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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Can a group demonstrate habits of mind?

I chose this image for this post because, like many people, I often understand concepts through images and the interconnectedness represented here helps me clarify my thinking about my answer.
It reminds me of the language pathways or neurons in the brain where electrical energy (we know as ideas) move along pathways, sending messages and eliciting responses. As responses become habituated, the neuron thickens, making the response quicker and smoother.  
Sometimes as I sit "outside" of a group and watch the interaction, I visualize a big brain.  If the synergy is good and the group is functional, the ideas ping around the group, gaining meaning, clarity, and engery as they move across the members.  Harvey and Daniels address this in their book on Inquiry Circles. 
As an agent of change, I have often analyzed groups and tried to focus on what it is that makes one group or staff more productive than another.  This year I have worked with the Mt. Blue year two teachers, our study of Costa's habits of mind has intersected with some of my group observations.  I am beginning to speculate that people who practice habits of the mind carry them over into their group interactions.  Here is an example.

Last Thursday we met as a group to review the literacy fair the staff participated in on October.  It was a pretty intense day and the different levels of buy in were apparent on this day.  As in all schools, every staff comes to a point when change is moving ahead and some teachers are hesitant.  How they handle this varies.

Clearly, this is a vulnerable time for any implementation, so we decided to address the situation during our debriefing - first thing.  
We began by reporting out separately.  We slowly recreated the day and identified our challenges and successes.   Next we analyzed the dynamics of the "change landscape."   We were soon into our problem solving mode, trying to formulate a plan for addressing the elements we had identified.

Here are the traits I identified at work in our collaboration.
1.  Persisting= Everyone was engaged and committed to formulating an effective, doable plan. 
2. Listening with Understanding and Empathy= Each of our team had different experiences during the early release day.  As they shared, everyone respected and supported the other's experience.
3. Thinking Flexibly= Moving through our options, we looked at all of the suggested solutions - building a model together =Thinking Interdependently.
4. Thinking about Thinking (Metacognition) and  Managing Impulsivity =We carefully thought through our options and were sensitive to those present and those not present  - playing out a variety of scenarios = Striving for Accuracy,Questioning and Posing Problems, and Applying Past Knowledge. The level of reflection - emotional and cognitive - was shared freely, honestly and was received in a respectful manner.
5.  Remaining Open to Continuous Learning=The final solution we came up with came from the material that had just been introduced to the group.  However, the group took it in a completely different level, from a new perspective= Creating, Imagining, Innovating.
6. Taking Responsible Risks= After examining the proposed solution thoroughly, we devised a plan to put our solution  in place.

7. Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision= the first part of our plan would be to present our idea to the faculty and then to gather input from them in order to work with them as part of a team.
8.  And of course as always, we laughed all the way through our time together=Finding Humor.
I am aware that this is a surface analysis of an indepth, complicated situation. This is my starting point, my basic thesis and I will be trying to categorize my observations in this manner, looking for confirmation or eventually reshaping my ideas or disproving them.
As my time with this group increases, it will be interesting to see how automated their problem solving becomes.  They work well together, always in a similar format and always ending with a solution or a next step that works. 
Stay tuned!  It will be interesting - and as always - join in the discussion. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hattie is Back with More Thoughts on Meta-Cognition

You will recall that in two of my earlier posts I introduced you to Hattie D., a teacher at Mt. Blue.  I shared with you the information regarding the masters' cohort she is working on and the thesis regarding efficacy and teacher success as well as her work on the literacy and technology pilot.  Just recently, I shared her information on the English Companion NING.  All of these endeavors are built on self- reflection and sharing or  - comprehension and collaboration -  as Daniels and Harvey wrote in their most recent book, Inquiry Circles in Action.

Hattie continues to publish on her blogs, Literacy Strategies in Action  for educators as well as her classroom blog, Welcome to Mrs. Deraps' Online Classroom for her students.  Her voice and reflection grow stronger with each publication.   She is a school leader who continues to fine tune her craft and share her insights generously.

Recently, a group of middle school teachers and high school teachers at Mt. Blue decided to get together and form a book club.  The purpose of this group is to review adolescent literature and discuss the book and its applications to their students.  Hattie is the chair and has created a NING on English Companion entitled, YA Lit Book Club.  Several of the teachers meet as a group in Farmington and others have joined via the NING.

Using this format, teachers experience first hand, all of the elements necessary to create a collaborative community in their classrooms as well as practicing reflective strategies including, but not limited to: meta-cognition, higher level thinking, inferring, conversing, summarizing, etc.  This experience is crucial for teachers who intend to teach literacy strategies.  Because strategic thinking is a process - not a content - we must experience the process ourselves in a variety of contexts - each time extending our own menu, developing flexibility, clarity and proficiency.

Click on the address and see if this is an approach you could use for yourself, your peers, or your students.  I promise it will be an enriching experience for everyone involved.

Thanks for sharing, Hattie.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Habits of the Mind

I came across this quote a few days ago and it brought me back to Costa's work with habits of the mind.  

"The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That's nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born. Failing organizations are usually over-managed and under-led."    by Warren G. Benni

I had the honor of working with Costa years ago in Loudoun County, Virginia when he was still developing his concepts.  He impressed me as a quiet man, with a self-effacing demeanor who emanated a powerful energy based on his belief in mankind and its potential.  One of the strongest  beliefs he holds deals with IQ.  From his point of view, IQ is not genetically based, but a learned approach to life.  My experience has proved this to be true.

This quote voices his belief - although he is not the author - and makes us question other myths that exist in our society.

I am using this post to provide readers with some links to Costa's work, hoping that readers will consider the habits and their potential for students everywhere.

Following is some information  on the availability of Costa's work.
 Meet the "Habits of Mind" Series Authors on
Many teachers struggle not with content but with a student's attitude toward learning. That's why Art Costa and Bena Kallick, authors of the "Habits of Mind" book series, describe how to teach students to develop attitudes and dispositions of successful problem-solvers and effective learners. In new video segments on, the authors explain what "habits of mind" are and how 21st-century learning depends on students not only learning the curriculum, but also discovering the best avenues for effective learning.

I have also included a link to information on habits of the mind in elementary school.

Developing Habits of Mind in Elementary Schools: An ASCD Action Tool
"Habits of Mind" are thoughtful behaviors that allow us to cope with a complex and rapidly changing world. ASCD's new action tool, "Developing Habits of Mind in Elementary Schools" provides a series of tools, based on ASCD's groundbreaking "Habits of Mind" series, to help elementary-school teachers plan lessons and classroom activities that teach students thoughtful behaviors and promote successful learning in the classroom and beyond.

  I know many of the habits are taught in American International Schools through the International Baccalaureate.

Is anyone using the habits with their students?

Let us know what you think.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Key Elements for Metacognition

Recently I came across this post in ASCD Smart Brief.  After reading the article, I reflected on several key points that I have found are essential in the schools I work in implementing literacy strategies.

  1. Consistency of technique is important, but more importantly consistent language for all students is crucial.  Using the same terms and defining reading the same way allows the student to transfer their strategies and understandings across grades and subjects.
  2. Providing students with topics they are familiar with and interested in or providing them with background information on interesting topics, engages students through motivation - wanting to know - as well as activating prior knowledge. 
These two elements - consistent terminology for strategies as well as prior knowledge are key components for readers to develop metacognition and improve their comprehension.  

Given the limits of the brain's memory system, the on level reading frees the brain up to attend to the strategic processing needed for comprehension and higher level thinking.

Unfortunately, I think the article oversimplifies the subject and those commenting on the program look at surface features.

However, I am including it here because it has positive student results and might be a good option for some of my readers.


Instruction ties student interests to reading
A new program is credited with improving the reading ability of some struggling students in an Indiana school district. The READ 180 program, developed by Scholastic, engages struggling readers with videos and at-level reading materials in age-appropriate topics that are of interest to students. Instructional techniques include group and independent work for students. In the Perry Township district, 225 students bettered their reading by more than two grade levels after being in the program for one year. The Indianapolis Star (10/1)