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How Adults Can Support Flexible Thinking


All Ages Strategy


Flexible Thinking Self-regulation Social Awareness

How Adults Can Support Flexible Thinking

If your student struggles with behavior or adjustments

What To Keep In Mind When Supporting Your Student

  1. Problem solving is more than your ability to understand and apply new information. It refers to a student's ability adjust and change approaches to handle unexpected situations, identify an original solution, see a new perspective, or solve novel problems in and out of school.
  2. Students with weak flexible thinking often "get stuck" because they have an authentic challenge taking feedback and knowing how to adapt. They also might fear making mistakes, looking "silly", or uncertainty.
  3. It might look like the student is being stubborn when in reality he is struggling to cope with ambiguity, disappointment, or the unexpected.
  4. If you encounter resistance to feedback and change, be empathetic. Acknowledge the fear as reasonable and understandable. However, reinforce the need to confront the fear in order to grow and improve.
  5. Reinforce the student's strengths. Find ways to problem solve that use your student's strengths to build self-confidence and success. Once the student experiences success, she will grow more comfortable with bigger problems and more challenging situations.

Top Strategies

  1. Create a written list of what to do when you encounter a novel problem or unexpected situation. The list could include taking a pause, getting a drink of water, positive self-talk and any of the following strategies below. Put the list in a secure place and have the student refer to the list when he encounters a challenge.
  2. Use a structured approach to brainstorm an idea for a project. It could be making a list of everything that comes to mind, creating a mind map, or doing an internet search. The idea is to have something concrete to do to get started rather than sit and feel stuck.
  3. When faced with a puzzling problem, have the student write down everything he knows and everything he does not know. Then go through the list of "do not knows" and figure out if it needs to be known and if so, where can the answer be found. Consider if drawing a picture might help. This can be a particularly good idea for students with stronger visual memory or reasoning skills.
  4. Help students accept and recognize problems that might have no right answer or more than one answer.
  5. Remind students that sometimes they simply need to walk away and come back later to a challenging task or problem. Looking at a problem with fresh eyes can help a lot.
  6. Prepare students with contingency plans for situations that might not go as planned. This can help them manage disappointments more comfortably.
  7. Help students talk through problems aloud. Have them ask themselves questions such as, "Have I seen a problem similar to this before?" "What are my options for tackling this problem?" Include positive reinforcement, such as "My teacher wouldn't give this problem if she didn't think I could do it."
  8. Coach your student in how to take feedback. Good problem solving relies on an ability to listen to feedback, evaluate it, and decide how to incorporate that feedback into the given situation.

Why It Works (the Science Of Learning)

Flexible thinking is the Mindprint skill most closely aligned with problem solving. Even students with strong reasoning skills can struggle with problem solving. Fortunately, good problem solving skills can be taught. The best way to develop good problem solving skills is to nurture a student's openness to feedback and give students reliable, concrete strategies they can fall back on in challenging situations.