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how to teach flexible thinking

Teaching Kids to Use Flexible Thinking

Take a look at this image – what do you see? 

 

If you’re perceiving the profile of a young woman wearing a fancy fur coat you’re right. On the other hand, if you’re seeing a somber old woman staring off into the distance, you’re also correct! If you’re able to see both, pat yourself on the back – you’re demonstrating the ability to model flexible thinking, a critical skill under the umbrella of executive functioning. 

 

This famous illustration, named “My Wife and Mother-In-Law”, is a fantastic visual example of what’s referred to as ‘flexible thinking’ in the world of executive functioning. In other words, flexible thinking is the ability to see many sides of a situation. 

Flexible Thinking For Kids: An Essential Skill

Not only is flexible thinking pretty handy when appraising an optical illusion – it’s downright essential for today’s students to succeed academically. Students will inevitably encounter all sorts of flexible thinking scenarios throughout their academic careers and having cognitive flexibility gives the student an advantage. Like with most things in life, plans are never set in stone and the need to adapt becomes unavoidable. Sometimes we’re paired with unhelpful partners for a really important project, other times a pop quiz might pop out of nowhere! Anticipating how to creatively confront and be prepared for the countless challenges that are destined to be in the way is an indispensable skill to start practicing and mastering in school…the carryover into the real world is indisputable. 

 

If a learner is “set in their ways”, and unable to readjust their perspective when tackling a problem, they will find themselves feeling frustrated. A characteristic of rigid thinking, or “stuck” thinking as it is also known, is the inability to modify approaches to solving a problem. Unfortunately, another common trait held by inflexible thinkers is that they avoid asking for help. As we all know, feelings of embarrassment or pride are often associated with making yourself vulnerable and admitting that you don’t know something. However, if we’re thinking in line with this article, the act of asking for help is one of the most basic ways that a student, parent, or teacher can begin to exercise their flexible thinking muscles. 

 

It commonly starts with the organization—a student cannot have the luxury to think flexibly when they do not have that most basic element of executive functioning under control. Either there are too many binders, not enough notebooks, a lack of dividers to separate course material, etc… There is not a one size fits all approach so it’s important to sit down with the student and start asking questions and experimenting with options that could work best for them. This new way of looking at things gets the flexible thinking juices flowing and sets the foundation for more leaps toward being a master of executive functioning.

Flexible Thinking Activities

The Effective Student’s Executive Functioning Curriculum delivers essential executive function lessons which include flexible thinking lessons. Executive functioning allows us to organize our thoughts and arrange our materials and time efficiently in order to execute a plan. Executive functioning is determined by three major functions: working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. With the Effective Student’s Curriculum and our highly trained executive functioning coaches, we are able to provide support and model the flexible thinking behavior that’s needed from the ground up. We provide positive feedback for students’ approximations towards new and improved study and work behaviors. Eventually, the reinforcement comes in the form of improved grades and that feeling that they’re retaining and applying the things being taught. 

 

Are you interested in learning more about Effective Student’s Executive Functioning Curriculum? Reach out to us today to find what is best suited for you! 

what is flexible thinking

What is Flexible Thinking?

Flexible thinking is the ability to think about something in a new or different way.  Inflexible thinking or rigidity is being stuck or being only able to do something only one way.  Students who struggle with executive functioning often also struggle with fundamental skill.  They may be stuck in a routine or mindset that isn’t working for them.  They may be aware that what they are doing isn’t working but not be able to make a change or be willing to even entertain a change. 

Becoming a Flexible Thinker

A few years ago, I worked with a fifth grader whose parent and teacher shared that the student struggled with organizational skills and executive functioning.  Upon meeting the student for the first time, I asked to see his binders (there were 7) and asked if he was open to a change in how he was managing them.  He refused to even show me his backpack and held his binders to his chest as if I was going to steal them.  In this scenario, I had to be the flexible thinker (modeling) and move to another lesson until he trusted me enough to come back to demonstrating the Organization skill.  Ultimately, the student earned the most improved 5th grader award and rightfully so! He did a lot of growing that year.  

To the observer, the lack of flexible thinking may sound like, “I don’t need help” or “My way works” or “I’ve already tried that”.  The behaviors have been observed in students and adults alike.

We can’t effectively discuss flexible thinking without broaching the subject of margin and anxiety.  Margin is the bank of reserves we have available of time, money or maybe patience.  It’s what we may have set aside in case of emergencies, the unexpected or surprises.  

When students are in a state of ease (lots of margin), mental flexibility is much easier.  They may be open to considering or even trying new things, open to learning and even solving problems.  The opposite is also true, when students are in a state of stress, they are generally out of margin, are less flexible and more rigid.   

Students are more open to flexible thinking when they have a process they can control to manage their affairs.  Learning that process begins with managing time/tasks effectively so they can build margin into their day and week for self care, self management and planning.  

Time Management →  Margin →  Flexible Thinking

Once students have a process to see and plan their time and tasks, they can build the muscle of flexible thinking by being rewarded for variations and adjustments to their processes, like a science experiment and soliciting their feedback on those adjustments (metacognitive exercise).

For students with executive functioning difficulties, flexibility thinking and structure are important opposites to balance.  A problem can have more than one solution!  Students are more open to flexible thinking when they feel safe, have a process they can follow and are rewarded for trying new solutions.     

Want to learn more about executive functioning and how it may help your student?  Contact us!