Students Speak: What is Cognitive Flexibility? 

Students Speak: What is Cognitive Flexibility? 

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been asked to adapt, adjust, think flexibly, shift perspectives — in short, practice cognitive flexibility. Whether we’re balancing the shift between in-person and remote learning, working on a group project, or even cooking a meal, cognitive flexibility is key to success.

What do students think about cognitive flexibility? Throughout ResearchILD’s Student Ambassador Program this fall, students were encouraged to collectively think about their thinking and how executive function processes impact their day-to-day experiences in school and at home. Here are some of their ideas about what cognitive flexibility means to them:

Students Speak: What does cognitive flexibility mean to you?

  • “Coming up with a different way to solve a problem.” 
  • “Ways to adjust to unexpected events.”
  • “For me, cognitive flexibility is the ability to adapt to new situations and accept changes in my life, big or small.”
  • “Cognitive flexibility is the ability to adapt from one scenario to another.”
  • “Cognitive flexibility means to me that my mind can think of more than one way of doing something.”

Students Speak: What do you do when you get stuck and have to shift?

  • “When I get stuck I generally move onto a different thing. Some time away from the topic helps me think of different ideas.”
  • “I usually get stuck for a little while and keep doing the same thing. Then I try a new way. When I figure out the correct way, it’s like a light bulb lights up.”
  • “I step back and come back to it later.”
  • “Re-read or re-assess the problem.”
  • “I either try a new strategy, make a connection, or ask for help.”

How to Get Students Thinking Flexibly


  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate


SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development: