One great way to build competence and autonomy in adolescents is to focus on
a set of good habits all students should have. If students are shown how
something is to be done, and get enough guided practice, they’ll build their
competencies and be able to handle more autonomy.
Students learn good
habits over time. They usually need to be modeled and practiced often before
they become automatic. Substituting good habits for bad ones is more difficult,
and takes longer: the bad habit tends to get in the way and needs to be
unlearned before the good one can take hold.
Good habits support
important classroom and school-wide routines
Here are some examples of
times when routines are important to establish good habits.
Start of class:
E.g., signal for silence; getting materials
During class: E.g., sharpening
pencils; handing papers in/out
Working: E.g., partner learning; raising
hands, gaining the floor
Ending class: E.g., moving furniture; recording
assignments in planner
Outside of classroom: E.g., hallway movement;
Steps to creating good habits in
Teams may devote planning time prior to the first day of school
to identify habits they’d like students to develop. After coming to consensus on
a small set that everyone agrees to model, teams then create implementation
plans for each.
- Teachers gather for a team planning meeting before the year begins to
address this question: What habits do we want our students to have from the very
beginning of the year? Generate an a list.
- Teachers target three or four habits for implementation during the first
term. Once these have been successfully established, the team can start
concentrating on another group of three or four.
- Teams examine each habit from all angles to describe it in detail.
- Team members create a plan for introducing, supporting, and maintaining each
learning habit. To guide the implementation plan, teams can use some of the
- What modeling will we do to show students how to develop each
learning habit? When will we model and practice it (day, date, class
- What title will we give a look/sound/feel chart to support each
habit? What will you say to students as you introduce the look/sound/feel chart?
- What strategies will we expect students to use to support each
- What teaching strategies will we use to support each habit?
- How might each habit help students connect to and achieve their goals and
- How will each habit reinforce and connect to the Social Contract?
- What opportunities for reflection on each habit will we build into
- How can students lead parts of our good-learning-habits initiative?
- What means will we have of maintaining school-wide habits, e.g., in
the hallway, cafeteria, playground, and restrooms?
- What extra support might we offer students for whom acquiring the
selected habits proves difficult?
Survey results: sample list of
important learning routines
A survey of teachers attending a
Developmental Designs 2 workshop in July indicated that the routine that
team of teachers considered the highest priority for modeling and practicing was
helping students stay focused during individual classroom work. The teachers’
second priority was managing that work time for productivity, and the third was
responding when someone makes an inappropriate remark. Other routines high on
the list of must-do modelings were:
- Making everyone feel included during group work
- Asking for help during work time
- Sustaining effort
- Reflecting on your work
- Taking good notes from text or lectures
- Creating a good presentation
- Organizing papers and work
- Responding to criticism
- Interpreting assignments
Each of these routines can become habitual
for students if they are carefully presented, modeled, practiced, and maintained
through reminders and re-modeling after breaks and whenever else students start
to slide. Team solidarity about the habits students will develop can change
school climate dramatically.