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Cognitive Flexibility, a component of executive functioning, is the ability to think about multiple concepts, either at the same time or switching between them. Cognitive Flexibility can, for example, help readers make inferences by incorporating new information with their Background Knowledge as they are reading, develop a point of view by adopting some arguments and rejecting others, or help writers proofread a passage by allowing them to attend to multiple aspects of writing, such as structure and spelling, at once.
Cognitive Flexibility can also be called attention shifting or task switching, which involves adaptively shifting away from one idea or component of a task and responding or attending to something new. We use Cognitive Flexibility to effectively adapt our behavior as we face changing environment and task demands. In school, students must consider and switch between different rules and strategies to complete learning tasks. Students who frequently multi-task with media may be more likely to be distracted by a task they are not supposed to focus on during task-switching.
Cognitive Flexibility develops through mid-adolescence and allows students to be flexible and creative in their thinking. It has been shown to support both reading comprehension and writing proficiency. For example, it enables students to flexibly use different reading strategies, such as re-reading or skimming, based on the goals of the task and can also support the writing process, for example, to help students think of and use a different word to describe something in their writing.
When annotating, students engage deeply with a text and make their thinking visible while reading.
Checklists and rubrics help students understand expectations as they navigate more complex tasks and assignments.
Teaching students how to systematically evaluate sources prepares them to navigate in an increasingly complex, digital world.
As students move through multimodal stations pertaining to a particular unit, the social and physical nature of the activity supports deeper understanding.
Setting overall goals with actionable steps for achievement can help students feel more confident in their skills and abilities.
During guided inquiry, teachers foster student autonomy by designing lessons centered on meaningful questions in which students locate, analyze, and present relevant information on their own or in small groups.
Through short but regular mindfulness activities, students develop their awareness and ability to focus.
Brain breaks that include movement allow learners to refresh their thinking and focus on learning new information.
Providing multiple texts on the same topic or theme allows students to interact with multiple perspectives and develop their critical thinking skills.
Maintaining consistent routines, structures, and supports ensures that students are able to trust and predict what will happen next.
Providing guiding prompts and questions for students to use when reading or participating in discussions deepens their understanding of texts and gives them space to question and grapple with issues of power, justice, and equity.
Teachers can provide individualized support through one-on-one conferences to assess reading comprehension, understanding of content, and spark further interest in reading.
During reading, giving students the opportunity to explain their thinking process aloud allows them to recognize the strategies they use, solidify their comprehension, and move knowledge into their Long-term Memory.
Writing conferences allow students to fully immerse, share, reflect, and receive feedback during the writing process, promoting Motivation for continuing the sometimes lengthy revision process that occurs in the upper grades.
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