Pennsylvania Colleges Ask for ‘Habits of Mind’

We are as concerned with how students learn as with what they learn. What we learn – knowledge of facts, processes, and concepts – is critical to success in college. How we learn is equally critical. We attach the highest value to the cultivation of such habits of mind as curiosity; independence, clarity, and incisiveness of thought; tolerance for ambiguity; and an ability to solve problems, coupled with a willingness to work hard and an ability to manage time. Students will be poorly prepared for college-level learning if their success in secondary school is largely a result of memorization.

To help students develop and strengthen these habits and abilities, courses in secondary school need to be challenging and intellectually demanding. Because we believe that effective writing promotes clear thinking, we expect courses to include frequent writing assignments. Clear, persuasive writing is grounded in the mastery of such skills as analytic thinking, problem solving, the interpretation of texts, informed speculation, and the ability to communicate information and ideas to others. Teachers should assign work which requires students to assess and integrate what they have learned, thereby developing their ability to read and think critically. Those courses and assignments challenging enough to require students to manage their time will help prepare students for similar demands in college. Serious independent projects reward students’ curiosity and allow them to demonstrate their knowledge by defining issues carefully and presenting their own analyses and conclusions. Collaborative assignments develop students’ ability to think and learn from others as well as on their own. When studentsquestion, interpret, and respond to ideas in conversation with others and draw conclusions through group discussion as well as solitary speculation, they are better prepared for the complex variety of tasks that they will face in college.

(From “What We Expect: A Statement on Preparing for College,” by the Academic Deans of the (Pennsylvania) Commonwealth Partnership: Allegheny College, Bryn Mawr College, Bucknell University, Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham College, Dickinson College, Franklin Marshall College, Gettysburg College, Haverford College, Lafayette College, Lehigh University, and Swarthmore College.)