The Role of Philosophy in Developing Cognitive Flexibility in Young Learners

Cognitive flexibility is an important trait to develop in young learners: how can exploring philosophical issues in the classroom help us to do this?

3/23/20234 min read

What Is Cognitive Flexibility & Why Is It Important?

Cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to switch between different concepts, perspectives, and tasks, and to adapt to changing situations. It involves being open-minded, creative, and able to think outside the box.

In young learners, cognitive flexibility is a critical skill because it is linked to various aspects of academic and social success. For example, it helps children to be more adaptable and better problem solvers, which can enhance their performance in academic tasks. It also enables them to understand and relate to diverse perspectives, which is crucial for building healthy relationships and creating a harmonious social environment.

Moreover, cognitive flexibility is an essential skill for coping with stress and uncertainty, both of which are common in modern-day society. By developing cognitive flexibility, children learn to approach new situations with a positive attitude, and they are better equipped to manage their emotions and behaviors in response to unexpected events.

Therefore, nurturing cognitive flexibility in young learners can help them to become more resilient, adaptable, and successful in their personal and academic lives. Some ways to nurture cognitive flexibility include encouraging creative thinking, exposing children to diverse experiences and perspectives, and providing opportunities for exploration and problem-solving.

How Can Philosophy in the Classroom Help Nurture Cognitive Flexibility?

As a teacher, you may be looking for innovative ways to nurture cognitive flexibility in your students. One approach that is gaining popularity in recent years is the use of philosophy in the classroom. Philosophy is the study of fundamental questions related to existence, knowledge, values, and ethics. When introduced in the classroom, philosophy can help young learners develop critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and cognitive flexibility. Philosophy in classrooms helps to build cognitive flexibility because it:

  1. Encourages Open-Mindedness

Philosophy encourages open-mindedness and challenges students to question their assumptions and beliefs. When students engage in philosophical discussions, they learn to consider different perspectives and evaluate arguments from multiple angles. This helps to broaden their understanding of complex issues and fosters a sense of curiosity and wonder.

  1. Develops Analytical Skills

Philosophy teaches students to analyze arguments, identify fallacies, and reason logically. This helps to develop analytical skills that are crucial for academic success and for navigating complex issues in the real world.

  1. Enhances Communication Skills

Philosophy requires students to express their ideas clearly and persuasively. It also teaches them to listen actively and respectfully to others' viewpoints. By practicing these skills in philosophical discussions, students develop better communication skills that can benefit them in all areas of life.

  1. Fosters Creativity

Philosophy can be a very creative subject. It encourages students to think outside the box, to come up with imaginative solutions to problems, and to approach issues from unconventional angles. This fosters creativity and helps to develop cognitive flexibility.

  1. Builds Empathy

Philosophy can help students develop empathy and understanding towards others' experiences and perspectives. This is particularly important in today's world, where diversity and inclusivity are crucial values. By engaging in philosophical discussions, students learn to appreciate different viewpoints and to challenge their own biases and assumptions.

How Can Teachers Use Philosophy in their Lessons to Help Boost Cognitive Flexibility?

Here are some tips for using philosophy as a way to help boost cognitive flexibility:

  1. Choose relevant philosophical topics: Select philosophical topics that are relevant to your curriculum and the interests of your students. Some examples of philosophical topics include ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, and aesthetics. You can also choose topics that are relevant to current events, social issues, or cultural differences.

  2. Introduce the topic and provide background information: Introduce the topic and provide background information to help students understand the context of the discussion. Use various resources such as books, videos, and online articles to provide a range of perspectives on the topic.

  3. Encourage critical thinking: Encourage students to think critically about the topic by asking open-ended questions that require analysis and evaluation. Encourage students to challenge their own assumptions and those of their peers. Ask follow-up questions that encourage students to explore different perspectives and consider alternative viewpoints.

  4. Facilitate discussions: Create a safe and respectful environment for discussions and debates. Encourage active participation from all students, and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas. Avoid taking sides in the discussion and remain neutral to encourage open and honest discussion.

  5. Emphasize the process over the outcome: Emphasize the process of philosophical discussions and debates over the outcome. Encourage students to reflect on their own learning process and evaluate their own progress. Provide feedback on their critical thinking skills and encourage them to continue to develop their skills in this area.

  6. Encourage students to defend the position opposite their initial one: In debate activities this can be especially useful; students should be encouraged to see things from the other side and come up with reasons for holding positions different to their own

  7. Use guest-speakers and online videos to represent views that are less commonly held: engaging critically with alternative views and positions will help young learners to understand the range of cognitive possibilities and the intellectual justifications that underpin different views to their own

  8. Encourage a healthy detachment from rigid beliefs: encouraging students to 'take a step back', examine their own attachment to particular positions, the emotions involved in that attachment, where their views have come from, and why others gold different views can be useful in encouraging cognitive flexibility

  9. Identify and challenge assumptions: it is common for people to have a false sense of certainty in their beliefs and common for people to mistake strongly held beliefs for genuine knowledge; philosophical enquiry can help tackle the assumptions that underpin belief systems and knowledge claims - freeing the minds of young people to conside different possibilities.