Spring Cleaning for the Mind

Student working at desk with blue sky outside window and flowers on desk

As spring approaches, it’s a perfect time to think about refreshing not just our physical spaces but also our mental habits. Just as we clear out clutter to make room for new things, students can benefit from identifying less effective study habits and executive function strategies and replacing them with new ones. One key to success in this process is cognitive flexibility.

Understanding Cognitive Flexibility

Cognitive flexibility, the ability to adapt thinking and behavior to changing circumstances, is essential for students to let go of old, less effective strategies and embrace new, more efficient ones. It can be challenging to part with familiar ways of doing things — like letting go of a beloved but worn-out sweater. Cognitive flexibility allows students to approach this transition with an open mind, willing to explore and try out new approaches.

Benefits of Cognitive Flexibility

When students are cognitively flexible, they are more likely to recognize the limitations of their current strategies and be open to alternative methods. This mindset shift is crucial for growth, as it encourages students to see challenges as opportunities for learning and improvement. By embracing cognitive flexibility, students develop a more adaptive and resilient approach to learning.

Incorporating Cognitive Flexibility in the Classroom

Ready to foster cognitive flexibility in your classroom? Here are some of our favorite activities and strategies.

  1. Identify ineffective strategies: Encourage students to reflect on their current study habits and executive function strategies. Ask them to identify areas where they could be more flexible, consider alternative approaches they could have taken, and try out new approaches. By identifying ineffective executive function strategies, students can become more aware of their thinking patterns and more open to change.
  2. Problem-solving tasks: Present students with open-ended problems that require them to think critically, explore different approaches, and consider multiple solutions.
  3. Role-playing: Engage students in role-playing scenarios where they must adapt their behavior and thinking to different roles or perspectives. This can help them develop empathy and see situations from different points of view.
  4. Brainstorming sessions: Conduct brainstorming sessions where students are encouraged to generate as many ideas as possible, without judgment. Brainstorming can help them practice thinking flexibly and creatively.
  5. Flexible seating arrangements: Allow students to choose or adjust their seating arrangements periodically. This can help them become more adaptable and comfortable with change.

Cognitive flexibility is a valuable skill that can help students succeed in adopting new executive function strategies. By embracing cognitive flexibility, students can develop a more adaptive and resilient approach to learning, leading to growth and improvement in their academic and personal lives.

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About the Author

Caitlin Vanderberg, Ed.M., is a SMARTS Associate and an Educational Specialist. She leads the MetaCOG Surveys & Toolkit and provides academic support to students with learning, attention, and executive function challenges. Before joining ResearchILD in 2020, Caitlin worked as an assistant elementary school teacher and with many arts education programs. Caitlin holds an Ed.M. in Mind, Brain, and Education from Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

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