Cognitive flexibility is an essential area of executive function; students who struggle to think flexibly are often rigid and easily frustrated by academic and social challenges. However, did you know that helping students develop cognitive flexibility can actually be a lot of fun?
Lynn Meltzer, Ph.D., the founder of the SMARTS Executive Function curriculum, says that cognitive flexibility is the most essential area of executive function. If a student cannot think flexibly, then he or she will struggle to adopt new strategies to access other areas of executive function. Consider, for example, a student who is used to organizing her time in a certain way. If finds she is unable to shift her strategy to meet the expectations in a new grade, her organizing and prioritizing will suffer.
Cognitive flexibility, Dr. Meltzer points out, is easy to build into any lesson. How do you do it? Tell a joke!
Puns, jokes, and riddles are often funny precisely because of cognitive flexibility. The classic dad joke, “Where do fish go when they get sick? The doc!” relies on a flexible understanding of the fact that ‘doc’ could be short for both ‘doctor’ or ‘dock.’
In SMARTS, we work with students to approach many academic areas flexibly, including reading, writing, note-taking, and math. Students need to be able to shift between main ideas and details, the perspective of different people, and even between planning a math problem and checking their work.
But why not have fun promoting cognitive flexibility? Every Christmas, I like to include as many books as I dare under the tree. For younger students, books like Amelia Bedelia are a great way to practice thinking flexibly. Puzzles and riddles also work well.
Stumped for some puns to try on your student? We’ve got you covered! Just check out the video below from the YouTube account FunnyPig.
Happy Holidays from the whole SMARTS team!
- Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director