Art Costa has become a regular visitor to New Zealand. Anyone
who has attended his interesting, practical courses would understand
this one-line introduction:
'Meet Mr He Who Operationalises Metacognition for Classroom Teachers'!
Our curriculum expands and creaks at the seams. The busier we
get, the more everything seems frantic and fragmented. Instinctively
we reach for something to glue the plot together again - to make
the story coherent and meaningful.
To say that learning is the core business, the glue of education,
should be a truism. In the chaotic kaleidoscopic reality of our
school days, both for us and for our students, it might FEEL true,
but truth often becomes lost in coping with day-to-day reality!
The recent Report of the Literacy Taskforce makes a number of
suggestions for 'reading for success'. No one would challenge
the need for students to become effective readers, but another
key ingredient in literacy is 'thinking for success'.
What should hold the school together is LEARNING; what should
give our teaching efforts a sense of coherence is learning, We
certainly do our best to provide students with safe, comfortable,
warm, friendly and supportive environments for learning, good
learning resources and technologies, and good programmes. But
the conditions for learning are just that.... conditions for learning.
Learning to learn requires more than that. On the part of the
learner it requires both SKILL and WILL, and on the part of the
teacher it requires the conscious building in of opportunities
for students to try out, practise and develop confidence in using
a repertoire of cognitive skills with increasing independence.
This is where Art comes in. His particular skill is in taking
the notion of HABITS OF MIND - signs of intelligent behaviour
like persistence, checking for accuracy, metacognition - and exploring
how teachers can use these same habits of mind to shape a learning
dialogue with students. Modelling, with activities and active
questioning focused on particular habits of mind, allows teachers
to share, describe and assess thinking outcomes precisely with
It allows students and teachers to work together to decide which
criteria are valid, and to self- monitor and self-evaluate. In
short, thought must be taught.
Art Costa's recent two-day course at West Auckland Education
Centre offered the opportunity to talk to him about these habits
of mind and education in general. Gwen Gawith (Ed).
Q: Art, how exactly do you define habits of mind?
Art: It means having a disposition toward behaving inteIligently
when confronted with problems, the answers to which are not immediately
known. Habits of mind require composites of many skills, attitudes,
experiences... It implies choice-making about which pattern of
thinking should be employed.
It's about producing knowledge, not just reproducing it.
Q: You mentioned persistence. What are the other habits of mind?
Art: They include managing impusivity; listening with understanding
and empathy; flexibility in thinking; metacognition or awareness
of our own thinking; checking accuracy and precision; questioning
and problem posing; drawing on past knowledge and applying it
to new situations; precision of language and thought; using all
the senses; creativity, curiosity and problem solving - and there
As educators we are responsible for instilling these intelligent
behaviours in our students, and we must provide the conditions
for the behaviours of intelligence to be practised and demonstrated.
I see the habits of mind as a map which guides us to 're-language'
Q: How do we reconcile the fact that, while we say we value habits
of mind like tteaching for thinking and learning, we don't actually
assess these skills and habits of mind?
Art: Some people might not agree with my premise. Some still
believe we have to hold kids responsible for recall of facts and
data. I think we need to raise our sights. Information is important
but it's inadequate.
Knowledge alone is not enough. We have a saying - 'what is inspected
= what is expected!' Changing your curriculum means changing your
mind - your basic patterns of interacting, of assessment, your
goals, your rewards, communication with parents, and parents'
expectations. It requires a deep-seated shift in values. Being
specific in how you describe the attitudes of mind you expect
from your students, and modelling them specifically, in turn helps
students to shape their expectations of what is thoughtful learning
behaviour, and shape the criteria against rich they can self-monitor
and self- evaluate.
Q: I can hear many teachers suggesting that this is fine but
that they are meeting so many different expectations and kicking
balls toward so many diverse goal posts that reconciling the expectations
is a challenge! Any comment?
Art: Yes, education can become a bureaucratic and political football
going whichever way the wind blows. But this is contrary to what
we know about good learning, what we know about meaning is made,
and what we know about how cultures of knowledge develop over
There are no easy answers, but there is a constant need for re-empowering,
for a sense of agency and professional control.
Principals can provide the leadership to develop a school culture
which makes it possible for teachers to be self-organising, self-evaluating
Q: How would you describe this culture?
Art: It's a culture which both values individuality and shows
an appreciation for diversity, and which provides time for interaction.
Schools are frenetic places. Teachers need time br reflection,
planning, interaction, dialogue. We are the only profession that
performs our beautiful creative act in isolation. It is easy to
'escape'. It is the deep privatisation of the teaching act.
We've all got to be responsible for elevating the complexity
of our outcomes. As we raise our levels, we have to change our
assessment processes. Habits of mind require yet another level
We've got to aim towards helping students lecome managers of
their own learning behaviour, using the precise vocabulary we
have modelled with them to negotiate their own criteria and self-assess.
We've spent too much time evaluating students and robbing them
of the opportunities to evaluate themselves.
Q: Could you expand on that?
Art: If you look at Bloom's Taxonomy, his highest level inking
is self-evaluation where someone is able to generate criteria,
hold them in the head, apply them and assess their learning. We
can use the Habits of Mind as the basis for generating rubrics
which allow students to negotiate criteria with the teacher, or
work out their own.
Q: So the student really needs to 'own' quite specific criteria?
Art: Yes. And they need to understand why... assessment shouId
provide feedback for purposes of self-evaluation. As teachers
we need to see growth across content areas and grade levels -
a long range approach to assessment.
Q: Do we expect enough of students?
Art: Traditional approaches to assessment increase students'
dependency. Learning is a constantly reflective modifying role
udents as well as teachers - setting goals, planning, acting,
gathering data, reflecting and modifying. With that feedback spiral,
both students and teachers are open to continuous learning and
self-modification. So I see the Habits of Mind as a map. They
help to 're-language' the classroom.