Enhancing Cognitive Flexibility Through a Training Based on Multiple Categorization: Developing Proportional Reasoning in Primary School


  • Calliste Scheibling-Sève
  • Katarina Gvozdic
  • Elena Pasquinelli
  • Emmanuel Sander


Proportional reasoning is a key topic both at school and in everyday life. However, students are often misled by their preconceptions regarding proportions. Our hypothesis is that these limitations can be mitigated by working on alternative ways of categorizing situations that enable more adequate inferences. Multiple categorization triggers flexibility, which enables reinterpreting a problem statement and adopting a more relevant point of view. The present study aims to show the improvements in proportional reasoning after an intervention focusing on such a multiple categorization. Twenty-eight 4th and 5th grade classes participated in the study during one school year. Schools were classified by the SES of their neighborhood. The experimental group received 12 math lessons focusing on flexibly envisioning a situation involving proportional reasoning from different points of view. At the end of the school year, compared to a control group, the experimental group had better results on the posttest when solving proportion word problems and proposed more diverse solving strategies. The analyses also show that the performance gap linked to the school’s SES classification was reduced. This offers promising perspectives regarding multiple categorization as a path to overtake preconceptions and develop cognitive flexibility at school.