Structural Cognitive Modifiability
Reuven Feuerstein, from the International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential, has been a pioneer in research and development focused on Structural Cognitive Modifiability (SCM).SCM is based on the fundamental assumption that every human being is capable of modifying his or her cognitive structure, no matter the severity of the challenge (mental, physical or emotional), through adequate mediated learning experience (MLE) (Feuerstein, Rand, Hoffman, & Miller, 1979).
Mediated Learning Experience
Feuerstein’s theory of MLE is built on the earlier work by the Russian researcher Lev Vygotsky, who developed mediation as a strategy to help people to develop their cognitive skills. The MLE is designed to assist people to overcome their learning difficulties by providing a mediator between the person and the stimulus and between the learner and the response. The MLE process is believed to produces the plasticity and flexibility of adaptation required to enhance intelligence (Gibson, 2001). MLE is designed to assist the learner to develop internal learning mechanisms that can later be applied independently to solve problems in other contexts through self-mediation and learning-how-to-learn (Slabbert, 2001).
Successful MLE is based on three critical criteria: (1) mediation of intentionality and reciprocity; (2) mediation of meaning; and (3) transcendence mediation (Slabbert, 2001). The purpose of the mediation of intentionality and reciprocity is to focus the attention of the learner towards a stimulus and get the learner to generate a response. The aim is to promote efficient registration and processing of information. Mediation of meaning constitutes of the labeling of information and the deployment of the necessary efforts by the learner who actually experiences the stimuli. The objective of transcendence mediation is to assist the learner to generalize the learning experience (Slabbert, 2001).
Research indicated that mediation during free play can elicit 5 times higher mediation for meaning than regulation of behavior. To illustrate the importance of context in successful mediation, Slabbert noted: “our research shows that, of all the places that teenagers prefer, the school is the one place where they least wish to be. Moreover, when they are in school, the classroom is the one place they strongly wish to avoid. They far prefer the cafeteria, the library, or the hallways” (Slabbert, 2001, p. 11).
The learning tasks used during MLE need to challenge the learner both in term of novelty and complexity in order to ensure that the learner exceeds his or her capability and capacity. The watering down of learning tasks would make them uninteresting and meaningless. The mediator must bring the learner closer to the learning task, rather than the learning task closer to the learner (Slabbert, 2001). The learning tasks must also be interesting in order to capture and maintain the motivation of learners. The mediator must also take into consideration that a considerable amount of effort is necessary to change the learner’s cognitive structure and to maintain that change in a “self-regulating and self-perpetuating way” (Slabbert, 2001, p. 15). The mediator promotes this effort by: enticing, eliciting, evoking and even provoking learners and wooing them to come nearer and get engaged with the stimulus. Without revealing any secrets that lie within the stimulus, the facilitator of learning causes the ignition of the three power generators of learning (Slabbert, 2001 citing Claxton, 1999):
- Resilience is the first power generator of learning. Resilience helps to generate the energy necessary to cope with novel problems of increased complexity that can trigger feelings of uncertainty, doubts, confusion, frustration, surprise, disappointment, apprehension, failure and setback.
- Resourcefulness is the second power generator of learning. Resourcefulness helps the learner to enable the necessary resources such as language, intellect and intuition, in order to cope with challenging problems.
- Reflection is the third generator of learning. Reflection is ignited when the learner needs to develop an appropriate strategy to solve a problem without external assistance. The strategy involves planning, executing, monitoring and assessing (Slabbert, 2001).
The Feuerstein MLE strategy includes two key intervention components: The Learning Potential Assessment Device (LPAD) and Instrumental Enrichment (IE). These two interventions are briefly described below.
The Learning Potential Assessment Device
The Learning Potential Assessment Device (LPAD) is a dynamic cognitive assessment designed to evaluate the modifiability of the student. The LPAD assesses the student’s capacity to change his or her cognitive structures by means of learning. The LPAD does not measure individual performance by comparing it to accepted norms, but rather assesses the person’s learning potential. The results of LPAD assessment provide information about the person’s learning capacities and possible achievements in the future and can lead to recommendations on how to realize them. The LPAD battery includes a series of 15 tasks aimed at assessing students’ ability to modify their perception, memory, attention, logical reasoning and problem solving.
The LPAD has also been used to help students who were labeled as learning disabled or mentally retarded. The LPAD revealed such students’ true learning potential and provided information that could lead to their successful integration into regular classrooms.
Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment offers a curriculum to develop the cognitive functions that are necessary for learning. It also directly addresses the disposition for learning, and indirectly addresses study skills. This makes Instrumental Enrichment a powerful tool for developing learning readiness in those who have significant deficiencies in cognitive functioning and for strengthening learning readiness in those whose cognitive functioning is reasonably well-developed. Instrumental Enrichment (IE) is a cognitive intervention method designed to turn individuals into independent learners. It can help generate the cognitive prerequisites for effective learning. The IE program has been applied to various populations of learners, from children with learning difficulties to gifted students to adult workers employed by industrial companies.
The IE program has been translated into all major European and some Asian languages and is applied in more than 40 countries worldwide. The theoretical and applied aspects of Dr. Feuerstein’s work have resulted in a large number of experimental, educational, clinical and industry-based studies. Approximately 1,500 articles and 40 books dealing with these studies have been published. According to Bradley the evidence to the effectiveness of the Feuerstein approach is weak however, and is of questionable validity because of lack of rigor in research design (Bradley, 1983).