Building Character Using the 'Habits of Mind' Framework

Do your students give up easily? Do your students interrupt you and each other? Do your students blurt out answers before thinking?

The 16 ‘Habits of Mind’ from Art Costa represent, in our view, an excellent framework for a range of attitudes, behaviours and practices that can be extremely useful for teachers and students to adopt. According to the framework the three questions above would suggest the students need to learn to persist, to listen with understanding and empathy and to manage their impulsivity.

Habits of Mind and outdoor learning

In addition, Character Education, Building Learning Power, Growth Mindset, and ‘I can’ strategies for teaching enable students to learn and apply techniques for resilience and tenacity, dealing with failure and setbacks as well as how to manage their impulsivity.

Although they can apply to all areas of teaching we also feel that they can be brought alive very successfully through outdoor, experiential and collaborative learning activities in schools. You might explore any of the “Habits of Mind” during a particular lesson using any of our outdoor lesson plans.

Children learning outside

Although they can apply to all areas of teaching we also feel that they can be brought alive very successfully through outdoor, experiential and collaborative learning activities in schools. You might explore any of the “Habits of Mind” during a particular lesson using any of our outdoor lesson plans.



(Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick)

The Habits of Mind are an identified set of 16 problem solving, life related skills, necessary to effectively operate in society and promote strategic reasoning, insightfulness, perseverance, creativity and craftsmanship. The understanding and application of these 16 Habits of Mind serve to provide the individual with skills to work through real life situations that equip that person to respond using awareness (cues), thought, and intentional strategy in order to gain a positive outcome.

  1. Persisting: Sticking to task at hand; Follow through to completion; Can and do remain focused.
  2. Managing Impulsivity: Take time to consider options; Think before speaking or acting; Remain calm when stressed or challenged; Thoughtful and considerate of others; Proceed carefully.
  3. Listening with Understanding and Empathy: Pay attention to and do not dismiss another person’s thoughts, feeling and ideas; Seek to put myself in the other person’s shoes; Tell others when I can relate to what they are expressing; Hold thoughts at a distance in order to respect another person’s point of view and feelings.
  4. Thinking Flexibly: Able to change perspective; Consider the input of others; Generate alternatives; Weigh options.
  5. Thinking about Thinking (Metacognition): Being aware of own thoughts, feelings, intentions and actions; Knowing what I do and say affects others; Willing to consider the impact of choices on myself and others.
  6. Striving for Accuracy: Check for errors; Measure at least twice; Nurture a desire for exactness, fidelity & craftsmanship.
  7. Questioning and Posing Problems: Ask myself, “How do I know?”; develop a questioning attitude; Consider what information is needed, choose strategies to get that information; Consider the obstacles needed to resolve.
  8. Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations: Use what is learned; Consider prior knowledge and experience; Apply knowledge beyond the situation in which it was learned.
  9. Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision: Strive to be clear when speaking and writing; Strive be accurate to when speaking and writing; Avoid generalisations  distortions, minimisations and deletions when speaking, and writing.
  10. Gathering Data through All Senses: Stop to observe what I see; Listen to what I hear; Take note of what I smell; Taste what I am eating; Feel what I am touching.
  11. Creating, Imagining, innovating: Think about how something might be done differently from the “norm”; Propose new ideas; Strive for originality; Consider novel suggestions others might make.
  12. Responding with Wonderment and Awe: Intrigued by the world’s beauty, nature’s power and vastness for the universe; Have regard for what is awe-inspiring and can touch my heart; Open to the little and big surprises in life I see others and myself.
  13. Taking Responsible Risks: Willing to try something new and different; Consider doing things that are safe and sane even though new to me; Face fear of making mistakes or of coming up short and don’t let this stop me.
  14. Finding Humour: Willing to laugh appropriately; Look for the whimsical, absurd, ironic and unexpected in life; Laugh at myself when I can.
  15. Thinking Interdependently: Willing to work with others and welcome their input and perspective; Abide by decisions the work group makes even if I disagree somewhat; Willing to learn from others in reciprocal situations.
  16. Remaining Open to Continuous Learning: Open to new experiences to learn from; Proud and humble enough to admit when don’t know; Welcome new information on all subjects.

Building Lessons Around the 16 Habits

Choose one or more of the Habits that you think will be most appropriate for your students and for the situation you are offering.

• You might want to pre-teach related vocabulary or have a short conversation about how the Habits help children succeed at what they are doing and how they get along with their friends.

• Build vocabulary related to the Habit of Mind (E.g. Striving for Accuracy = check it again, specific, correct, craftsman-like, proof, flawless, quality, refined, etc.)

Habits of Mind and outdoor learning

Have the students talk about what it would look like and sound like if they were using the Habit and in what situations might it be important to use that Habit of Mind.

• Invite them to draw or paint pictures of the Habits of Mind in action. Post the pictures around the classroom and the school.

• Have students practice the skills within each of the Habits. Practice good listening skills. For example, talk with students about what to do when you get stuck and need to persist. Discuss what it would sound like if you were thinking flexibly. Remind students about the ways that the animated characters behave when they are using the Habit.

• Offer activities such as group work, sharing, games, or projects outside the classroom and observe students using the Habits.

• Talk with the students recognising some of the positive examples.

Build in the Habits over a period of time (perhaps one per week or fortnightly) and, of course, you can be selective in prioritizing those that you feel are most important and will generate the best outcomes for you.