Monday, March 18, 2013

Habits in the Classroom

After reading Charles Duhigg's book, The Power of Habit, I can't help but see this world and myself ruled by habit. That may be overstating the point of the book, but only slightly. We all know that habits are very powerful forces that can shape our lives for the better or for the worse. What Duhigg's book does is show us how and why habits are so powerful.

As an example in the book, Duhigg tells the true tale of a man who has lost the ability to create new memories. This man can't remember anything new; however, over time, doctors and family notice the man demonstrating new behaviors--essentially picking up new habits. Duhigg shows us that memory and habit are not the same things, but neither are they mutually exclusive. What we often consider memory is just habit in disguise.

How does this help us in education? Duhigg points out that whatever is done repeatedly becomes habit. If our students are engaged in our classes and leave with a feeling of accomplishment, they'll develop beneficial habits towards education. If they generally feel intimidated and frustrated in the classroom, they'll develop ineffective habits towards education. (Same goes for teachers.) Once again, this is nothing new, but the role that habit plays tends to be more powerful than we think.

Duhigg's book has caused me to ask myself what am I really teaching my students? I know that I've been teaching them how to organize an essay and how to use the present perfect to ask questions, but I've also become aware of how I teach my students to deal with frustration, how I teach them to deal with their insecurities relating to academia, and how to I teach them to engage with the content in a meaningful way. The Power of Habit made me a bit more aware of how my teaching helps instill habits in my students and has also made me more aware of my own habits in the classroom. Though this book is not specifically written for educators (it's actually billed as a business book), it's one of the best educator books I know.