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Observing and Assessing Dispositional Growth, Chapter 7 of Dispositions: Reframing Teaching and Learning (Costa & Kallick)

Author: Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick.

Costa, Arthur L., and Bena Kallick. “Chapter 7, Observing and Assessing Dispositional Growth.” Dispositions: Reframing Teaching and Learning, Corwin, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2014.

“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.”
Peter F. Drucker

Dispositions may take many years to become internalized. For some, it’s a lifetime endeavor. For others they are born with the inclination, for still others dispositions are used only when reminded and for some it is life-long but elusive quest.

Our goal is to continue to strengthen the disposition, over time, until that disposition is used proactively with forethought and autonomously, without prompting. This requires that a person is situationally alert to cues that signal the need for the disposition, it requires that a person possess the necessary skills to execute the dispositions and to be reflective on their effectiveness in employing those skills. Obviously, this does not happen overnight, in one lesson, in one term, in one year and maybe in one lifetime. This chapter identifies and defines eight dimensions of growth over time of thinking dispositions leading to their internalization. . This chapter also provides strategies to help learners become more aware of and reflective upon their own performance of the dispositions and to make commitments for self-improvements.

Our experiences in the assessment of growth over time of the Habits of Mind, suggest several, at least eight, dimensions of growth toward internalization.

Eight Dimensions of Internalization

It is easy to think of a disposition as something that we either use or don’t use; that we have or don’t have. It would be more accurate, however, to ask:

  1. Meaning: Does the person have a conceptual understanding of the meaning of the disposition (Persisting, for example—what does it mean?) ? Can they articulate what it looks like, sounds like and feels like? Can they give some examples and non-examples?) Can they use synonyms for the label and cite instances when they used or should have used the disposition?
  2. Capacity: How skillfully is the disposition is being used? Does the person execute the disposition with confidence, grace and style? Do they have a range of strategies, tools and tactics to carry out the disposition?
  3. Situational Awareness: Is the disposition being transferred and used appropriately and consistently across many diverse situations? Is the person alert to situational cues that alert him/her when to employ and when NOT to employ the disposition.
  4. Spontaneity: Is the disposition being used autonomously– without prompting or reminding by others? Does the motivation and inclination to use the disposition emanate from within—without seeking reward, recognition or approval from others?
  5. Benefits: Does the person realize the benefits and values of choosing to use the disposition? Do they predict the consequences of choosing when to use or when not to use the disposition?
  6. Reflection: Is the person reflective on their skillfulness in using the disposition—being spectators of their own behavior–making a commitment to constantly improve their performance and apply the disposition in an ever-widening set of circumstances? (This capacity is known as self-directed neuroplasticity.) (Rock and Swartz, 2006, p 8) Does the person advocate for its use by other individuals and groups?
  7. Intentionality: Is the disposition used consciously, pro-actively and intentionally? Dispositions are not habits that are on “auto-pilot.” Being alert to situational cues, the person consciously realizes that here is a time and situation when, for example, I need to restrain my impulse or to listen with empathy.
  8. Action: Thomas Edison once said that “vision without execution is hallucination.” Does the person have the will and motivation to move to action on the disposition? While a person may display the first seven dimensions, the disposition must be thoughtfully acted upon, carried out and fulfilled. In addition, the person is prepared to call the uses of the disposition for others. So, in a group situation, for example, the person is willing to call the need for listening with empathy or thinking flexibly. This is probably the most challenging of all the dimensions.

From Dispositions as Names and Labels to Internalized Thought Patterns

“We know how to think, thank you. But, frankly, we’re just not interested.”
(Facioni et al, 1995 p 10)

Having learned the names and meanings of several dispositions, students thus become aware of when they use, or should have used, particular dispositions. After using profanities and pounding on the computer keyboard with his fist because he couldn’t get it “unfrozen,” Tommy stated that he “should have inhibited his impulse and found an alternative, more productive response.” While he used the correct label for the disposition, it should be noted, however, that Tommy’s response was in the past tense; reactive—what he should have done. We want to have students employ the dispositions proactively—in the future tense—how they will employ the dispositions. When students use dispositions proactively, it is an indication that the disposition has become “internalized.”

Interiorizing Dispositions

To be successful, students must come to “own” the dispositions. So what strategies might a teacher use to cause students to internalize dispositions?

We think that:

1) Developing a common and consistent vocabulary throughout the culture of the school and classroom. Names and labels of dispositions provide conceptual tools for students and staff with which they can communicate, operationalize, define and categorize behaviors. The names are heard across all disciplines, on the playground, at home and in the cafeteria.

2) Repeated and frequent hearing about and focusing on the disposition over time. “Yes, we are going to focus on listening with understanding and empathy again during our class meeting today. I know we did this during our last class meeting as well. But we agreed that listening without interrupting was difficult and you said that several times you forgot and responded impulsively without thinking. Today, let’s become even more aware of our listening and pay attention to what we tell ourselves when we are tempted to interrupt.”

3) Drawing attention to and finding the disposition in many settings, in varied circumstances, contexts and situations, (Besides thinking interdependently in the weight room, when and where else might it be important to think interdependently?” ) (See Martinez, 2009)

4) Discussing what the disposition means, and having students generate lists of attributes, and generating mental pictures of what the disposition looks like and sounds like. “So, while you are working through this problem together, what might it look like and sound like if you are thinking interdependently?”

5) Posing questions intended to engage the mind (rather than behavior).

Teachers ask many questions. Many of them are behavioral. For example:

If teachers pose question that deliberately engage students’ cognitive processing, and let students know why the questions are being posed in this way, it is more likely that students will become aware of and engage their own mental processes. They become spectators of their own thinking. For example:

Teachers ask many questions. Many of them are behavioral. For example:

“What was going on in your head when?”

“What were the benefits?”

“As you evaluate the effects of…”

“By what criteria are you judging?”

“What will you be aware of next time?

If teachers pose question that deliberately engage students’

6) Students also become spectators of their own thinking when they are invited to monitoring and making explicit the internal dialogue that accompanies the dispositions. For example: “What goes on in your head when you think creatively?” Or,“What did you hear yourself saying inside your brain when you were tempted to talk but your job was to listen?”

7) Establishing expectations—students are expected to behave in a manner consistent with the disposition and positive feedback (not praise) is given when it is observed. “Your persistence paid off! You stuck with it until you completed your task. You really remained focused!” (Dweck, 2006)

These are some of the powerful strategies that get the disposition inside of the brain: otherwise known as “interiorizing.” (For a discussion of the research supporting these strategies, please see Leinwand and Mainardi, 2006)

Assessing Growth of Dispositional Learning

“How much do students really love to learn, to persist?
to passionately attack a problem or a task?
… watch some of their prized ideas explode and to start anew?
… go beyond being merely dutiful or long-winded?
Let us assess such things.”
Grant Wiggins

The purpose of assessing growth of these dispositions is to have students confront themselves and reveal to others how well they have learned to cope with adverse situations and challenging problems as well as to recognize the reasons for celebration. Traditionally, we talk about assessment and what comes to mind is what we might call “precision” measurement. We are measuring for right or wrong and, in common parlance, for mastery. However, dispositions are never fully mastered. We just continue to learn and grow based on the contexts and demands of our experiences. The assessment of growth of dispositions requires different forms of assessment both from the design of the assessment as well as from the expectations of how the assessment data will inform our curriculum, nstruction, and most importantly, our students’ capacity to become more self-evaluative.

Earlier, in the Preface, we called attention to the gap between our current paradigm of assessing the acquisition of content and the needed new paradigm of teaching and assessing dispositions. The next section of this chapter is intended to bridge that gap and to clarify the mind-shifts needed to think about assessments of dispositions and offers many suggestions for tools and strategies to assess growth.

A Paradigm Shift: On-going, Formative Self-assessment.

“When assessment is seen as learning—for students as well as for teachers—it becomes most informative and generative for students and teachers alike.”
Carol Ann Tomlinson
Educational Leadership December 2007/January 3, 2008
Vol. 65/ 4 Informative Assessment Pp 8 – 13

Reflect on your experiences with testing, assessments and evaluations when you were in school.

  • Do you remember cramming for a mid-term or final exam? Or studying for a unit quiz? Assessments were summative.
  • Do you remember losing points for minor infractions? “If you are tardy for class one more time, you’ll loose10 points.“ OR, ‘If you don’t pass this course you won’t get into college.” Assessments were punitive.
  • Do you remember how congratulatory your teachers or parents were when you scored high on your exams? And your friends cheered you—“You aced the test!” Assessments were meant to compare yourself with and to impress others.
  • Do you remember your fear of failure? Some parents request their physician to prescribe psychotropic medications to their normal children to enhance academic performance (Healy, 2013). Under the provisions of the No Child left Behind act, school districts get extra federal dollars with higher test scores which lead to school officials cheating (Honolulu Advertiser, 2013).

Dispositional growth cannot be assessed using old-fashioned, content-based assessment techniques. Growth of dispositions requires different forms of assessment than does the mastery of content. This new paradigm of assessment is built upon three basic principles:

Assessment is Continuous, and On-Going. In traditional assessment designs, we waited until a project or lesson was completed to assess whether learners have acquired and retained the intended knowledge and skills. The new paradigm intends for learners to constantly monitor their own performance to determine if their behavior or products meets or approaches the criteria for excellence as described in the scaffold that was generated by the group or individual.

Formative: Formative assessment benefits students’ on-going assessment and aids learning by generating both feedback information (from both the students themselves, their products or performance, their peers and/or the teacher/coach) and “feed forward” strategies that enables students with their decision-making, to set goals and to continually restructure their understanding/skills, modify and build more powerful ideas and capabilities.

Self-Assessment: We want students to become spectators of their own growth. Building from both internal and external data sources, reflections and observations, rich and challenging learning activities provide opportunities to build the skills of monitoring and self-assessing performance and growth of dispositions. While feedback from teachers serves as a rich data source, teachers also want students to become even more self-evaluative and metacognitive about their own awareness, performance and evaluation of their own dispositions. (Ferreter. 2012)

This recursive process may be described as a feedback spiral. The intent of feedback spirals is to help students self-regulate. These spirals depend on a variety of information for their success. In some cases, individuals make changes after consciously observing their own feelings, attitudes, and skills. Some spirals depend on the observations of outsiders (such as “critical friends”). Once these data are analyzed, interpreted, and internalized, individuals modify their actions to more closely achieve their own desired performance goals or behaviors. Thus, learners are continually self-learning, self-renewing, and self-modifying.

Each element along the spiral is described below: (Costa and Kallick, 2004 p 9)

  • Clarify goals and purposes. What are the purposes for what you are doing? What beliefs or values do they reflect? What outcomes would you expect as a result of your actions?
  • Plan. What actions would you take to achieve the desired outcomes? How would you set up an experiment to test your ideas? What evidence would you collect to help inform you about the results of your actions? What would you look for as indicators your outcomes were or were not achieved? How will you leave the door open for other discoveries and possibilities that were not built into the original design? What process will you put in place that will help you describe what actually happened?
  • Take action/experiment. Execute the plan.
  • Assess/gather evidence. Implement assessment strategy.
  • Study, reflect, evaluate. Whether this is an individual or organizational change, how are the results congruent with stated values? What meaning can be made of the data? Who might serve as a critical friend to coach, facilitate, or mediate your learning from this experience? What have individuals learned from this action?
  • Modify actions based on new knowledge. What will be done differently in the future as a result of reflection and integration of new knowledge? Is this plan worth trying again?
  • Revisit and clarify goals and purposes. Do the goals still make sense? Are they still of value, or do they need to be redefined, refocused, or refined? This element returns to the first step in the spiral: clarify goals and purposes.

Setting a Context for Assessing the Internalization of Dispositions

In order to assess these dispositions, we must offer opportunities for students to show us how they work. Davidson states: (Now You See It p.106) “Assessment is a bit like the famous Heisenberg principle in quantum mechanics: the more precisely you measure for one property, the less precisely you can measure for another.” We have been spending considerable time trying to measure all levels of content knowledge with precision. In so doing, we have sacrificed recognizing and valuing the very skills that we claim to hold dear: originality, collaboration, higher-level thinking, and interdisciplinary teamwork.” In other words, all of the so-called 21 st century skills that we identified in chapter one.

In order to make these skills measurable, we also have to make them visible both to the students as well as to the teachers and parents. We need to provide many opportunities for students to show teachers, parents, peers and themselves what they know and how skillfully the can respond when faced with a curriculum that requires thinking and problem solving. We need to be able to collect evidence of students’ thinking over time so that both they and we can see the growth as they build what Richhart calls “intellectual character”. Following are some possible ways for students to collect, reflection and share such evidence:

In a recent document from the Office of Educational Technology of the U. S. Department of Education (2013) the authors summarized a definition of grit as having the following three components:

  1. Academic mindsets. These are how students frame themselves as learners, their learning environment, and their relationships to the learning environment. Mindsets include beliefs, attitudes, dispositions, values, and ways of perceiving oneself.
  2. Effortful control. Students are constantly faced with tasks that are important for long-term goals but that in the short-term may not feel desirable or intrinsically motivating. Successful students marshal willpower and regulate their attention in the face of distractions.
  3. Strategies and tactics. Students are also more likely to persevere when they can draw on specific strategies and tactics to deal with challenges and setbacks. They need actionable skills for taking responsibility and initiative, and for being productive under conditions of uncertainty—for example, defining tasks, planning, monitoring, and dealing with specific obstacles.

Paramount to all of these considerations is the development of the student becoming more self-evaluative—being able to judge one’s own products, actions and performances. We are aiming to move students from “ I know” (awareness and meaning) to “I know I can do” (internalization and confirmation to “ I can do”(take action). Although many students use the dispositions unconsciously, it is the consciousness of the importance of these dispositions that helps them to transfer the use of the dispositions to situations in which they are uncomfortable, challenged, struggling to stay with the situation. The challenge for assessment is to make the dispositional thinking visible both to the learner and the teacher while, at the same time, aiming to make the disposition a habit—a more spontaneous use of the disposition without specific recognition.

Rick Stiggins (2012), suggests some ways of assessing growth in dispositions that addresses this dilemma:

Using the method of selected response–designing choices that might tap into a student’s awareness and feelings about the meaning and value of using particular habits given a problem or situation posed in the curriculum. For example: the student might be given the follow sort of choice after a particular problem solving assignment: On a scale from 1-10 (one being the lowest and 10 being the highest) how would you rate your ability to stay with the problem when it presented some difficulty for you? Explain your reasoning.

Another example: When I was working with this group I found that I was:

  1. Able to listen to the others in the group and work to understand their perspectives
  2. Not able to stay with the group as my mind wandered away from the task
  3. Interrupting people because I got frustrated with the way the group was working
  4. Wishing that I could do this work alone

Open-ended questionnaires–in which students express their awareness of the meaning and value of
one of the habits. For example:

“As you were working on this particular problem, which of the dispositions did you find you were calling upon?” Or, “In this particular situation, you were confronted with a really complex problem in which you were asked to develop your opinion about potential solutions. What helped you to persist when you felt a struggle with the task?”

Observations of Performances What does it look like when a student applies a disposition? What will they be doing or saying? Asking students to self-observe, peer observe, and also have teachers observe in order to infer levels of internalization of dispositions during the process of working on a product or performance. We want to foster the metacognitive process through feedback from these observations. Metacognition is the human’s ability to reflect on how effectively they are handling the problem solving. When we observe students persisting with difficult tasks, overcoming frustration, setting and achieving goals, seeking help; working with others, monitoring and adjusting
to changing circumstances while accomplishing their specific goals—these are the metacognitive qualities (executive functions) that are vastly more important, transferrable, life-long-lasting and essential than recalling how to factor a polynomial.

Interviews–Holding conversations with students about their feelings, understanding and internalization of the dispositions. For example we might ask primary grade students questions such as:

  • As you recall the dispositions we have discussed this year, which ones do you think you use most?
  • What are some reasons it’s important to use these dispositions?
  • What does it look like and sound like if some one is using (persistence) (creativity) (empathy) (craftsmanship) well?
  • How might you describe learning these dispositions to new students, parents, friends etc..?
  • What questions do you have about the dispositions?

We might ask secondary grade students questions such as:

  • As you consider the dispositions we’ve learned this year, which are the ones that come to mind first for you?
  • Describe one or two situations in which you are using one or more of the dispositions. How do you know which dispositions would be important to use in that situation?
  • What observations have you made about yourself or others since you have been introduced to the dispositions?
  • When you have a problem in your class or in school, or at home, what do you say to yourself that recalls the dispositions?
  • In what ways might you encourage others to use the dispositions to support learning?
  • Given what you know about yourself as a learner, which dispositions might you describe as your strengths and stretches? What are some reasons?
  • What goals are you setting for yourself with regard to the dispositions as you move on toward college or career?

In any of these situations, it is not the assessment data in and of itself that is significant. Rather, it is the ability for students to use the feedback to learn about themselves and others. These assessment strategies will foster a metacognitive capacity to reflect on how effectively the students are handling problem solving, for example. When we observe students persisting with difficult tasks, overcoming frustration, setting and achieving goals, seeking help; working with others, monitoring and adjusting to changing circumstances while accomplishing their specific goals—these are the metacognitive qualities (executive functions) that are vastly more important, transferrable, life-long-lasting and essential than recalling how to factor a polynomial.

Because we are all on a continuous journey of improvement of our dispositions, dispositional learning requires continuous on-going formative assessments. Different students are at different stages in their development of these dispositions. For numerous reasons–emotional, familial, cultural, genetic, etc–some students are more inclined to display manifestations of these dispositions that others. Presenting students with assessment data that is generated from assessments as described above, teachers and parents will readily determine growth in the capacities and inclinations to develop their dispositions. The “From – To” chart below describes a continuum of typical behaviors of students as they focus on, developing their capacities for self-assessment and making a commitment for growth toward internalization of several of these dispositions:

Gives up quickly. Gets frustrated but lacks strategies for knowing what to do when stuck. Displays very short attention span. Stays with a task, remains focused through to completion. Generates and employs multiple and various problem- solving strategies Perseverance
Blurts out ideas. Jumps to conclusions. Begins work without clear goals in mind. Lashes out when emotionally flooded.
Is deliberative and goal directed. Thinks and considers alternatives before responding or acting. Reflects on actions and sets goals for improvement. Inhibition of Impulse
Ignores or interrupts others. Is unaware of other’s feelings/emotions. Speaks mainly from an ego-centered point of view. Paraphrases other’s ideas. Responds with empathy, Clarifies to deepen meaning, Inquires into ideas of mutual interest. Builds on ideas of previous speakers. Listening with understanding
Is rigid in thinking unable to see other’s point of view. Interprets from a narrow perspective. Refuses to change mind. Holds to one alternative. Views the world egocentrically. Is willing to change perceptions and conclusions with additional information. Considers other’s points of view. Can examine issues both holistically and analytically. Appreciates and values other’s culture, style and perspectives. Flexibility and open mindedness
Follows instructions or performs tasks without wondering why they are doing what they are doing. Seldom questions themselves about their own learning strategies or evaluate the efficiency of their own performance. Has no idea of what to do when confronting a problem. Are often unable to explain their strategies of decision making. Lacks names for commonly used cognitive processes. Possesses a repertoire of problem-solving strategies and approaches and can track and describe progress as they are implemented. Is conscious of own beliefs, values and actions and their effects on others. Can describe what goes on in their head when employing cognitive processes (comparing, predicting, concluding, hypothesizing, etc.) Awareness of own thinking, (Metacognition)
Is satisfied with disorganized, incomplete, inaccurate and error-ridden work. Takes pride in their accomplishments. Has a desire for accuracy as they employ various strategies to check over their
work. Reviews the rules and criteria to guide their work and confirms that finished products match the criteria exactly. Knows that they can continually perfect one’s craft.
Desire for craftsmanship, accuracy and precision

“Getting better” at a disposition means that they are increasingly improving in the 8 dimensions that have been referenced earlier in this chapter.


This is a digital age in which the collection of work is easier and more accessible than it has ever been in the past. Harvard University’s Tony Wagner (2012) states, ” I believe the U.S. Department of Education and state education departments need to develop ways to assess essential skills with digital portfolios that follow students through school,”

There are many web 2.0 tools available for students to collect their work over time. (See Farr, 2013) However, the idea of a portfolio is not to just collect the work. That might make an interesting scrapbook. Rather, it is to showcase powerful examples of work in which the student can highlight not only the product but also the process. Such reflections as:

  • Choose work that demonstrates your capacity to persist when you were struggling. What were some of the strategies that you employed to help you make your way toward accomplishing your goal?
  • Choose work that demonstrates your best use of a time management plan. What were some of the strategies that you used to help you to keep your project moving forward?
  • Choose work that demonstrates your taking a risk in your work. What did you need to do to have the courage to stay with your decisions realizing that you were innovating?
  • Choose work that demonstrates you thought creatively, that you generated a novel approach to solving a problem, that you generated a new and different “twist” on an idea. The diagram below describes a process for developing a portfolio.
  • Phase one: Collecting: Students collect work that has some meaning for them. They put that work in a folder. Using technology, they can create a portfolio folder and then have sub-titles such as: Flexible Thinking, Using All of the Senses, Wonderment and Awe, Craftsmanship. The teacher or the system can choose which dispositions will serve as evidence of the development of student the school is looking for.
  • Phase Two: Selection: On a quarterly basis (or otherwise depending on the school), there is a review of the collection. At that time, students select those works that they feel are best indicators of their working on the disposition. For example, the student might choose a particular piece of writing that shows communicating with clarity and precision. Or, the student might choose a video film that shows how the student worked in a group and was able to work interdependently.
  • Phase Three: Reflection: The student, in each phase of this process, is developing a stronger sense of evaluation of work; it is this phase that really brings it together. The student is required to reflect upon the choices made and justify the claim of how they were working on a disposition with the evidence in the working process or product.
  • Phase Four: Direction: The cycle is completed when the student takes all of the thinking and learning that has been provoked by the development of the portfolio and sets some goals for the next cycle. What do I feel really proud of? What do I think that I can improve on? What might be some benchmarks that would tell me that I am improving?


Games give students immediate feedback: they might fail but they know why they’ve failed–the game lets them know their mistakes up front. Students can then reflect on how they may need to make modifications in their game play to be even more successful next time.

Many games require students to apply and monitor the use of such dispositions as strategic thinking, problem solving, creativity, thinking interdependently and using clear and precise communication. If students play a multiplayer contest and win, they demonstrate that they can collaborate and strategize in teams, and the game play is designed to assess these skills. Students can be alerted to or they can discover which dispositions they must monitor and then, as they are playing the game, observers might record which dispositions are apparent and give feedback is the game play is debriefed. Teachers may want to observe students playing the games and use such checklists (as those below) as observational tools. (Miller, 2013)

Developing And Keeping Checklists

Invite students to describe how we can determine if they are becoming more aware of their own thinking (metacognition) for example. What would it look like and sound like? When asked, they can:

  • list the steps and tell where they are in the sequence of a problem solving strategy.
  • trace the pathways and dead ends they took on the road to a problem solution.
  • describe what data are lacking and their plans for producing those data

Or, for persistence: What would we see or hear a person doing if they are persistent?

  • Sticking to it when the solution to a problem is not immediately apparent.
  • Employing systematic methods of analyzing a problem.
  • Knowing ways to begin, knowing what steps must be performed and when they are accurate or are in error.
  • Taking pride in their efforts.
  • Striving for craftsmanship and accuracy in their products
  • Becoming more self-directed in their problem-solving abilities
  • Celebrating their achievements
  • Tapping into other resources (human, electronic, textual) for ideas, suggestions and advice

Checklists are developed through conversations in the classroom. Students are asked, “What would it look like if a person were a good listener? What would it sound like if a person were a good listener?” Students generate a list of positively constructed observable behaviors. For example, in the “looks like” category there might be responses such as, “establishes eye contact” or “nods head when agreeing’. In the sounds like category there might be responses such as, ” builds on the other person’s ideas” or ” clarifies when does not understand”.

The teacher then assigns or students choose a task or problem on which to work interdependently. The teacher gives directions that each student should monitor their own participation while engaging with the group to solve the problem. The students and the teacher agree to observe themselves for these behaviors.

Notice that this check list is entitled, “How am I Doing’’ A variation of this activity is to change the title of the checklist to “HOW ARE WE DOING?” The teacher invites two or three students per group (depending on the size of the group) to observe and record each group member’s flexibility behavior during the task. Afterward the teacher invites the group to reflect on their flexibility behaviors. The observer students then share the data they collected with the rest of the group. No doubt there will be dissension and disagreements among the observers and the group members which will provide rich learning opportunities for members of the group to listen with understanding and
empathy, to communicate with precision, to meta-cogitate and to manage their understanding and empathy.

Here is an example of a student/teacher-developed checklist for Flexibility

Journals, Logs and Diaries

Consciousness about the dispositions often begins with journal entries designed to help students focus on how they are developing. Learning logs, journals and diaries are ways to collect evidence over time about student’s self-assessment of their use of and feelings about the dispositions. They are especially powerful in engaging metacognition and helping students to draw forth previous knowledge.

Before, or directly following, a unit, project, or area of study, invite students to make entries in their logs or journals. Short, frequent bursts of writing are sometimes more productive than infrequent, longer assignments. Teachers, too, can join in the writing process by reflecting on their teaching, analyzing learners’ learning, preserving anecdotes about the class interactions, and projecting ideas for how they might approach a unit of study differently in the future.

Consider these dispositional sentence starters to help students document their learning:

  • One thing that surprised me today was . . .
  • I felt particularly flexible when I . . .
  • I used my senses to . . .
  • As I think about how I went about solving the problem, I . . .
  • A question I want to pursue is . . .
  • When I checked my work I found . . .
  • Because I listened carefully I learned . . .

Students can collect specific log entries from time to time, read through them, and share written comments with the teacher and peers if they are so inclined. This practice helps build stronger relationships with the learners and provides a useful way for them to assess how well they are doing and how their conscious use of the habits of mind is developing. Initial journal can be compared with more recent or final ones so that students can reflect on and assess their own growth over time. They can then respond to the prompt: “I used to think………. but now I think……..”


Involving students in developing and applying rubrics is another way to for them to assess their own performance of dispositions. The purpose of rubrics is for self-mastery. Through student’s self-authoring of descriptions and indicators of what they will be doing and saying if they are using the disposition effectively, rubrics promote self- managing, self-monitoring and self-evaluating. They provide a mental rehearsal prior to performance. The intent is for students to describe the categories of behaviors, hold them in their head as they apply them and then evaluate their own performance and make plans for improvement (See the feedback spiral presented earlier in this chapter. ) Each category should be sufficiently clear so that students can learn from the feedback about their behavior and to seek ways to improve. Following are two examples of rubrics developed by upper grade students from Kittredge School in San Francisco under the direction of their mentor, Chuck Lavaroni. Notice that the statements begin with “I” or that they are about “me.” Several statements also invite students to describe their feelings as well as their performances.

Using the power of Technology and Social Networks

There are many ways that students can reveal their learning to others and to themselves. Many include using digital tools that allow a student to create a museum, video, film, play, website, etc. These performances should be accompanied by questions that require the student to reflect on their development of dispositions.

The possibility of students sharing their work with others around the world opens many opportunities for feedback. Might we also encourage students to share their strategies for developing problem-solving dispositions, for example? Once we determine the importance of the development of dispositions to help us as we unlearn some old habits and relearn some new ones, using social media as well as classroom based opportunities might open the door to a whole new way of considering assessment.

In Summary

Internalization means that these dispositions serve as an internal compass that guides decisions when human beings are confronted with dilemmas, enigmas, problems, conflicts or ambiguities. These dispositions may serve as mental disciplines. When confronted with problematic situations, students, parents and teachers might habitually employ one or more of these dispositions by asking themselves, “What is the most intelligent thing I can do right now?”

  • How can I learn from this, what are my resources, how can I draw on my past successes with problems like this, what do I already know about the problem, what resources do I have available or need to generate?
  • How can I approach this problem flexibly? How might I look at the situation in another way, how can I draw upon my repertoire of problem solving strategies; how can I look at this problem from a fresh perspective (Lateral Thinking).
  • How can I illuminate this problem to make it clearer, more precise? Do I need to check out my data sources? How might I break this problem down into its component parts and develop a strategy for understanding and accomplishing each step.
  • What do I know or not know; what questions do I need to ask, what strategies are in my mind now, what am I aware of in terms of my own beliefs, values and goals with this problem.
  • What feelings or emotions am I aware of which might be blocking or enhancing my progress?
  • The interdependent thinker might turn to others for help. They might ask how this problem affects others; how can we solve it together and what can I learn from others that would help me become a better problem solver?

These dispositions transcend all subject matters commonly taught in school. They are characteristic of peak performers whether they are in homes, schools, athletic fields, organizations, the military, governments, churches or corporations. They are what make marriages successful, learning continual, workplaces productive and democracies enduring.

Because dispositions are never fully mastered, as maybe understanding content and concepts are mastered, the purposes of assessing growth in dispositions is to have students monitor themselves, confront themselves with self-generated data and reveal to others how well they have learned to cope with adverse situations and challenging problems. It means setting goals for themselves to constantly improve their decisions and actions and making commitments to pursue those goals in future situations. It means being alert to feedback by self -observation, seeing feedback from others and modifying their actions to become even more efficient in the execution of their dispositions. It means self-modification–building your own new neural pathways. The learner’s brain sculpts itself, otherwise, neuro-scientifically known as “auto-plasticity.”


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DMU Timestamp: November 27, 2021 03:35

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