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 Habits of Mind

“Learning is the ability to make sense out of something you observe based on your past experience and being able to take that observation and associate it with meaning.”
Ruth and Art Winter.

We learn from experience. When in a new and complicated situation, we regularly use experience from our past. We explain what we are doing now in terms of similarity in previous experiences. We call on our store of knowledge and experience as roots of data to help, ways to explain, or ways to solve each new challenge. We are also able to take out the meaning from one experience, carry it forth, and use it in a new and original situation.

Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations: Effective thinkers use their experiences and the knowledge they already have to help them understand new concepts by noticing similarities and making connections. They say things like, “This reminds me of when I…” or “This model looks a lot like….” They often describe ideas in metaphors and analogies that help them create a framework for unfamiliar ideas.

In classrooms and sometimes at home we need to remind young learners that they do have experiences they can draw on. Often the connections that seem obvious to us, with more years of experience under our belts, are not as clear to students facing down the barrel of a difficult lesson. Learners who have not mastered the art of applying past knowledge to new situations sometimes:

  • Begin each new task as if it were being approached for the very first time
  • Don’t remember how they have solved similar problems in the past
  • Can’t identify links between what they have already learned and their new learning

By helping them to make these connections, we make learning easier and more fun, and improve their chances of success.

As Thomas A. Edison says, “I’ve never made a mistake.  I’ve only learned from experience.”

If you would like more information about helping your student succeed with the Habits of Mind, please feel free to email me at 

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