Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Good Summer's Read for Educators: Helping Students Reach Their Potential

July 10-14 I will be presenting at the International Association of Cognitive Education and Psychology alongside presenters from Feuerstein's institute (ICELP) where I did post doctoral work some 15 years ago. The following book by Feuerstein and associates, though not a how-to book, offers profound theoretical insights particularly for those interested in learners with challenges. Alternatively, check out his website at 

Beyond Smarter: Mediated Learning and the Brain's Capacity for Change offers readers insight from two important research streams. The first is Reuven Feuerstein's seminal theoretical insights that provide frameworks for research and practice based upon his theory that humans across cultures and backgrounds can become functionally smarter through the use of specific cognitive methods. The second is John Bransford's insights in the foreword. Readers may recall that in the late nineties Bransford was the leader of a group of federally funded scholars who authored How People Learn. This text has been widely read and has had a great impact on research in the field of learning over the past decade. Later, after a second committee of scholars met, Donovan and Bransford wrote a text titled How Students Learn with a focus on using research from the science of learning in the classroom for the teaching of history, math, and science. Importantly, Bransford states an eagerness for connections to be made between neuroscience and Feuerstein's theory. 

The authors, Reuven and Rafael Feuerstein and Louis Falik, discuss key concepts from the seminal work of first author, Professor Reuven Feuerstein. In this introduction the reader learns of this important body of work as a hopeful alternative for teaching children and youth with neurobiological (ie diagnosis of Down syndrome) and/or environmental challenges (ie issues of abandonment, loss, or lack of preparation for learning at school). Readers will enjoy Feuerstein's story (in his own words) of his work with Jean Piaget at the Geneva Institute and how Andre Rey's support there was critical to his work on cognitive functions and assessment. Importantly, Structural Cognitive Modifiability (SCM), the framework that gives hope for those who have learning challenges is defined and discussed. 

Mediated Learning Experience (MLE), is defined as the method by which a more experienced adult (teacher, parent, or other) assists youth to learn how to learn and, in Feuerstein's words, become more cognitively modifiable. In Feuerstein's theory, it is MLE that renders the child a motivated, effective, and successful learner. In other words, without at least one mediator (you might think of a special kind of guide) a youth would likely not become a successful thinker and learner. The necessary parameters of the mediated learning experience are discussed, for example, caring and intentionality. Further, the authors discuss other criteria for MLE such as the mediation of belonging, sharing, and individuation that should be mediated over the course of time. 

Dynamic Assessment and Instrumental Enrichment, specific tools Feuerstein developed are introduced (more training is needed to begin to become proficient at using these tools). Dynamic assessment utilizes the test-teach-test approach and is helpful to determine what kind of intervention is necessary and how much mediation is needed in order for the learner to become able to learn independently. Instrumental Enrichment, Feuerstein's program for teaching youth (approximately age 9 and up) thinking habits for school, work, and life is also introduced in this text along with the newest edition to the Feuerstein programs, Instrumental Enrichment Basic for young children. 

This book represents seminal and important work that weaves together the power of mediated learning and emerging understandings of neuroplasticity and human potential. I had the honor of completing postdoctoral study with Reuven Feuerstein in Israel. The experience has had a profound impact on how I work with teachers, administrators, and graduate students in our Brain-Based Teaching programs. In particular, this book brings the importance of mirror neurons in the process of mediating learning to life and amplifies the importance of diversity. Reading Beyond Smarter helps to empower the reader with a refreshing initial understanding of how effective educators can cultivate key cognitive skills for thriving in the 21st century. The thinking of Reuven Feuerstein has been a great gift to me over the span of more than two decades as it has been to many others across the world who have had the pleasure of learning from him. This book is an excellent way for individuals to connect to his powerful work!