By Daniel Vollrath within a special education teaching and learning environment. Daniel Vollrath (@HabitsofMindInc) is a special education teacher at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey, and a United States Professional Development Trainer for the Habits of Mind Institute, with a strong passion for developing curriculum, classroom culture, and mindfulness based on the Habits of Mind. Over the past five years, Daniel has gathered student and teacher reflections with the Habits of Mind which has led to a better understanding in reference to a blend of learning and dispositional thinking.
Daniel will be presenting selected reflections within a monthly series. This blog is part 5 within the series.
Infused water…..probably one of the latest trends you’ve likely seen, tried, or even heard about. What is not to love about fresh water infused with your favorite fruit, vegetable, herb, etc., the list can go on. This concept of flavorful water is not something new or out of the ordinary. In fact, for many years people have been enjoying a lemon in their water, a lime in a cocktail, and a cherry in a shirley temple. Additionally, and even more rewarding, is the health benefits of drinking infused water. Research from a variety of sources indicates that drinking naturally flavored water keeps the body hydrated, improves skin, facilitates the transportation of nutrients and oxygen, lubricates joints, and increases energy within muscles. Wow…..think about it, the infusion of a fruit, and water, can be that impactful! You have me hooked…….I am now motivated and focused on making a change for the better.
Now, let’s think about another type of infusion. One that is not physically performed, but instead naturally produced through the actions of productive behaviors and learning. This intermingling we are referring to includes the Habits of Mind with instructional teaching and learning. Now, you may ask yourself, why is this infusion so unique and critical to the needs of learners? Think about it, not only are curricular demands being met (objectives, standards, units, goals, etc.), but now present are the situational opportunities for learning to occur via skillful and strategic behaviors within the classroom. With this infusion idea in place, we set the tone for students to perform these effective dispositions within their learning; while the ultimate goal is for students to be able to present these behaviors in and outside of the classroom.
To show the true effects of the Habits of Mind infused into pedagogical experiences, teacher perceptions will be presented below.
What do the teachers say?
“The Habits of Mind are very focused on opportunity to be reflective. When the school day is over I find myself more reflective about my lesson for the day, whether students understood the material, and about the behaviors they presented in the classroom. I never thought about the behaviors until I started using the Habits of Mind in the classroom tied together with lesson plans. More and more I am able to see the importance of students habits in connection to the work they produce.”
The aspect of reflection seems to be the most crucial component for this science teacher. As most teachers should be reflective about their practice, the habits seem to evoke a new piece of thinking not really touched upon, that being the “productive behaviors” component. Most notable was how the teacher was able to recognize a relationship between habits and the impact they brought forth within students’ produced work. The ability to identify habits within students’ development of projects, assignments, and assessments is an element that teachers often fail to connect; yet, these habits are the pieces that bring forth the success, skills, and behaviors we desire from our students.
In another reflective journal the science teacher made a connection to the teacher evaluation process the school follows, Danielson’s Framework for Teaching and Learning. Here is what she wrote:
“I find the Habits of Mind connect so much to the framework of Danielson’s model for teaching. It ties in so well with what we should be doing as teachers, that being reflective. As a teacher I analyze my pedagogy, reflect on daily instruction, model behaviors, and focus on the building of a culture for learning. These are all “habits” that I am focusing on. So really I am building and displaying the Habits of Mind within myself and my students.”
It is inferred that this teacher is becoming more cognizant of the habits within her teaching. Not only is she finding the focus on the habits beneficial within instruction, it seems that other elements within her classroom are improving. It is important to note the mindfulness of her “whole” approach to teaching. Not only is she reflective, but her behaviors, culture, and instruction are all centered around the Habits of Mind. As teachers, so much of what we do on a daily basis within the classroom is habits based; whether we make it explicit or not. Students recognize consistency, common language, and the behaviors we model. And, it seems as though thia science teacher is doing it all!
“After a month of using the Habits of Mind within the classroom, I feel that I am using the habits as part of the terminology within math. For example, instead of telling students to think about a problem in a different way, I just tell them to think flexibly and solve the problem. Or, when working on challenging problems, I tell students to take responsible risks, instead of telling them to try hard to figure it out or guess. The habits seem to be a more focused and clear way in explaining the behavior I want from them, and they understand it.”
The math teacher perceives the Habits of Mind to be a valuable strategy for communicating the desired behaviors she wants students to display. The habits “thinking flexibly” and taking responsible risks” are referenced as playing a significant role within the teacher’s pedagogy. In addition, it is inferred that both habits are understood and play an active capacity in the process of problem solving and attacking math concepts within class. She recognized the importance of building a common language. It is assumed that when she wants her students to display a behavior, she simply states the habit that best describes that behavior; and it is apparent that all students understand and recognize the terminology.
“Habits are an area I find needs major improvement within my students. I am finding that the Habits of Mind are really helpful in communicating the actions I want them to show. Often I use the habits as a way to connect to projects and assignments. Within the directions I use the habits as part of the desired outcome. When students give presentations, I always say ‘It is important to communicate with clarity and precision about your topic’. This is another way of telling them to be clear and transparent with their information. I like using the habits of mind terminology because all students know it.”
This journal speaks to the idea of behaviorally producing habits to convey understanding of material. It is inferred that the history teacher finds the habits to be an integral part of his development of assignments and projects within the class. Clearly, he creates his own assignments and uses the habits within the directions and outcomes desired. Additionally, it seems as if the habits are reinforced through verbal reminders, and explanations of why specific habits are deemed important toward meeting success. It appears that he does not simply mention the habit, he gives a rationale for why the habit is important for the assignment. Overall, the idea of incorporating the habits into self-constructed assignments shows a deep connection to the importance this teacher has for the habits within his pedagogy.
“The habits are a great way to instill classroom management. Daily I reference the habits in connection to unwanted behaviors. When students are disrupting me in class, I mention that as a class we need to manage our impulsivity. At times when students are not prepared, I mention how important it is that we all persist to complete assignments in a timely fashion. The habits are effective in how they are not threatening, recognizable, and serve as a language everyone can understand.”
Yes, classroom management is one of the crucial elements in creating an effective and successful learning environment. Here, the English teacher seems to find the habits to be a critical piece to managing and holding students accountable. In addition, she mentions the idea of the habits being non-threatening and a familiar language students hear across all classes. This is an interesting point and something to think about. As teachers we often tend to struggle to find the right word to connect with correcting undesired behaviors in students. With the Habits of Mind, the actions we desire often connect.
What will you infuse?
Just as experimenting with different fruits and water is a great way to discover our personal taste, the same goes for instilling Habits of Mind into your singular pedagogy. As perceived by the teachers in this blog, it is obvious that the habits played a different role within their approach to teaching. One teacher found the habits beneficial when dealing with classroom management, whereas another teacher discovered particular dispositions more effective within presenting information. Although, one constant with the habits pertains to the merits of consistency and common language. When these two ideas span across all classrooms, the more powerful and effective the Habits of Mind become for all teachers and students.
As educators we have the opportunity and autonomy within the classroom to create a unique learning environment. Therefore, how we implement the habits into our pedagogy is up to us. So, that being said, how and what will infuse?
Two Takeaways just for you!
- When creating rules and expectations within your classroom use the habits that best reflect the behaviors you desire. It is best to develop these with your students. Here is an example:
Think before acting, remain calm, thoughtful, and deliberate. Take your time!
Managing Impulsivity – Controlling your actions and behaviors in order to work effectively and not go off task (not interrupting, being an active listener, raising hand when you answer or have a comment, etc).
- Anytime you develop a set of directions or assignments, be mindful of the productive behaviors you want students to display and identify the habit that connects to that desired behavior. Here is an example from a sophomore English class for a journal prompt:
In the novel Catcher in the Rye, Holden presents the inability to manage his impulsivity on a consistent basis. Within this writing prompt, identify three areas where Holden presents impulsive behavior in the novel. You will need to identify three quotes and analyze each. Be mindful of communicating with clarity and precision (being clear with your ideas), striving for accuracy (find areas within the novel and cite pages), and persisting (complete the journal thoroughly).