Feuerstein under scrutiny

16th February 2007 at 00:00
Across the road from St Margaret's Primary, at Hawick High, Douglas Robertson is one of two fully trained practitioners in instrumental enrichment. "To me, instrumental enrichment would improve the thinking of anyone. It has to be run as a class by itself, but as a subject teacher, a science teacher, I'd say you can use the techniques through mediated learning in any subject classroom and I'm planning to develop this with my science classes.

"My S1 instrumental enrichment groups are developing a better focus, breaking their thinking processes down to understand how they work. It's not just about achievement, but about communication skills and, for example, the more Feuerstein we use the less behaviour referrals there will be."

Dr Robertson says that, because the approach builds the learner's confidence and counters impulsive behaviour, it leads to more dialogue and less confrontation. "From the learning point of view, instrumental enrichment is also a great basis for all subject pursuits. It offers problem solving itself. It's knowledge free. It's not about 'learn this' or 'learn that'. It's about the process and, as such, it has to be seen as central to A Curriculum for Excellence," he says.

Twenty miles away, at Kelso High, it's time to try and join up some dots with an S3 religious and moral education class. One of Feuerstein's IE "instruments", this involves identifying geometric shapes embedded within an apparently random array of dots. To achieve this, cognitive functions such as comparative and exploratory behaviour are required. Similarly, there is a need to indentify relationships and test hypotheses.

But, still, it's just joining up dots, right? Wrong. Passing over the apparently simple and easy ones, I opt to try some 3-D shapes. I fail to complete one. Expecting to be told I'm "blocking", I am instead reassured by a pupil who says: "Don't worry. A lot of the teachers can't do it."

My problem is I have not been systematic. The pupils take me back to a basic array of dots and I begin to see that while you might skip paragraphs in a boring report or a chapter or two in a bad novel, if you're going to learn how you learn, you have to start at the beginning and work your way through systematically, with no skipping. It's about training your mind, about making permanent changes in your brain, and there are no shortcuts.

Every S3 pupil at Kelso experiences instrumental enrichment through the religious and moral education programme, which also uses mediated learning in subject delivery. Principal teacher Wendy Giles says that, as a result, "intrinsic motivation" across the whole RME course has improved greatly.

"You can use Feuerstein for moral problem-solving, using the abstract dots as an example and moving from there into concrete problem-solving," she says. "It's opposite to a lot of teaching where you start with a concrete example and lead the pupils towards abstract concepts. Dots are as connected to RME as they are to maths or science. It makes learners more flexible."

And what of those who think Feuerstein is a passing fad? "No. It's grounded in so much theory and so much empirical data. It's globally applicable," Ms Giles says.

It's also locally applicable, says Kelso head Charlie Robertson. "I'd like to see it used across the curriculum; to see all staff at least familiar with the methods and philosophy of Feuerstein, even if we couldn't afford to train everyone in instrumental enrichment, and I think it fits perfectly into A Curriculum for Excellence. If we're thinking 'thinking skills' as central to the curriculum, then Feuerstein would be our thing."

A SEED evaluation report 'Scottish Borders Council: Feuerstein Partnership'

is due to be published later this month. Further information on Feuerstein: www.icelp.org

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