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'You can teach thinking skills but this goes deeper'

Professor Feuerstein's principles of mediated learning should be introduced in the nursery, says behaviour support teacher Alison McKenzie, because they don't only teach thinking skills, they also change the workings of the brain.

Dundee, like South Lanarkshire, is taking tentative steps towards implementing Professor Feuerstein's ideas. It is trying Bright Start, a cognitive curriculum for three- to six-year-olds that has been developed by Dr Carl Haywood in the United States using the concept of mediated learning experience.

At Our Lady's Primary, Ms McKenzie is taking a P1 class with a range of abilities in a Bright Start lesson. She is teaching them to have clear perceptions, understand instructions, be systematic and is promoting self-regulation.

The children look at symbols and models and how they show people what to do. This exercise is then broadened to the world outside school to expand the pupils' perspective. This is transcendence, one of the aims of Professor Feuerstein's work. The cognitive tools must transcend four areas: school, friends, environment and family, says Ms McKenzie.

"It's hard to teach, as you have to keep the children focused. The teacher's mediation has to be specific. She has to make sense of the environment for the children.

"A child who is not properly mediated will not have the proper tools. This is real early intervention, when the teacher is doing the mediation, going back to the basics of cognitive functioning."

She began work with the class in September and by Christmas changes were apparent, she says. "Concentration, understanding and memory have improved.

There is more discussion now."

One child who used to roll around the floor in isolation will now answer questions and seems to follow the lesson, she says. He also makes himself understood.

Ms McKenzie is working on the children's verbal skills. They have to describe what they see on cards using words, not just imitating the actions. "A child must be able to express him or herself in order to ask questions, ask for help and progress their learning," she says.

"Instrumental Enrichment should make their learning easier, including reading and numbers. If we are correcting deficient cognitive functions right at the start of their schooling, they should find learning easier."

She continues: "Feuerstein teaches you to assume nothing. Some children can compare; some can't. That's why you have to go over things thoroughly, using similar games and strategies.

"You can teach thinking skills but this approach goes much deeper. You create change in the neural pathways by mediating. You change the structure of the brain.

"All children can be effective thinkers and learners. You have to have the right mediating environment, mediating rather than instructional."

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