It’s all well and good for schools decide to be “thinking” schools and deploy useful programmes that provide “hangers” on which to “scaffold” their intention to develop higher order thinking skills, but what are they doing about developing the underlying cognition to use in a metacognitive learning curriculum or approach?
The Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment (IE)1 is a series of non-curricular paper and pencil tasks that focus on perceptual and motor functions. The programme teaches all learners how to think. The IE tools give structure to a teaching method that helps children approach learning differently, using researched cognitive exercises to develop skills such as reasoning, problem-solving, empathy and emotional intelligence.
Bellavista believes in Feuerstein
The brain can change and grow. Every child has potential for learning. Bellavista School in Johannesburg, Gauteng, has actively embraced cognitive education principles for over three decades. Knowing that the brain is characterised by “plasticity”2 inspires the staff to used mediated learning experiences that deliberately develop new neural pathways. The Feuerstein Method was pioneered by Reuven Feuerstein, a child psychologist and pioneer of cognitive education theory and practice, to help children who had gone through the Holocaust during World War II.3 For more than 70 years, it has been used worldwide to help children enhance their abilities and to help adults who undergo traumas like strokes or head injuries. Bellavista School rolls out the work of Feuerstein in its curriculum across all grades as a set timetabled lesson, several times a week.
Mediated learning means tangible results
In keeping with the work of Vygotsky and Feuerstein,4 whose work is aligned, Bellavista School uses social mediation to develop real learning: another person works alongside students to guide and direct them through new learning to achieve mastery. The Feuerstein Method fundamentally deploys this concept of mediated learning, where another person – in the classroom, the teacher – leads and directs children to explore their thinking, solve problems, consider all aspects of a situation, draw conclusions, plan their time, organise their thinking, set goals and so much more.
Principal of Bellavista School, Alison Scott, supported staff who were steeped in knowledge of the IE tools, a practical programme to articulate the Feuerstein Method, when they proposed that the school should deliberately include it in the school timetable.
“The observations to date speak for themselves. The transfer of skills is seen in higher levels of empathy, reasonable judgement, a systematic approach to problem-solving and improved organisational skills,” reports Fleur Durbach, deputy principal.
Miriam Wilder, another Bellavista deputy principal, notes: “The Instrumental Enrichment programme provides children with significant barriers to learning with opportunity to explore and develop alternate neural pathways to enable them to access their learning potential through a systematic and graded process.”
A programme for all people
IE has a place for every learner, regardless of “measured ability”. Learners with an aptitude for mathematics can extend their cognition exponentially, developing skills of logic and reason.Children with language difficulties experience the thrill of solving non-verbal, non-routine problems in a logical, systematic way. At every point, there is opportunity for the learner to explain their thinking, and so demonstrate understanding.
The school reports direct impact to learners’ intelligence quotient (IQ) scores. “In one particular year,” says Scott, “the school dealt with the tool of ‘comparison’, an aspect of the IE programme.5 Learners assessed on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children WISC-IVUK6 that year all had elevated scores for the subtest, ‘similarities’.7 Quantifiable evidence like this, albeit anecdotal action research, spurred us on to implement IE school wide.”
Using IE at home and at school
One of several cognitive education programmes integrated into the fabric of Bellavista School, IE is taught for two to three hours per week alongside the mainstream curriculum and other therapy interventions. Exercises are not specifically linked to traditional subjects; however, some exercises do tie in to particular skills and integrate with subjects like trigonometry, life skills or language learning. All foundation phase staff, and some therapists and intermediate/senior phase educators, are trained and certified by the Feuerstein Institute in Israel.8 Under the careful guidance of David Martin,9 the interventionists are prepared to steer real cognitive development in their learners carefully, through the use of IE tools. Parents are invited to attend training so that they can carry the expectation and the mediation methodology into the home. “A school-home partnership can only accelerate efficacy,” Scott believes.
Ask any child at Bellavista about IE and they are likely to tell you that they “love it” or “it’s fun”. It is novel to the point that the pupils might not even think it is work or “school”. Is that not what real teaching and learning should be about?
1. See, for example: http://acd.icelp.info/what-we-teach/instrumentalenrichment.aspx.
2. See, for example: https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/plast.html.
3. See, for example: http://www.jpost.com/National-News/Professor-Reuven-Feuerstein-A-personal-remembrance-from-a-very-grateful-mother-350876.
4. See, for example: http://www.teachingtimes.com/kb/71/vygotsky-lives.htm.
5. See, for example: http://www.context.org/iclib/ic27/greenbrg/.
6. See, for example: http://www.teacherstoolbox.co.uk/T_Teaching_Intelligence.html.
7. See, for example: http://www.icelp.info/.
8. See, for example: http://www.icelp.info/.
9. See, for example: http://www.iacesa.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/IACESA-NEWS-UPDATE-FEBRUARY-2015.pdf.