Habits of Mind

Habits of Mind, Purposeful Pathways to Developing a Flexible Mindset Disposition

Motivated thinkers are inquisitive, consultative, open-minded, tolerant of ambiguity, self-reflective, and attentive to detail.

By Doris Wells-Papanek, MEd

Director, Design Learning Network

According to Garfield Gini-Newman and Roland Case of the Critical Thinking Consortium, “motivated thinkers are inquisitive, consultative, open-minded, fair-minded, tolerant of ambiguity, self-reflective, and attentive to detail. An individual’s attitudes – or habits of mind – are key constituents of good thinking. People who are, for example, closed to new ideas or inflexible in their thinking are seriously impaired in their ability to arrive at justifiable resolutions of issues. Open-mindedness is but one of an array of habits of mind needed by thinkers. The tendency of some individuals is to rashly leap to conclusions underlies another crucial mental habit of a good thinker, the inclination to deliberate – to think before acting. Successful thinking is a significantly (but by no means exclusively) a matter of attitude.”

Gini-Newman, Garfield, and Roland Case. Creating Thinking Classrooms: Leading Educational Change
for a 21st Century World
. Critical Thinking Consortium, 2015. Print.

From a student’s perspective, what level of impact might focusing on two
habits of mind have on their learning experiences and outcomes?

KC2016 Design Learning Challenge, Step 3) Explain, March 5 KCAI-Hosted Culminating Event

19 Essential Habits of Mind

After years of applied research and practice, the Critical Thinking Consortium has identified 19 Essential Habits of Mind. To make each habit more accessible to students during our Design Learning Challenges, we have grouped them into three action-oriented categories: Think, Collaborate, and Problem Solve. Furthermore, the habits of mind have phrased as ‘When I Can…’ statements coupled with easy to remember descriptors.

Below is a sample of the Think category:


Takes Initiative

I will know that I am taking initiative…

When I can do things that I know are important on my own – without being told.


I will know that I am being circumspect…

When I can consider lots of possible circumstances and outcomes – before taking action.


I will know that I am being open-minded…

When I can listen to and make sense of – different and opposing points of view.


I will know that I am being independent-minded…

When I can think of ideas that are new or different from my friends.


I will know that I am being self-reflective…

When I am monitoring my beliefs and actions to see if they are consistent with who I wish to be.


I will know that I am being humble…

When I can see my place within the bigger picture – and make sense of where I fit.


Habits of Mind in Action

As a point of reference, during the KC2016 Reinvent Learning on Purpose Challenge students chose two habits of mind in which to focus. Below is a sample of student reflections regarding the impact the habits had on their learning experiences and outcomes.

Takes Initiative

I used to get off task, now I can stay focused


I learned how to think outside of the box, normally my mind does not
want to go outside the lines

Persistent and Perseverant

I worked hard the whole time, I learned that I can have a big output
if I put the work into the assignment


We worked as a team to be attentive and focused on the important things


I learned to become more outspoken and am more certain of my ideas


I learned to accept change and accept criticism in a more productive way


I learned to become even more empathetic and to consider the different lives of others and their busy schedules – learning this has changed my life


I’ve learned not to be stuck on my own ideas, not always being the only one
that is right, now I stay more open-minded and not take over the project

Attentive to Detail

I learned to add more effective details to the plan


Now if I have a problem, I know to ask questions and which ones
 to ask – I learned if you never ask, it is harder to learn


I’ve learned not to be dead-set on my ideas and attitude,
otherwise you become a loner

Tolerant of Ambiguity

I used to not be able to handle ambiguity, now I can