Research on Dispositions and How They Affect Learning
Reviewed by Laura Von Staden
Student dispositions are quickly being recognized as a key component in their success, both in school and in life. In Dispositions: Reframing Teaching and Learning, Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick present us with all the evidence that supports what dispositions are and why they are important. They include different definitions of dispositions and a discussion of which ones you may want to incorporate into your curriculum, as well as some information on how that might be accomplished.
The book, while good, was a very slow read, despite being only about 150 pages. This is due to the incredible amount of research that is discussed and cited, especially in the early chapters. The first half of the book is all research definitions, some different than others, and was difficult to read for any length of time. Were I not reviewing the book, I probably would have stopped reading before I got to the application stuff in the later chapters, which will be most useful to teachers.
More about what’s inside
The first half of the book is divided into chapters: challenging mindset; why dispositions; what are dispositions; deciding on dispositions; and dispositions: hardwired or learned. All of these chapters are backed up with extensive research, and the chapter on what are dispositions describes various researchers’ views on what is and isn’t a disposition (at this time, there is not a consensus).
In the second half, Costa and Kallick look at ways to put what we know about dispositions to work. One of the key factors discussed is that for this implementation to work, a school would have to choose the dispositions and establish as school wide culture over the years the student was at the school, to be able to see real growth and incorporation of the dispositions into the students’ lives.
The authors also emphasize the need to discuss the dispositions with students, to model the dispositions and to have students practice the dispositions. They do include some useful suggestions of things that can be done in the classroom to help students continue to implement the dispositions.
Finally, the authors talk about assessing the use of dispositions, including student self-reflection. They provide a number of useful questions that can be used in this process. They also offer many useful links and resources in the appendix.
Overall, this book is a very scholarly read. It is well referenced and extensively researched, but may not be for every reader. Costa and Kallick are best known for their Habits of Mind series, including Habits of Mind Across the Curriculum: Practical and Creative Strategies for Teachers. Perhaps they will approach Dispositions with a similar practical focus in the future.
Laura Von Staden has a Ph.D. in Molecular Immunology and a Master’s in Special Education. She is a Special Education middle school teacher in Tampa, Florida, where she serves on numerous committees both at her school and within her district and works closely with the local university where she serves as a master mentor. Dr. Von Staden also serves as a facilitator for online learning through her school system.