Cognitive flexibility, or shifting, is one of the most important aspects of executive function for students to understand. However, I have found that students can have trouble grasping the concept because it is more abstract than other executive function processes such as organizing or time management. In the SMARTS curriculum, we use fun activities to introduce students to the concept of cognitive flexibility (see Unit 1, Lesson 2 and the entirety of Unit 3). For students who are having trouble internalizing the meaning of shifting, share with them the images below, taken from real student schoolwork.
Before showing the images, take a moment to define cognitive flexibility for students: “Cognitive flexibility is the ability to think flexibly and to shift perspectives and approaches easily.” Explain that cognitive flexibility is critical when it comes to learning new ideas because it helps you to understand issues from a different perspective. Then, look at the examples below and discuss as a class how each student could have used cognitive flexibility to more accurately predict the type of answers their teachers were looking for.
These fun examples are from students who clearly had difficulty with shifting while completing their assignments. Students love these because they are often funny; more importantly, they help students immediately see how being able to shift flexibly can lead to success in school.