Cognitive Education: FIE

“Imagine a method…

…beyond limitations…
…that improves how EVERY person learns…
…from the youngest child with Down Syndrome…
…to gifted students…
…and everyone in between…
…that unlocks university gates for students from
underprivileged backgrounds…
…and can also prevent dementia in the elderly… That method is FEUERSTEIN

Feuerstein Institute: http://www.icelp.info/

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Its all well and good that schools decide to be ‘thinking’ schools and deploy useful programmes that provide ‘hangers’ to direct and scaffold our intention to develop higher order thinking skills, but what are we doing about developing the underlying cognition to use in a metacognitive learning curriculum or approach?

The Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment (IE) is a series of non-curricular paper and pencil tasks that focus on perceptual and motor function. 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. 

The brain can change and grow. Every child has potential for learning. Bellavista School has actively embraced cognitive education principles for over three decades. Knowing that the brain is characterised by ‘plasticity’ inspires the staff to used mediated learning experiences that deliberately develop new neural pathways. The Feuerstein Method was pioneered by Prof Reuven Feuerstein, a child psychologist, to help children who had gone through the Holocaust during World War II. For more than 70 years it has been used worldwide, to help children enhance their abilities and to help adults who experience events like strokes or head injuries. Bellavista School rolls out the work of Feuerstein as part of its cognitive education programme, in its curriculum, across all grades as set timetabled lessons each week.

In keeping with the work of Vygotsky and then Feuerstein, Bellavista School uses social mediation to develop real learning: another person works alongside a student to struggle through new learning in order to achieve mastery,  or learning. The Feuerstein Method fundamentally deploys this concept of mediated learning, where another person (in the classroom this might be the teacher or in an individual intervention setting, the therapist) leads and guides 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.

Executive Principal of Bellavista School, Alison Scott, only supported staff steeped in the Instrumental Enrichment tools, a practical programme to articulate the Feuerstein Method, when they proposed that the School should deliberately include it in the school timetable several years ago. “The observations to date speak for themselves. The transfer of skills is seen in higher levels of empathy, reasonable judgment, systematic approach to problem solving and improved organisational skills,” reports Scott.

Miriam Wilder, Dean of School, notes, “Children with significant barriers to contend with in the conventional curriculum can explore their cognition on another level, developing a feeling of competence.”

Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment 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 his or her thinking, and so demonstrate understanding.

The school reports direct impact to learners’ cognitive attainment. “In one particular year,” says Scott, “the school dealt with the tool of Comparison. Learners assessed on the WISC-IVUK that year all had elevated scores for the subtest, Similarities. Evidence like this, albeit anecdotal action research, spurred us on to implement Instrumental Enrichment school wide.”

One of several cognitive education programmes integrated into the fabric of Bellavista School, Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment is taught for two – three hours per week alongside the mainstream curriculum and other therapy interventions. Exercises were not specifically linked to traditional subjects. However, some exercises do tie in to particular skills, like trigonometry, life skills, or language learning. All Foundation Phase staff, and some therapists and INTERSEN educators, are trained and certified by the Feuerstein Institute in Israel. Under the careful guidance of Prof David Martin, Mass, USA, the interventionists are prepared to steer real cognitive development in their learners carefully, through the use of Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment (FIE) 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 School 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?

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The Feuerstein Method is the only educational method that teaches students the process behind thinking and learning skills in an organized, structured way.” Feuerstein Institute 2016