Reflections on Deeper Learning: Chapter 2 – Dispositions: Critical Pathways for Deeper Learning

Chapter 2 of Deeper Learning takes a close look at dispositions for deeper learning, putting forth the idea that “we must all think anew about the important outcomes of education as we prepare students for a vastly different future than we have known in the past” (p. 55). The chapter’s authors, Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, posit that:

We are at a crossroads in education. One path suggests that we continue to do what we have always done but with more rigor and relevance. Another path is to adopt a new premise – a new view of what school is for. (p. 56)

This crossroads reminds me of Henry Ford’s quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” What we have always done in education isn’t working so well anymore, because the world changed. Like making the dramatic shift from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles, we can adopt a new premise and paradigm in the education industry.

Costa and Kellick share a few ways to define dispositions:

  • A habit, preparation, state of readiness, or tendancy to act in a specified way
  • A cluster of preferences, attitudes, and intentions, plus a set of capabilities that allow the preferences to become realized in a particular way
  • Acquired patterns of behavior that are under one’s control and will as opposed to being automatically activated

The chapter also lists 16 (yes, sixteen) dispositions that are characteristic of skillful problem solvers:

  1. Persisting
  2. Managing impulsivity
  3. Listening with understanding and empathy
  4. Thinking flexibly
  5. Thinking about your thinking
  6. Striving for accuracy and precision
  7. Questioning and problem posing
  8. Applying past knowledge to novel situations
  9. Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
  10. Gathering data through all senses
  11. Creating, imagining, and innovating
  12. Responding with wonderment and awe
  13. Taking responsible risks
  14. Finding humor
  15. Thinking interdependently
  16. Remaining open to continuous learning

It’s quite a list, and I agree that all of these dispositions are important. But as a teacher, it’s a little overwhelming to think about how I might foster all sixteen dispositions in all my students. I’m also a bit unsure how I might measure their progress in all 16 dispositions. At Mount Vernon, we have six mindsets that encapsulate many of the dispositions above: collaborator, communicator, solution seeker, ethical decision maker, creative thinker, and innovator. We work to infuse and assess these mindsets on a regular basis. While six mindsets are much more manageable than sixteen dispositions, our mindsets are not all-inclusive. I don’t think the dispositions of finding humor, remaining open to continuous learning, thinking about your thinking, and responding with wonderment and awe are explicitly or implicitly included in our mindsets. (I could be wrong.) Could it be time to edit the mindsets? Or could we think about what dispositions, in addition to our mindsets, we might want to include on our report card?

Chapter 2 also provides seven trategies for teachers and school leaders to use to help develop these dispositions in students:

  1. Making dispositions explicit by establishing expectations
  2. Developing a common and consistent vocabulary throughout the culture of a classroom, the school, and the community
  3. Transferring and applying the disposition in many settings, circumstances, context, and situations
  4. Operationalizing dispositions as actions
  5. Building the vocabulary for deeper learning
  6. Reflecting on the use of dispositions and setting goals for improvement
  7. Modeling

I’m curious to learn more about how we might use students’ eporfolios to develop and showcase growth in these dispositions. Eportfolios provide space to reflect, and we can equip students with precise, disposition-focused language to use when thinking about their work processes and final products. Professional educators often model their own development and growth, using eportfolio-type tools such as blogs, Twitter, or other social media. How might we utilize eportfolio tools to document disposition growth over time?


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