Thinking Interdependently for Productive Learning

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This blog post is part of an ASCD partnership with Wonder Media. To see all blog posts from Wonder Media on the 16 Habits of Mind, you can click here. 

On Sunday, February 2nd at 6:30 in the frigid state of Minnesota, the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots battled it out in Super Bowl LII. People from all over the world watched two of the best teams in the National Football League exert everything they had for the opportunity to be crowned a champion. For all NFL athletes this surreal experience is one that only a few encounter in their career. Although, the price of this honor comes with a multitude of obstacles throughout the season. Everything from nagging ailments, season ending injuries to teammates, continuous road trips, adapting to various weather exposure, and just plain old exhaustion. Nothing is easy along this path, and if a team is lucky enough to be crowned champion, they will be forever inked in the history books. Some people say that to win this majestic event, you need a little bit of luck. That statement might be true, although, it might be more important that a team work cohesively, with synergy, and display true “team work”. Maybe the Habit of Mind “Thinking Interdependently” could play a major role in a success of a team?

If “Thinking Interdependently” is a significant attribute to being successful and winning a Super Bowl, what would it look like on the field? Well, Tom Brady, arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game, is known as one of the most prepared and focused leaders on the field. In order for his passes to be accurate and on point, he needs to build chemistry and strive for accuracy with his wide receivers. For the offensive line to protect him, it is imperative Tom communicates with clarity and precision about what he views from the defense on the other side of the ball. When it comes to handing the ball off to his running backs, it is not as easy as it looks. Repetition and practice needs to be consistent and in sync in order for the handoffs to be effective.

By working together, listening to one another, and drawing on one another’s strengths, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have displayed success.

“Working in groups requires the ability to justify ideas and to test the feasibility of solution strategies on others.” – Dr. Bena Kallick & Dr. Arthur Costa

Whether we believe it or not, and the groundhog shows up or not, spring is right around the corner. With spring comes sunny days, April showers, and of course, May flowers. Hmmm, flowers, haven’t seen them in a while. In Mrs. Beam’s first grade class students are beginning to learn about how plants and flowers grow. To begin the unit, students are asked to create a poster of all necessities in order for a flower to grow. A picture and label of the item, description of why it is important, and a colorful poster. These are the requirements of the project. The neat part is that students get to work in groups of three.

When students get into groups, Mrs. Beam mentions the importance of “Thinking Interdependently”:

Teacher: It is important for all of us to make sure we work together and learn from one another on this project. Make sure to work as a team. What would working as a team look like for this activity?

Student 1(Group 1): I am really great a coloring pictures so maybe I should do that.

Student 2(Group 1): Yes, that would be helpful because I am really bad at coloring. But I always plant flowers with my mom in the spring so I can tell what items are needed and why they are important.

Teacher: Yes, so that means that both of you can add your strength to the project.

Student 3(Group 1): I really don’t understand anything about flowers and plants, but I can learn from my group members. Maybe I can draw the pictures for the group and before we create the poster we can make a plan for how the poster will look. I really like to plan.

Teacher: Wow, group 1 has a great strategy. They all can contribute to the project. Everyone in the group is learning from each other, using their strengths, and working as a team to create a fabulous poster. That is what “Thinking Interdependently” looks like. Great job!

To develop an understanding of “Thinking Interdependently”, the teacher prompted the students with a question. Students then answered and added their role in the group. By providing students with opportunities to work interdependently, and describe what it looks like, the more inclined they will be to make this behavior a habit.

Habits of Mind Animations presents an exciting story behind the habit of “Thinking Interdependently” using soccer! The character, Marcus, learns that the game is much more fun when you allow your teammates to play to their strengths. Winning feels better and more productive when it is accomplished together. Each animation includes extension lessons and activities to reinforce the lesson. As students recall, relate, and think about what they would do in the presented situation, they deepen their understanding of what it means to think interdependently.


Dr. Daniel Vollrath serves as an educator and a United States Professional Development Trainer with the Institute for Habits of Mind. Daniel provides consulting to school districts around the nation on how to infuse the Habits of Mind into everyday teaching and learning within the classroom. His expertise is documented through a doctoral study titled Developing Costa & Kallick’s Habits of Mind Thinking for Students with a Learning Disability and Special Education Teachers (2015), which has gained attention within the world of special education, specifically in the areas of inclusive learning environments and 21st century skills development for students with learning disabilities.

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