By Teachers, For Teachers
Pedagogic experts have spent an enormous amount of time attempting to unravel the definition of “educated.” It used to be the 3 R's -- reading, writing, and 'rithmetic. The problem with that metric is that, in the fullness of time, those who excelled in the three areas weren't necessarily the ones who succeeded. As long ago as the early 1900s, Teddy Roosevelt warned: "C students rule the world."
It's the kids without their nose in a book that notice the world around them, make connections, and learn natively. They excel at activities that aren't the result of a GPA and an Ivy League college. Their motivation is often failure, and taking the wrong path again and again. As Thomas Edison said: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Albert Einstein are poster children for that approach. Both became change agents in their fields despite following a non-traditional path.
In the face of mounting evidence, education experts accepted a prescriptive fact: Student success is not measured by milestones like “Took a foreign language in fifth grade” or “Passed algebra in high school” but by how s/he thinks. One curated list of cerebral skills that has become an educational buzz is Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick's list of 16 what they call Habits of Mind:
Together, these teaching strategies promote strategic reasoning, insightfulness, perseverance, creativity and craftsmanship.
But these teaching strategies are not new. They share the same goals with at least three other widely used education systems: 1) Common Core (as close as America gets to national standards), 2) the International Baccalaureate (IB) program (a well-regarded international curriculum, much more popular outside the U.S. than within), and 3) good old common sense. Below, I've listed each Habit of Mind with a brief explanation of what that means (in italics). I then point out connections to Common Core, the IB Program, and the common sense your grandma shared with you. The result is a compelling argument that education is less a data download and more a fitness program for our brains.
Winston Churchill said, "Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in ..." The same decade, Albert Einstein said: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
The Common Core is not a curriculum, rather a collection of 41 overarching standards in reading, writing, language, math, and speaking/listening that shape a student's quest for college and career. Sprinkled throughout are fundamental traits that go beyond the 3R's and delve deeply into the ability of a student to think. The math standards require students learn to “Persevere in solving problems.”
The IB Program has 12 attitudes that are fundamental to every learner: Appreciation, empathy, commitment, enthusiasm, confidence, independence, cooperation, integrity, creativity, respect, curiosity, and tolerance. Students exhibiting the attitude of commitment persist in their own learning, and persevere no matter the difficulties.
Among his endless words of wisdom, Benjamin Franklin said: "It is easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow it."
Common Core Standards tell us to “Use appropriate tools strategically.”
Besides the 12 attitudes listed above, the IB Program names ten traits that profile a learner: inquirer, knowledgeable, thinker, communicator, principle, open-minded, caring, a risk-taker, balanced, and reflective. Students who are reflective give thoughtful consideration before acting.
An Algonquin Native American prayer reads: "Grant that I may not judge my neighbor before I have walked for a day in his moccasins."
Common Core calls it “Understanding other perspectives.”
The IB mission is to “Develop active, compassionate and lifelong learners.” One of the traits included in their learner profile is being “open-minded.” That, together with the attitude of “empathy,” highlight the importance of understanding another's reasoning and emotions.
James Yorke said: "The most successful people are those who are good at Plan B."
I love that sentiment.
Common Core describes this in detail under Speaking and Listening Standards, including the importance of listening to others and building on the input of others.
“Thinking flexibly” is inherent to many of the IB learner attitudes, especially cooperation, respect, and tolerance. It is also integral to the Learner Profile “Open-minded.” These are students who are open to the perspectives, values and traditions of other individuals and communities.
Henry Ford said: "Thinking is the hardest work in the world, which is why so few engage in it."
Common Core asks that students “independently discern.” In fact, critical thinking skills are implicit in almost all of the core literacy skills and mathematical practices. Most famously, Common Core takes simple math and insists students understand not the algorithm, but the logic behind it. In short, they must think and understand, not just do the rote drill.
The IB Learner Profile defines “thinkers” as those who "Exercise initiative in applying thinking skills critically and creatively to recognize and approach complex problems and make reasoned, ethical decisions.”
Wyatt Earp once said, "Fact is fine, but accuracy is everything." Want someone more famous? How about Injinji (they manufacture toesocks): "Go the extra mile. It's never crowded."
Common Core Standards expect students to “Value evidence,” “make arguments evidence-based,” and “comprehend and evaluate complex texts” as students draw conclusions. Students are asked to follow a process that includes draft/write/rewrite as part of the writing process.
IB calls this “principled” and “balanced.”
This became popular in Ancient Greece with the birth of democracy. Socrates helped citizens reach decisions and unravel problems by posing questions. When we use it today, we call it the Socratic Method.
Common Core asks that learners “attend to precision,” to research questions/problems and find answers that are evidence-based. When listening to speakers, students are expected to come prepared to listen attentively and ask relevant questions.
IB expects students to be inquirers, reflective, and risk-takers, not afraid to ask questions and pose problems. Being able to ask a question is the first step towards becoming an inquirer.
Don't be discouraged, though, if questions don't always have ready answers. As Laurence J. Peter said, "Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well-informed just to be undecided about them."
The education community (especially those who follow Understanding by Design -- UbD) call this “transfer of knowledge.” Margaret Mead famously said, “It takes a village” to raise a child, referring to the accumulation of knowledge that must be taught.
Common Core expects students to “Be immersed in information about the world around them if they are to develop the strong general knowledge and vocabulary they need to become successful ...'
The IB learner profile considers students “knowledgeable” who explore concepts, ideas and issues that have local and global significance.
Over two thousand years ago, Plato explained the importance of clear speaking: "Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something."
Common Core outlines this in the Speaking and Listening Standards -- expecting students to join conversations prepared and with evidence.
The IB Learner Profile "Communicators" is explained as those who "understand and express ideas and information confidently and creatively in more than one language and in a variety of modes of communication."
Grandma's wisdom warns, "Be aware of your surroundings." Over half of communication is delivered through non-spoken body language. George Bernard Shaw said: "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
Common Core calls this “using appropriate tools strategically” and “evaluating information presented in diverse media and formats.” It expects arguments and discussions to be based on evidence, nothing else.
The IB philosophy includes eight “Ways of Knowing (WOK)” -- traits which students possess to obtain and manipulate knowledge. This includes language, sense perception, emotion, reason, imagination, faith, intuition, and memory. Significantly included are “sense, emotion, imagination, and intuition.”
Einstein warned of the importance of having creative and innovative thinkers: "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."
Common Core expects learners to “demonstrate independence.”
IB calls these learners “inquirers” and “risk-takers.” It defines creativity as “being creative and imaginative in their thinking and in their approach to problem solving and dilemmas.”
Thomas Jefferson said: "Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude."
Common Core expects students to be “self-directed learners.” See/think/wonder is the basis for inquiry in the classroom.
In IB, this approach is included under 'thinkers' as a broad understanding of the part of “see/think/wonder” in effective learning. It is also included as an IB Attitude “appreciation and enthusiasm. “This refers to the sense of wonder and beauty about the world.
Don't let the “fear of failure” stop you from trying. Oliver Wendell Holmes said: "Trouble creates a capacity to handle it."
Common Core wants students to “make sense of problems.”
IB defines risk-taking as: “They (students: the risk-takers) approach unfamiliar situations and uncertainty with courage and forethought, and have the independence of spirit to explore new roles, ideas and strategies. They are brave and articulate in defending their beliefs.”
Humor is well-accepted as the great lubricant for everything from tension to stress, disagreements, and unhappiness. Richard Sloma brings it back to Habits of Mind and problem solving: "Never try to solve all the problems at once -- make them line up for you one-by-one."
This is the only Habit of Mind I didn't find direct correlations in either Common Core or IB. This is surprising because many great thinkers believe in the power of humor to unpack thinking. Here's what Francis Bacon says: "Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is."
And Stephen Colbert: "You can't laugh and be afraid at the same time — of anything. If you're laughing, I defy you to be afraid."
Helen Keller said, "Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much." Your sports coaches probably quoted Phil Jackson: "The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team."
Common Core over and over again expects learning to be done collaboratively -- and then shared, so as one students grows, all grow by teaching each other.
The IB Program expects students to "Work effectively and willingly in collaboration".
Wendell Berry said: "When we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings."
Kahlil Gabran says: "Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge."
For Common Core, this is considered the ability to “comprehend as well as critique.” Learners must understand, but continue to grow as they revisit, critique, and blend in new learning.
IB considers “open-minded” one of the core traits and curiosity” the trait of a life-long learner.
If you've never been the A student, varsity sports player, or Most Likely to ***, and thought that meant you'd never amount to much, think again. Success is about who can critically think, collect evidence, make connections, keep their eye on the ball as the world falls apart around them, see the forest for the trees -- and stay positive. If you are that person, it will be enough.
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of dozens of tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, adjunct professor in tech ed, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a tech ed columnist for Examiner.com, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.