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|Born||August 21, 1921 (age 91)
Reuven Feuerstein (Hebrew: ראובן פוירשטיין) (born August 21, 1921 in Botoşani, Romania) is an Israeli clinical, developmental, and cognitive psychologist, renowned for his theory of intelligence which states “it is not ‘fixed’, but rather modifiable”. The idea behind this theory is that intelligence can be modified through mediated interventions. Feuerstein is recognized for his lifelong work in developing the theories and applied systems of: Structural Cognitive Modifiability, Mediated Learning Experience, Cognitive Map, Deficient Cognitive Functions, Dynamic Assessment:Learning Propensity Assessment Device, Instrumental Enrichment Programs, and Shaping Modifying Environments. These interlocked practices provide educators with the skills and tools to systematically develop students’ cognitive functions and operations to build meta-cognition.
Today Feuerstein is the founder and director of the International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential (ICELP) in Jerusalem, Israel.• For more than 50 years Feuerstein’s theories and applied systems have been implemented in both clinical and classroom settings internationally, with more than 80 countries applying his work. Feuerstein’s theory on the malleability of intelligence has led to more than 2,000 scientific research studies and countless case studies with various learning populations (See bibliography and publication on Feuerstein's work).
Theories and applied systems
Reuven Feuerstein was one of nine siblings born in Botoșani, Romania (August 21, 1921). He attended the Teachers College in Bucharest (1940–41) and Onesco College in Bucharest (1942–44). Due to the Nazi invasion, Feuerstein fled to save his life before obtaining his degree in psychology. After settling in Mandate Palestine in 1945, he taught child survivors of the Holocaust until 1948. He saw that these children whose families and cultures had been destroyed in the Holocaust needed attention. Thus, he began a career that attended to the psychological and educational needs of immigrant refugee children.
While attending the University of Geneva, Feuerstein studied under Andre Rey and Jean Piaget. He completed his degrees in both General and Clinical psychology. During this time there were three main schools of thought, “Psychoanalysis, Behaviorism, and Gestalt Psychology.” He attended lectures given by Karl Jaspers, Carl Jung, Barbel Inhelder, Marguerite Loosli Uster and Léopold Szondi. In 1970, Feuerstein earned his PhD in Developmental Psychology at the University of Sorbonne, in France. His major areas of study were Developmental, Clinical, and Cognitive psychology.
Feuerstein served as Director of Psychological Services of Youth Aliyah in Europe (Immigration for young people). This service was responsible for assigning prospective Jewish candidates for emigration from all over the European continent to various educational programs in Israel. In the 1950s he was involved in research on Moroccan, Jewish, and Berber children in collaboration with several members of the “Genevan” school. Upon their arrival, the children were subjected to a series of tests, including IQ tests. Their poor results did not surprise Feuerstein. However, he did question them and noticed that whenever he intervened, the children’s performance improved.
The improvement Feuerstein witnessed in victims after they received extra psychological and educational attention made Feuerstein question current beliefs regarding the stability of intelligence. “What if, instead of measuring a child’s acquired knowledge and intellectual skills, the ability to learn was evaluated first? And what if intelligence was not a fixed attributed, measurable once and for all? What if intelligence can be taught and was in fact the ability to learn?” (p. 10) It was at this point that Feuerstein broke away from the conventional thinking of his time. He elaborated new methods of evaluation as well as new teaching tools. Today this is what is known as Dynamic Assessment.
Feuerstein continued to gather data that supported his ideas about the importance of education and meeting children's psychological needs in fostering success in school and high intelligence scores. “It was during this period that much of the psychological data was gathered that contributed to my development of concepts of cultural differences and cultural deprivations” Some children who were considered un-teachable reached the stage where they were accepted at normal school and studied successfully. This period was also seminal in the development of his working hypothesis concerning low functioning children and their potential for change.
His interest came from observing the difficulties experienced by the new immigrant students coping with unfamiliar learning environment that he saw as culturally "deprived.” He describes culturally “different” children as children who receive an adequate amount and type of Mediated Learning Experience (MLE) in their native culture and who face the challenges of adapting to a new culture. These children are expected to have good learning potential. On the contrary, culturally “deprived” are those children who, for one reason or another, were deprived on MLE in their native culture or children who show a reduction in learning potential.
Comparisons have also been made between Feuerstein’s theories and those of the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky viewed a child’s interaction with the world as mediated by symbolic tools provided by the given culture. Like the social psychologist, Feuerstein gave further insight on cognitive functioning such as logical memory, voluntary attention, categorical perception and self-regulation of behavior. Feuerstein filled a theoretical gap with his theory of Mediated Learning Experience in which he assigns the major role to a human mediator. According to Feuerstein, all learning interactions can be divided into direct learning and mediated learning. Learning mediated by another human being is indispensable for a child because the mediator helps the child develop prerequisites that then make direct learning effective.
Although the Theory of Mediated Learning Experience which Feuerstein developed, the heart of MLE is the theory of Structural Cognitive Modifiability which explains the modifiability of deficient cognitive functions. He argued that person’s capability to learn is not solely determined by one’s genetic make-up; but is on the contrary, cognitive enhancement is through mediation. "Cognitive enhancement in SCM refers not merely to the development of specific behavior but also to changes of a “structural nature" (i.e. internal changes in cognition rather than external changes in behavior). Feuerstein said he was deeply influenced by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, whom he would correspond with, and who would refer him patients.
Unlike previous developmental psychologists, the focus of Feuerstein’s theories is the development of normal versus low functioning children. According to Piaget, it is through the normal child’s own natural material actions and problem-solving experiences that mind and intelligence eventually evolve toward the development of logic and abstract thinking. Feuerstein illustrates that the key to meaningful instruction for all children, particularly young and low-functioning children, is the mediated relationship.
The Theory of Structural Cognitive Modifiability and Mediated Learning Experience
One of Feuerstein's main areas of focus is the theory of Structural Cognitive Modifiability.
Structural Cognitive Modifiability (SCM) as a theory grew out of Feuerstein’s interest to see people whose functioning was low and in certain cases extremely low, in turn became able to modify themselves through cognitive processes, so that they could adapt themselves to the requirements of society. Working with these people has made him aware that modifiability is indeed possible; it was then that he tried to look for the theoretical basis for strong empirical data. The theory of SCM has developed over the years, and has permitted him to create a large variety of cognitive programs which serve as the pillars of the theory.
The theory of Structural Cognitive Modifiability is described as “the unique propensity of human beings to change or modify the structure of their cognitive functioning to adapt to the changing demands of a life situation.”. This capacity for change is related to two types of human-environment interactions that are responsible for the development of differential cognitive functioning and higher mental processes: direct exposure to learning and mediated learning experience.
Over the years Feuerstein found that human development is not just biological, but from his stand point, also socio-cultural. The theory of SCM originated on two concepts – structure and modifiability. Feuerstein considers these two concepts to be the primary reason for behavioral manifestations of the mental and cognitive structures. The basis for the theory of SCM is derived from three different subparts.
1. The Human being is the outcome of a triple ontogeny – biological, social-cultural and the interactions of the mediated learning experience (MLE)
2. Model behavior represents states rather than traits of the organism, and leads to a new and more adaptive definition of intelligence
3. Brain plasticity results in the generation of new structures, created through internal and external behaviors
The theory SCM is based on a concept of human growth, which is characteristic of its evolutionary nature and of the transformation of its cognitive potentialities into the reasoning abilities and continuous search for solutions to the problems of diverse order raised by its surroundings.
At the heart of SCM lies the theory of Mediated Learning Experience (MLE), to which Feuerstein attributes human modifiability. It is MLE which is a typical human modality of interaction that is responsible to the unique character of the human being which is structurally modifiable. Feuerstein offers a variety of conceptual tools including the cognitive map, the deficient cognitive functions and the process orientation which marks and shapes the applied aspects of the SCM theory.
In the MLE modality, there are two formal models. One is the Behavioral Model of Stimulus-Response (S-R). The other is from the Cognitive Model (Piaget) Stimulus-Organism-Response (S-O-R). “MLE has a universal meaning irrespective of language or content in which the mediation interaction takes place.”
Feuerstein defines Mediated Learning Experience as a quality of human-environment interactions. “It is much more than a simple pedagogical model and entails the shaping of cognitive process as a by product of cultural transmissions” As such it represents to stimuli, is considered as the “most pervasive” way in which the organism-environment interaction affects the organism. “MLE, through which the interaction, human-environment, is mediated by a human being, whose intentionality “transforms the three components of S-O-R of what Piaget formed, into a meaningful way into a compatible combination. Feuerstein places great emphases on the H is the human, O is Organism, R is Response and S represents the Stimuli. Where H interposes himself between the S and the O as well as between the O and the R, there is mediation.” This is what is known as S-H-O-H-R theory
Feuerstein notes that MLE represents the unique feature of human interaction and as such it is conceived of as the determinant of the auto plasticity of the human. MLE plays a major role in determining the evolutionary trends and the considerable changes that take place in a humans’ mental (cognitive) functioning. A lack of MLE deprives the organism of its auto plasticity which may result in a lack of or reduced modifiability “(example: in individuals for whom the direct exposure is of an active operational nature).”
The theory of Mediated Learning Experience addresses the question, What are the origins of differential cognitive development? This question involves examining the organism (the learner) and the environment(the context in which the learning experience occurs) and the two factors involved are either organic or environmental. Organic factors consist of heredity, maturation level, and others. Environmental factors are sensory stimulation, socio-economic status, and educational opportunities. This theory suggests that these two types of factors constitute only “distal” determinants of cognitive development (factors which cause the differential responses to the environment), while the Mediated Learning Experience (or lack of) constitutes “proximal” determinants.
For MLE to occur, another human being (caregiver, parent, teacher, peer, etc.) interposes him or herself between the stimuli (or the learner’s response) and the learner with the intention of mediating the stimuli or response to the learner. This intervention is termed mediation. The mediator (for a child, initially the mother or another nurturing parent figure) modifies a set of stimuli by effecting qualities of intensity, context, frequency, and order, and at the same time arouses the child’s vigilance, awareness, and sensitivity. Inadequate MLE leads to cognitive functions that are undeveloped, poorly developed, arrested, impaired, or seldom and inefficiently used.
Clinical experience with the LPAD and FIE has enabled the development of an inventory of deficient cognitive functions, which are categorized across the Input, Elaboration, and Output Phases of the mental act. Deficiencies of the mental act can impair one phase or all phases, but not all of the time.
The Cognitive Map
Another important conceptual tool of the dynamic assessment process is the need to understand the relationship between the characteristics of the task and the performance of the subject. The “cognitive map” describes the mental act in terms of several parameters that permit an analysis and interpretation of a subject’s performance by locating specific problem areas and producing changes in corresponding dimensions. The manipulation of these parameters becomes highly important in the subject-examiner interaction, by helping the examiner to form and validate hypotheses regarding the subject’s performance difficulties. There are seven parameters to the cognitive map:
- Content of the mental act
- Modality or language in which the mental act is expressed
- Cognitive operations required for the mental act
- Level of complexity
- Level of abstraction
- Level of efficiency with which the mental act is performed
The cognitive map is an important element in the process of dynamic assessment and the use of the LPAD. It is reflected in the construction of the LPAD instruments and in the examiner’s choice regarding the order of the instruments to use with the subject, the amount of time and the extent of focus within the instrument, and the nature and type of mediation to offer within the functioning of the instrument.
Dynamic Assessment: Learning Propensity Assessment Device
The Learning Propensity Assessment Device (LPAD) – originally named the Learning Potential Assessment Device – is a dynamic approach, based on the theory of Structural Cognitive Modifiability, used to assess cognitive functioning. Propensity conveys the uniquely dynamic process of change, which is consistent with Feuerstein’s concept of the nature of intelligence. In his conceptual view and in his methodology of assessment, intelligence is the “propensity of the individual to undergo changes in the direction of higher levels of adaptability.” This name change underscores the significance of Feuerstein’s attempt to do away with any concepts that represent intelligence as related to a reified objective entity, which by its nature must be considered measurable, predictable, and fixed. The LPAD encompasses goals, functions, and methods, which are substantially different from traditional, static, psychometric assessment methods.
Difference between IQ test and Dynamic Assessment
Central to the dynamic evaluation is the acceptance of the modifiability of functioning instead of a belief in (or acceptance of) “fixed and immutable” characteristics of intelligence or cognitive functioning. The LPAD is a systematic attempt to overcome the limitation in standard tests and to provide a basis for making inference, based on prescribed observations of particular tasks, regarding the nature and adequacy of the development of cognitive functions.
Related to these inferences are additional specific appropriate questions:
- What other obstacles to effective performance are observed?
- How amenable to change are the observed deficiencies?
- How much change can be expected?
- What is the nature of the investment required to produce the desired changes (content areas, modalities of response, phase of the mental act)?
- How much investment is required to produce the desired change?
- How much stability can one achieve with the desired change?
- How much generalization can one achieve following mediation?
Three levels of inference are employed in the LPAD. They are: (1) evaluation of the level of manifest functioning; (2) exploration of conditions under which manifest functioning may be improved; and (3) assessment of modifiability by actually bringing about changes in cognitive structure through meditation of functions and strategies, with subsequent assessment of the effects of this meditation on generalization processes of thought and manifest functioning.
Feuerstein and his colleagues believe that there are times and situations where normative assessment is useful, as for example, when the performance of individual children is compared with the average performance of individuals in normative samples to establish baselines which then can be used to plan remediation strategies aimed at reaching goals established for the normative group. Another potentially useful application of normative comparison is for large program planning, curriculum development, and research on the psychological and educational characteristics of large groups.
The theory of SCM and the understanding of learning propensity require a different approach to assessment. There is abundant evidence that the assumptions associated with normative assessment are untenable and that they contributed to restricting large numbers of children, youth, and adults from receiving the education and therapeutic benefits to which they are entitled and from which they can benefit. In other words, we need methods by which it is possible to ask how individuals can be taught in such a way as to uncover and make accessible their available learning potential, not whether individuals can learn.
The examiner working from the perspective of dynamic assessment is thus able to reframe the critical assessment questions as following: Not:
- What is the person’s typical performance?
- How much does this person know?
- How well is the person likely to learn independently?
- What areas of content have not been mastered?
- What is the person’s maximal performance?
- How can the person learn?
- What teaching is needed to enable the person to learn at an acceptable level?
- What process deficiencies underlie previous learning failure and how can these be corrected?
The assessment strategy of the LPAD consists of two distinguishing features: (1) the assessment as a fluid process of the person’s thoughts, perceptions, learning; (2) the carefully structured teaching of cognitive principles and processes followed by an assessment of the way in which this activity modifies the subject in the direction of higher capacity and greater efficiency on similar, although different, problems. The goals of the assessment process are to:
- Identify well-developed cognitive functions
- Identify deficient cognitive functions
- Assess the response to the teaching of cognitive principles and strategies
- Estimate the kinds and amounts of investment needed to overcome cognitive deficiencies
- Sensitize both the examiner and subject to the processes involved in confronting and coping with a variety of tasks.
The tools of the LPAD are designed and selected through the general strategy, which requires a theoretical perspective, a methodological orientation, and the use of appropriate tools on the subject because:
- Each of them requires the use of one (or more) fundamentally important cognitive process
- Considered as a battery of instruments, they represent a broad range of specific cognitive functions
- They employ tasks and materials, which have been found to be intrinsically attractive, interesting, and challenging, and which lend themselves to mediational intervention
- They have been used for dynamic assessment for many years and with a large number of subjects and have thus been field tested and adapted for use in the assessment of learning propensity
- They represent tasks requiring differing levels of higher mental processes
- They are controlled for content so that the subject’s functioning is not dependent upon familiarity or prior knowledge
- They present a range of modalities of required responses
The instruments have been constructed to reflect the purpose and goals of evaluation in the LPAD, as opposed to those of a static and normative assessment. There are four basic changes reflected in the instruments:
- Structure of the instruments: for each instrument, subjects are offered opportunities to use (and the examiner to observe) cognitive prerequisites and strategies to master the task
- Subject-examiner interaction: the examiner uses the instruments in an active, interventionist posture, offering mediation, creative and engaging interaction, reinforcement, and feedback
- Product to process orientation: the LPAD instruments shift the emphasis from product to process – that is, to a search for the reasons for a subject’s success and failure
- Interpretation of results: global or generalized scores are replaced by an active search for the peak of a subject’s functioning and the creation of a detailed profile of performance that describes the subject’s cognitive functions and deficiencies
Each instrument is constructed according to the same structural principle. A task, problem, or situation is selected whose mastery requires not only specific problem solving behaviors, but also the grasp of a given principle through the application of the relevant cognitive operation. The operation may be categorization, serration, permutation, logical multiplication, analogical or syllogistic reasoning, or any number of others. The appropriate use of an operation depends upon prerequisite cognitive functions as well as upon attitudinal and motivational factors. The language or modality in which the task is presented may be pictorial, numerical, figural, graphic, verbal, or logic-verbal.
The instruments can be grouped according to their primary focus regarding modality or the general mental operations required: Organization of Dots and Complex Figure Drawing focus on visual-motor and perceptional organization; Positional Learning Test, Plateaus, Associated Recall, and 16 Word Memory Test focus on memory, with a learning component; Raven’s Progressive Matrices (colored and standard), Set Variation B-8 to B-12, LPAD Set Variation I and II, Representative Stencil Design, Numerical Progression and the Organizer involve higher cognitive processes and mental operation.
Each instrument presents the subject with the need to respond to an initial task, carrying within it the dimension just described. The initial task is then made progressively more difficult by increasing its novelty and complexity. Subsequent tasks presented to the subject within an instrument are varied by making changes in any one of the dimensions necessary for mastery, by changing the situation or objects or relation among the objects, changing the task’s language of presentation (modality), or changing the cognitive function and operation needed to solve the problem.
The relationship between the theory of Structural Cognitive Modifiability and its derived constructs of Mediated Learning Experience, the cognitive functions, and the cognitive map, is interactive and dynamic. SCM represents the super ordinate theoretical structure; the cognitive functions describe the qualities of the subject or learner to be observed; the cognitive map describes the nature of the critically important interaction between the examiner and the subject being assessed. Using the LPAD in a dynamic manner requires a continuous interweaving of these elements, at both the theoretical and application levels.
Feuerstein's Instrumental Enrichment Programs - Standard and Basic
The Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment Standard program is a cognitive intervention/enrichment that can be used both individually and in a classroom framework. Feuerstein uncovered the needs for specific teaching methods (Mediated Learning Experience) that would ground his work in an educational format. To this end, he developed 14 pencil and paper tasks (known as tools or instruments), with increasing difficulty and which are independent of any content. These content free tasks are designed to be used by trained educators to increase cognitive function and build habits for effective and efficient thinking in students. When a child is weak in use of any functions, for whatever reason, it is necessary that a teacher or other helping professional mediate the development.
The FIE Standard program goals is to correct deficiencies in fundamental thinking skills, and to provide students with the concepts, skills, strategies, operations and techniques necessary to function as independent learners. It aims to increase their motivation, meta-cognition. Deliberately free of specific subject matter, the tasks in the instruments are intended to be transferable (bridged) to all educational and everyday life situations.[weasel words]
To date FIE program has been successfully used across the world in the following frameworks:
- Remedial programs for special needs children.
- Cognitive rehabilitation of brain injured individuals and psychiatric patients.
- Learning enhancement programs for immigrant and cultural minority students.
- Enrichment programs for underachieving, regular and gifted children.
- Professional training and retraining programs in the industrial, military, and business sectors.
Research on the efficacy of this method has been conducted in several samples including engineers at a Motorola (USA) plant, impoverished students in rural communities (Bahia, Brazil), deaf, non-literate immigrants (Ethiopia), Autistic and Down Syndrome children (Jerusalem), low-performing high school math students (Cleveland, Ohio, USA), weak readers in middle grades (Portland, Oregon, USA), and many other groups. FIE was included into the package of educational reform programs recommended by the US Department of Education. Due to its long history and application, FIE Standard is one of the most researched of the cognitive intervention programs, with over one thousand related publications and hundreds of analyses on the performance of FIE in varied settings and populations. FIE is considered suitable for individuals with disabilities and those who are considered “normal” and “gifted”; cognitive gains are seen in all three categories of students who undertake FIE. The program is designed to help people of all ages, not just students.
In 2000, Feuerstein added FIE-BASIC to prevent learning problems in younger children (3 to 8 years old) and to help low performing older children. Feuerstein claims that learning problems may be prevented through early, developmentally appropriate, intervention as well as the emerging brain research. In order to achieve these goals, an emphasis is placed on a systematic exposure of selected and necessary content areas. Specific skills are mediated and transformed into working concepts that build subsequent learning and development and the process of how to think.
The FIE- BASIC program includes a total of 7 instruments taught over 2–4 years depending on the learner’s needs and/or the development of implementation. Each focuses on specific cognitive functions that are the pre-requisites to successful school learning, especially in literacy and mathematics. It is designed to be used in a classroom group setting, for smaller groups of targeted learners, and as a one-to-one therapeutic intervention. The use of the FIE-B can be a preparation for the use of the FIE-Standard (mentioned above), taking students to higher levels of mental processing and cognitive functioning.
Projects throughout the State of Alaska Head Start Program (USA), Holly, Michigan (USA) and in Israel, Britain, Italy, India, and Japan are exploring the applications of the Basic instruments with young children and students with special needs, especially as a way to avoid the over-categorization of students as learning disabled.
In 1976, four years before the publication of the first edition of Instrumental Enrichment, the Record, a journal of the NIH-US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, hailed the “exciting, highly imaginative project by Dr. Feuerstein” then being funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for showing that “intervention –even in adolescents – is not too late.”
NICHD Scientists Prediction– “The program (Instrumental Enrichment) holds great promise for improving learning skills of millions of mildly retarded, culturally disadvantaged adolescents in our school systems and for the more precise identification and placement of children based upon what they can learn rather than what have learned.” (From N.I.H. Record, September 21, 1976, Vol. XXVIII, no. 19)
Michael, J. Begab, Head of the Mental Retardation Research Center of The NICHD, (1980) – “Feuerstein has introduced a determinate of cognitive development that is not part of Piagetian theory and more importantly has converted a descriptive system into a instructional and operational one. The author has achieved this very difficult goal through an unusual blend of talents: clinical acumen and insight of the highest order; a wealth of experience with troubled and handicapped children and youth from diverse cultures; a gift for conceptualization and integration of theory; ingenuity; resourcefulness and open mindfulness; and above all, total commitment to the worth and dignity of all human beings and to their capacity for positive change. Feuerstein has spectacularly bridged the gap from research to practice and provided educators with effective tools for improving the performance of children with a range of learning deficits.” (From Instrumental Erichment (1980)Version)
"Reuven Feuerstein is one of a handful of educational thinkers and practitioners who has made a significant, lasting contribution to our understanding of human learning.” —Howard Gardner, Harvard Graduate School of Education
“A highly innovative and immensely hope-inspiring work. . . . —From the Foreword by John D. Bransford, University of Washington, College of Education
1990, Médaille d'Or of Aix-les-Bains, France
1990, Médaille d'Or of Nevers, France
1991, Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques, France
1997, Honor al estudio y la investigacion en el campo de la formación professional. National Organization for Professional Training. Valencia, Spain.
1997, Special Resolution of Commendation, Assembly, State of California, USA
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- Ten, Oon-Seng & Seng, A. (2005). Enhancing cognitive function. Mc Graw Hill Education, Asia
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- Video of interview
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- "Feuerstein's Instrumental Enrichment (FIE) as a Model for School Reform" by Mier Ben-Hur, International Renewal Institute
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- "An Educational Pioneer Who Proved that All Students Can Learn How to Learn In Spite of Their Impulsive Behavior, Disconnected Thinking, and Low Motivation"[dead link]
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- "The Application of the Structural Cognitive Modifiability Theory with Learners with Down's Syndrome in an Educational Framework" by Israela Even-Chen
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- "Teaching Intelligence"
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