Trouble with Transitions: Flexibility and Academic Success

For some people, being mentally flexible comes naturally. A change of plans, an unexpected obstacle, or a new method of doing something are all taken in stride. But for many others, flexibility is a skill that requires time spent practicing in order to develop.

Cognitive flexibility is an executive function directly related to a person’s ability to adjust easily to changes, move from one task to another with ease, adapt to changing conditions and expectations without becoming frustrated, and even problem solve on the spot.

Flexibility and academic success are inextricable. Flexibility is needed for a range of classroom tasks, from problem solving to social interactions. Kids who struggle with this thinking skill may have particular trouble with classroom transitions. Whether it’s walking between classes or classrooms, switching subjects, changing teachers, or even moving from one activity to another, classroom transitions can be truly difficult for some students. Trouble with transitions is very common, especially in children with anxiety, sensory processing disorder, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorder.

Flexibility is important when learning new information, switching between tasks, in trial-and-error situations, and more. Developing cognitive flexibility will help students in a number of academic areas such as:

Reading – Flexibility is an essential skill for reading, especially now that students are being asked to switch between reading traditional printed texts, reading online, watching a video, analyzing an image, etc. Digital texts like the Crack the Books series of interactive textbooks take cognitive flexibility exercise to the next level.

Math – Shifting between different styles and groups of problems, such as work problems and equations, is hard mental work. Math requires kids to constantly shift strategies or approaches when they need to solve a problem. Flexibility also helps students switch between modes of representation such as written sentences, charts or graphs, or equations.

Writing – Flexibility is helpful in this area as kids learn to edit their work. Revising requires students possess a willingness to see mistakes and make changes. Kids also have to be flexible when switching between writing different topics, genres, and even writing in different subject areas.

An easy and effective way to help kids build flexibility is to nurture and engage them in their love of games, apps, and technology. Video games give kids the opportunity to develop flexibility and other thinking skills in an environment that is not only fun and immersive, but also safe. Virtually all video games require players to be flexible, shift their thinking, and adjust their gameplay strategies with each new level in order to advance or beat the game. Games give kids no choice but to learn from their mistakes, shift their approach, handle frustration, and develop creative solutions to problems and challenges.

Even games that have very little direction or guidelines, though frustrating at first for some, provide kids with an opportunity to dive right into play, learn as they go, learn from their mistakes, and think on their feet. These kinds of games allow kids to partake in the closest thing to free play that can be had in a digital environment.

Exercises like yoga, stretching, martial arts, and other sports improve physical flexibility as well as cognitive flexibility. Active games like those found in the Kinect Sports and Wii Sports series, Exercise or even exercise games can help kids handle stress more effectively as well!

Developing cognitive flexibility will help kids both in school and out. To find more games that can build flexibility and other executive functions, see our vast archive of Playbooks and App+ reviews.


Featured image: Flickr user {Just Jennifer}

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