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Thinking skills 'bring peace to classroom'

On the day that official figures for violence and disorder in Scottish schools appeared to show a dramatic increase, a Glasgow conference on "unlocking potential" heard that such disruption could be reduced by improving children's thinking skills.

Delegates to the latest event held by the Tapestry education think-tank called on the Scottish Executive to apply the latest thinking. Some said the mantra on school discipline should be "better learning, better behaviour", not the other way round.

The key influence of the day was the Feuerstein approach. Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, deputy chairman of the Jerusalem-based International Centre for the Enhancement of Learning Potential (ICELP), told the 450 delegates, most of whom were teachers, that "emotion and cognition" are two sides of the same coin.

"Many people who resort to violence lack the cognitive skills which allow them to understand their situation in a proper way," Rabbi Feuerstein said.

"It is very hard to interact with the emotions. Why don't we teach about planning behaviour in schools and teach children to think emotions not to feel them?"

Chromosomes do not have the last word when it comes to learning was another of Rabbi Feuerstein's messages.

Speaking after his father, Professor Reuven Feuerstein, on a video link from Israel, Rabbi Feuerstein said: "We do not ignore the influence of the chromosomes, either for special needs children or other people, but we educate our brains."

Rabbi Feuerstein, who has a Down's syndrome child, said that while the chromosomes are "blocked" in the case of a Down's child, "we should find a window by which we can enter the child's cognition and rebuild him".

Kittoch School in East Kilbride, which educates pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, is one of the few in Scotland to apply the Feuerstein theories. They have also been adopted by one education authority, Dundee.

Billy O'Neill, the school's depute head, who is Scotland's only accredited trainer in Professor Feuerstein's methods, told the conference: "We have a whole-school approach which involves assessing, developing an intervention programme and focusing on the pupil's underlying cognitive skills.

"Even when they are teaching their own subject, teachers are trying to create an environment which encourages the use of the thinking skills necessary for lifelong learning."

A key component of the Feuerstein approach is the use of "instrumental enrichment" (IE), an intervention programme which Mr O'Neill believes should be included be in the core curriculum of every school in Scotland.

"It is aimed at improving thinking skills and equipping pupils with the tools, insight and the awareness to benefit from their experiences," he said.

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