Need To Improve Your Student’s Flexible Thinking Skills?
Many teachers and parents reach out to me asking for resources to support their student(s) or child(ren) in the area of Flexible Thinking.
Flexible Thinking is a very important skill to have in life. It is essential in order to have successful relationships, in work and in play. It is essential to be able to solve problems – academic and social, be creative and fully experience all that life has to offer.
Check out my social story skill builder “I Can Be Flexible” here.
So many children struggle to think flexibly. In school and at home, we adults spend a lot of time teaching children RULES and the “do it my way” approach…which of course, is necessary much of the time, especially in school where routines are so important in order to teach a room of 20-30 kiddos.
But perhaps what gets lost a bit is the art of thinking flexibly. The brain is a muscle and if we don’t work it out, that part of the brain [ the flexible thinking part ] will not be in good shape.
I work with many GREAT teachers who truly and deeply care about their students. I can’t say enough about these talented folks. But I still see them frequently robbing their students of opportunities to think flexibly as well as to problem solve. Yet these are probably the two biggest concerns I hear from teachers, “he isn’t a flexible thinker, it has to be his way” and “she can’t solve even the smallest problem on her own.”
I think it is very tricky because we are trying to do so much, all of the time. We are trying to get so much information into these kiddos before P.E class and then move on to the next subject before an all school assembly, and then the next subject and so on and so on and so on…
It can be difficult to do things like wait kids out, withhold answers, lead kids without giving the answers, provide options, let natural consequences unfold, talk through options, question kids, revisit and redo things that didn’t go so well.
But these practices are what grow and work out children’s brains in the area of Flexible Thinking.
There are so many ways to help kids improve their ability to think flexibly. There are many books and activities that one can do which are very helpful. But it can also be as simple as slowing down and not giving so much.
There are many books and activities that one can do which are very helpful. But it can also be as simple as slowing down and not giving so much.
Student: “My marker isn’t working.”
Teacher: “Get another one, there’s a whole pack right there.”
In this example, the well intentioned teacher does not give the child the opportunity to think flexibly or to solve their own problem. She meant well and wants to keep the activity going, but the child in this scenario did not have to think, at all.
Student: “My marker isn’t working.”
See the difference? It’s so simple, yet so overlooked because we are HELPERS after all. We love to help! But we will help our students more by helping them a little less….does this make sense?
*Note: when doing this…I would not say “hmmm” walk away, and expect the child to figure it out. They may or may not. You need to know your student and know where they are at in terms of Flexible Thinking. If they really struggle with it, you may say “hmmm” and stand over them, looking at the pack of markers and may even point to the markers if necessary.
Or you might say, “I wonder what else you could use.”
You want to give the student the prompts needed to help them … with some struggle, but not total frustration. Some struggle is a necessary part of learning, but total frustration is not good for anybody.
The best thing you can do, immediately, and with no materials needed… s…l…o…w… d…o…w…n…
Before answering a child who is asking you something that they should/could figure out for themselves, think about it and instead of giving the quick and easy answer, give a more general leading statement or ask a thoughtful question…
Some good ones:
“is that right?”
“you don’t say”
“I see that“
“and so it is“
A little more support needed? How about these:
“what is another way?”
“is there another way?”
“I see another way”
“can you try that another way?”
“what would happen if you tried this…”
“did you look around?”
“what else could you do?”
“what makes the most sense?”
And Some Non-Verbal Prompts:
*Look at the answer or thing that will help
[ if lost pencil, look at the markers ]
*Look around the room or do what you want the student to do
[ look for a new pencil, no words, when found just smile and put it back down ]
[ at what you want the student to attend to ]
*Use Facial Expressions
[ to help guide the student to whether or not they are on the right track ]
Need some resources to help you out with your quest to improve your students Flexible Thinking? I was searching around on the web and have found some fun ways to do this. Below is a variety of resources mostly appropriate for early elementary, related to Flexible Thinking.
Blog Post By Meagan
This post has some good tips and book suggestions (aimed more at typical kids)
My Day Is Ruined By Bryan Smith
This is a good book…maybe appropriate for mid to upper elementary,
A Week Of Switching, Shifting And Stretching, How To Make My Thinking More Flexible By Lauren Kernstein
I haven’t tried this but it looks good 🙂
Blog Post By Katie Hurley
Has good tips and a book suggestion
Video: The Dot It is also is a book
The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble With Friends By Stan Berenstain, Jan Berenstain
It’s Just A Game By Julia Cook
Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus By Mo Willems
Thanks So Much and Happy Teaching!
Cindy ~Socially Skilled Kids