In his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in
Life and in Business, Charles Duhigg
points to evidence that in business and in life we don’t have to get everything
right as long as we get some essential things right.
He writes that certain
“keystone habits” can “start a process that, over time, transforms everything.”
He tells the story of Alcoa CEO Paul O’Neill, who transformed the company by
focusing its resources narrowly on assembly-line safety habits. Keystone
habits, he writes, are “key priorities” that become “powerful levers.” “The
habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge
and remake other patterns.”
Keystone habits might explain how some classrooms are more
productive than others. Considering your classroom from this perspective might raise
the question: What are the habits or routines my students engage in that most positively
affect their learning? Is there a single habit that, practiced well, could
really promote learning?
According to Robert Marzano (et al., 2001—Classroom Instruction That Works), cooperative
learning has a powerful effect on achievement.This
includes the simplest, most manageable cooperative configuration—partners. Add
to that the potent effect of feedback on objectives, and you’ve
got a powerful lever for learning. When you ask students to turn and share
their answers to an essential learning question, this cooperative moment
becomes both an occasion to formulate thinking and a time to give and receive
feedback for learning.
and Talk and
other structures for managing conversations in the classroom can become
keystone learning habits that simultaneously ensure engagement and
Jane Pollock points out (Feedback:
The Hinge that Joins Teaching and Learning, 2012) that such potentially
productive routines as turn and talk are often “invisible in plain sight”
because, though they are already in use, their potential is unrealized because
the dynamics of the routine are not clearly understood by the teacher, and are
therefore unattended to. Recognizing that we can leverage a keystone habit like
turn and talk, combining an opportunity for students to be social with an
opportunity for goal-oriented feedback, could be the most efficient thing we
can do to increase and ensure student learning.
Todd Bartholomay is the Programs and Special Projects Director for The Origins Program. A long-time practitioner of the Developmental Designs approach, he taught at the middle level for fourteen years. He also served as a principal in the St. Paul Public Schools, where he was in school adminstration for ten years.
Posted May 2013