Habits of Mind

Our school is in the middle of a self-study, and we are looking at the “Habits of Mind” we would like our students to have when they graduate.  Rather than a skill-set, habits of mind, as we define them, are attitudes or ways of learning developed in an individual that they will use when presented with new experiences in life.  Our identified habits of mind are: Critical Thinking, Creativity, Curiosity, Reflection, Empathy and Collaboration.

Today I am thinking about Creativity.  I’m an avid “fiber junkie” at home, and I have a vast supply of fabric, yarn, wool, ribbon, thread, etc. for creating quilts and clothing.  Much of what I’ve purchased I’ve intended for a certain project, which I never got around to.  As a result of all this fiber hoarding, I’ve taken a vow to spend a year not buying anything new.  So, I have a special event to plan for and I need to make a dress.  I can’t buy anything new, so I’m going through what I already have to see what I can cobble together into what I need.  I look at one fabric and say, this was supposed to be for a coat, but it drapes nicely – it could be a skirt panel.

I often think of Creativity in a sort of “sky’s the limit” sense.  If you could do anything, what would you do?  Sometimes, in terms of motivation, we give students a “sky’s the limit” option – write a story (do a project, research a report) about anything or anyone you want.  They get to practice whatever skill we are working on, and they get to choose the topic.  Choice is good – I’ve mentioned that before, and recently!  We imagine this is allowing them to be creative, and in one sense it is.  But there is another part to creativity – what do you do with what you already have?  How do you see it in a new way – perhaps in unexpected, innovative ways – so that you create something that you wouldn’t have thought of at the start?  I think that sometimes, creativity happens because there are limits we must work within.  When there are fewer limits, when the “sky’s the limit,” what I often see is students choosing something they already know and are comfortable with.  This does not enable them to stretch their creative wings.

Sometimes I feel creatively stagnant simply because there are fewer limits.  Maybe this is where our “starving artist” stereotype comes from.  When you have less, you learn to use it in new ways.  So perhaps, too much choice actually limits the imagination.  I think I may have this discussion with students the next time they feel they are being “punished” because they cannot choose what they already feel comfortable expressing.


About Paula Montrie

I am a Middle School Librarian at Friends School of Baltimore. I have been a librarian for 11 years, serving 6 years with the Howard County Public School System before arriving at my current school. I teach two classes: SpeechCraft (a combination of information literacy, public speaking and theater), and Media Literacy at the middle school level. I also collaboratively co-teach with a number of teachers at the school, including Music, Geography, and U.S. History. I love it! My professional interests are: information literacy, multiple intelligences and learning styles, teaching through movement, curriculum-writing, technology integration, and bridging the gap between digital natives and digital immigrants. My personal interests are: dancing, singing, knitting, sewing, art, living history, writing and of course - reading!
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One Response to Habits of Mind

  1. I love that, “maybe too much choice limits the imagination.” I so agree, often times when we give students projects where there are little or no limitations they give us something predicatble, something comfortable and familiar. When we give them some restrictions, it causes them to think in new and different ways. It causes them to seek out innovative answers. I am thinking about this TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/william_kamkwamba_on_building_a_windmill.html William Kamkwamba came up with a innovative, creative solution using the limited resources he had available. This is creativity.

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