generate novel, clever, or ingenious products, solutions, and techniques - if that capacity is developed." (Costa, 2000, p. 32) People who are creative/imaginative/innovative: Ø Try to see problems, objects, and events from different points of view, Ø Imagine what they want, Ø Take risks and push limits (they think "outside the box") Ø Are open to constructive criticism. Ø Are always trying to improve themselves and their surroundings.
Responding with Wonderment and Awe: Intelligent and successful people not only have an "I can" attitude, they also have an "I enjoy" attitude. They enjoy a challenge and figuring things out. They enjoy learning something new. Some students and adults avoid "having to think". They may use comments like: "It's boring.", "Who cares?", "When am I ever going to use this?", or "This is too hard.". Some middle school students do not see the opportunities that are presented to them. When provided a project, even if they are given enough choices to make the project completely fit their interests, these students will approach the project negatively because it is "work". Other middle school students have developed a curiosity and wonderment about life. They are willing to lose themselves in the problem or task they are working on.

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