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Explore Alternative Approaches or Viewpoints


^21st Century Skills Social-Emotional Learning Elementary School Strategy


Flexible Thinking

Explore Alternative Approaches or Viewpoints

If your student struggles to understand or accept differing viewpoints or approaches

How To Apply It!

  1. Help students look at issues and solve problems from multiple perspectives, especially if they struggle with flexible thinking, ambiguity or have a thirst for a single right answer.
  2. Explain why. Discuss with students how, even if we know how to do something really well, it is valuable to think about or learn how to do it a different way. There are usually several ways to solve a problem. If we find those other ways, we often learn and understand more and discover new applications.
  3. Practice it. Find simple, low stakes opportunities to get students comfortable trying familiar things in different ways. Using hands-on materials and active experiences will make this more motivating. Fun small group activities could include making ice cream sundaes in different ways and then each student presents his unique process to the group. Or have students together map out the route they usually take to the school playground, and then draw one or more maps of the different routes they could take. The students actually can then follow their maps and discuss the pros and cons of each different path.
  4. Share opinions. Have students openly discuss what they liked about one way versus another. Prompt students to think: "You might have liked this way better, but why do you think Tommy preferred this way? Can we see his point of view? Does it change our own thinking?
  5. Ongoing reinforcement. Incorporate problems that do not have a single correct process or answer in your classwork. Science class often provides great opportunities. Instruct them to show two different ways of solving the problem or graph their answer in multiple ways. Model your own thinking out loud of different points of view or possibilities for how to consider the material. Reinforce the value of the different approaches. When students use different approaches but arrive at the same solution, pair them up and have them explain their thinking to each other.

Why It Works (the Science Of Learning)!

It is critical that students understand that there are often many ways to consider an issue or solve a problem, and that not all problems have a right or wrong answer. This is important well beyond academic learning. Many social, political and ethical issues are fraught with gray areas that students will need to consider to fully understand the complexity of a situation. Students, regardless of reasoning ability, might be more or less comfortable with ambiguity. Adults can provide ongoing coaching and support in this area. The more students have experience with the discomfort of "not knowing" the better they will handle it.