The Case for Cognitive Yoga

I lift weights regularly.  Seriously, I do.  You can stop laughing now.  As I have followed my weight training routine, I have found increased strength.  That’s a good thing.  I have also found increased stiffness in my body.  That’s not such a good thing.  In order to combat the increased rigidity, I also undertake yoga on a reasonably regular schedule.  Seriously, I do.  You can stop laughing now.  The yoga forces me to stretch muscles so that they can recover and my body can continue to work the way it should.  It’s a delicate balance maintaining such a physique.  Now you can laugh. 

My physical training program got me thinking about our cognitive training programs in schools.  The push for many years has been to increase rigor.  Don’t get me wrong, I fully support rigorous cognitive building in classrooms.  But I also recognize that we need to push cognitive flexibility as well in order to maintain healthy cognitive function.  I’m not the only one to recognize the need for flexibility in thinking.  In the book Learning and Leading With Habits of Mind: 16 Characteristics for Success, author, researcher, and educator A. L. Costa, identified and addressed a rather substantial list of habits beneficial for students, teachers, and schools.  Thinking flexibly made the list of characteristics.  

How can teachers help the students in their classrooms develop agile thought processes?  The blog at Learning Works for Kids (, the suggests the following:

  1. Incorporate trial and error activities.  These activities can be part of formal lessons, but they may be more powerful in the day-to-day routine of the classroom.  For example, if you get a new bookshelf or other piece of furniture, have students figure out the best location for it in the room.  Once it is in the proper location, have students help figure out the proper arrangement of items on the furniture.  Throughout the process, have students share their thinking.   
  2. Have students teach the teacher something new.  Got a new electronic device or software program coming into your world?  Odds are the students have probably tinkered with it or something very similar already.  Have them give you hands on help in learning your new device. 
  3. Model flexible thinking.  Talk to students about your own thinking process.  Share your “what if” moments and your “either/or” moments intentionally.  Let them see you work through the challenges you face. 
  4. Expose students to new situations.  New situations require new thinking.  Start with something familiar and expand on it with your students.  Let them talk through the new and learn from each other. 

As you plan for next week, think of how you might incorporate these into your classroom.  You and your students will be glad you did!   

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