Thursday, November 05, 2009

Habits of Mind

On Tuesday I wrote in "Learning and Intelligence" about the difference between having the ability to think rationally being different from the habit of using said ability. The source was a fascinating NewScientist article.

Yesterday in an article in InsideHigherEd, Peter Facione wrote in a comment that:
The California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST), used by hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the US and worldwide, has quietly become one of the leading measures of critical thinking skills. Its companion tool, the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory (CCTDI), assesses the habits of mind which incline one to use critical thinking in real world problem solving and decision making. Research shows that having the skills to think well and having the disposition to use those skills in key judgment situations is not highly correlated and yet few educational settings are taking this into account.
I do not remember reading about the CCTDI before. Their website describes the instrument as:
The California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory is the premier tool for surveying the dispositional aspects of critical thinking. The CCTDI invites respondents to indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree with 75 statements expressing beliefs, values, attitudes and intentions that relate to the reflective formation of reasoned judgments. The CCTDI measures the "willing" dimension in the expression "willing and able" to think critically. The CCTDI can be administered in 20 minutes.
You can find a list of abstracts for research using the CCTDI here. There are some interesting bits to read there, like:
Significant differences were detected in critical thinking disposition (CCTDI) between the two groups of students, Hong Kong Chinese students failing to show a positive disposition toward critical thinking on the CCTDI total mean score, while the Australian students showed a positive disposition. The study raises questions about the effects of institutional, educational, professional and cultural factors on the disposition to think critically. [Tiwari A, Avery A, Lai P. (2003)]
You may recall that the CIRP is also trying to do this using item response theory to estimate a dimension called habits of mind. It's described on the HERI website as "Interactions with students that foster habits of mind for student learning."

It seems to me that this an opportunity to change the discussion about general education, using these ideas. If disposition is indeed different from ability, then perhaps the marination of a student for two years in a survey courses ought to be focused on developing habits of mind more than trying to assemble a skills list (like critical thinking). Or in addition to it, if you're a glutton for punishment.

A student who completes a solid degree program is going to come out of it with real analytical and creative skills he or she didn't have before. But the way the curriculum generally work, the way our learning outcomes are sketched, I don't think it's common to address this other dimension: intentionally developing open-mindedness, truth-seeking, systematicity, and maturity, as the CCTDI gets factored.


  1. I just saw this idea in action at Olin College of Engineering. They're turning out extra-successful graduates and have bet the farm on developing an information literacy and creative confidence attuned to engineering the they admit comes at the cost of a dense inventory of content mastery.

    It is working for them at each end of the funnel. Their admissions funnel is full, they graduate 90% of their freshmen, and they are pointing to high alumni success in grad school and workplace.

    What they have predictably not yet done is try to get a handle on internal outcomes. I expect that will come.

  2. Interesting trade-off. I'd like to hear more about it.