Integrating Habits of Mind in College

Integrating Habits of Mind in College

Do you have the appropriate habits to succeed in college, career and personal life?

Since Dr Arthur L. Costa and Dr Bena Kallick came up with the 16 Habits of Mind framework in 2009, school administrators all over the world have tried to implement them in their schools.  Teachers are encouraged to redesign and restructure their curricula and lesson plans to include these habits of mind together with a plethora of other initiatives, such as thinking skills, 21st century skills and the like. Implementation has been successful in some schools but waned off in others.  Colleges, universities and other higher-education institutes try to follow suit but at a lower scale.  So how far has it been successful?

College students nowadays might have been exposed to these 16 habits of mind in one way or another - through their elementary, middle or high school education.  But are any of the 16 habits still prevalent in the students? Have any of the habits become their habits now? Are they using those habits in their lives now, so that they have become a norm?

Whatever the case, in my opinion, it is really important for college students to start learning (if they have not done so) or continue developing these 16 habits of mind or part of them. The best way to develop these habits is through practice in their daily lives.

What are these 16 Habits of Mind?

The 16 habits mentioned are basically dispositions or proclivities toward behaving intelligently when confronted with problems, tribulations or afflictions. When we are faced with complex problems and dilemmas, these habits of mind help us to draw upon essential rational behaviour and overcome them. Research done by Costa and Kallick has shown that the characteristics identified in these habits of mind are those characteristics prevalent in successful people in all walks of life.

College students, perhaps more than others, need to instil in themselves these habits of mind as they are on the verge of the most important parts of their lives: their careers and adulthood.  College time is the time where they need to pack as many tools, knowledge, habits and as many experiences as possible in order to move to the next stages and be successful.  

Let’s take a look at some of these habits of mind.

Thinking Flexibly
To be successful, we need to alter our perspectives and see things from another’s point of view.  Discussions in college classes should be vibrant and active.  Each of us should contribute actively in the discussions and throw out our ideas and views for further exploration.  It should not be one way, where only the lecturer talks, and the students listen.  With an international setting like WUAS, this is a great platform for learning new things and seeing things from different angles and standpoints, from different cultures and backgrounds.  This habit also requires us to learn to accept criticisms and suggestions, assisting us to see the big picture and identify the details.  People who are flexible in their thinking are able to come up with a repertoire of problem-solving strategies.  They are able to change their minds as they get new information and use different approaches, and lateral thinking to solve problems.

Thinking Interdependently
This means working together as a team. It is common knowledge that when people work together, they are more powerful, more efficient and stronger physically and intellectually. Teamwork is especially very, very effective in problem solving. Two reasons can be attributed to this. Firstly, different people look at the problem in different perspectives. Thus, by converging all these ideas, the team can come up with different strategies of how to solve it. From here, they can evaluate the possible solutions and choose the most apt and foolproof plan.  Another reason is that each team member complements the other.  One may be good at riddles, another skilful in communication, language, tactical skills, etc. Each skill, no matter how small it may be, is useful and would contribute towards the team making an effective decision.  In other words, the team pool their physical, mental and intellectual resources and come up with the best solution. Take the case of Apollo 13. Watch the movie and see how teamwork helps the astronauts to return home safely despite the chronic problems they were facing while in space.  

Thinking about Thinking
Metacognition is thinking about our thinking. Successful people monitor their own thinking. When solving problems, one should develop a strategy of how to solve it and then reflect on and evaluate the strategy upon its completion. It is sad to say that not all adults metacogitate (Whimbey, 1976). To be successful, we as college students need to start taking the time to reflect on what we are doing, why we are doing what we are doing, and how to do it effectively and efficiently. We should start questioning ourselves about our own learning strategies and evaluate our performances. If we hope to become good managers, supervisors, CEOs or entrepreneurs, we should develop this essential habit of mind and we should start now, in classes. When students think about their thinking, discussions in classrooms will be more enriched and the scope will be wider. That is where learning will be at its peak.

Integrating Habits of Mind in College

Questioning and Problem Posing
This habit requires a student to develop the questioning attitude. As students, we should be the ‘boss of our brains’.  We should not just accept other people’s values or opinions and absorb and accept them at face value.  We should think and ponder over it.  We should be active, not passive learners. We should and must challenge each other’s opinions and viewpoints by asking questions, though in respectable and professional ways. We should pose questions about alternative points of view and come up with hypothetical problems or ‘if’ questions. When students and lecturers question and pose problems, there is reciprocity of learning and the experiences will be more enriched and fruitful.

Creating, Imagining and Innovating
In this fast-paced and technologically advanced era, students should learn to generate novel and ingenious ideas, solutions, products and systems.  They should strive to be innovative, original and adaptable. There is a potential in every human being.  Creativity is not necessarily born. Each one of us is unique and each one of us has the potential to come up with something new. The only problem is we do not try, or we do not believe we can do it.  We should start to use our brains, be willing to take calculated risks and be brave to push the boundaries of our perceived limits.  The most successful people in the world today are basically innovators, people who create new ideas from scratch.  Jack Ma, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk are some examples of those innovators.

Remaining Open to Continuous Learning
Complacency is a huge mistake in life.  We should always be in learning mode - everywhere we go and with anybody we meet.  There is always something that somebody can teach us. We gain knowledge and experience not just by mixing with professionals and intellectuals, but we can also gain invaluable knowledge from people from different walks of life - kitchen operatives, technicians, garbage collectors, carpenters, etc.  What we need is to have is humility and to be receptive to new knowledge. We should always strive for improvement and excellence. We should be hungry to grow, learn, modify and improve ourselves.  There is an infinite amount of knowledge out there, waiting to be discovered or rediscovered.  Einstein said, “Everything I know is but a drop in the ocean of knowledge.” Go out and find it.

These are but only 6 out of the 16 habits of mind that are useful for college students.  These habits can definitely help save us from failures and disappointments, or at least ameliorate our sufferings. Seeking knowledge is not just reading books, attending classes or regurgitating information. We need to be mentally involved in what is going on in our classrooms.  We need to notice the world, make connections and learn actively.  The desire to improve should be our motivation.  Our true success is not measured by our excellent marks but by how we think and behave in the advent of challenges.  These are the skills that we will bring along with us into the corporate world and adulthood.  These are the skills that will make us survive and succeed whether in our personal or professional lives.  Do not ignore them.

MBA student Hanna Abdelwahab, writes a weekly "Student Column" for WUAS News, contemplating the ups and downs of student life and the questions facing international students in particular. Hanna is from Egypt, but has also lived in Singapore. She is doing an MBA in Education Management and also has a postgraduate diploma in education.

WUP 7/3/2019
by Hanna Abdelwahab
©WUAS Press