When it comes to learning and education we often hear about potential. There seems to be this belief that certain kids have more potential than others. I firmly believe this is a myth. All kids have unlimited potential. We just have to learn how to unlock that potential by teaching them the way their minds learn. In my experience, one of the most powerful tools for unlocking potential in kids and fostering a passion for learning is an approach called Mediated Learning.
TEACHING INTELLIGENCE with MEDIATED LEARNING
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“Your son is unteachable. We advise all future teachers to not pursue academics with him in the classroom.”
When the school board psychologist said this about my son after spending less than 45 minutes with him, I was livid. What he said about my son went against everything I knew about childhood psychology, cognition and learning from my years of study in University.
Sure this person had their Masters degree and I only had my Bachelor’s degree, but I spent years working in the psychology research department under a leading authority on memory and cognition research. Then when my children developed special needs due to trauma, giftedness and anxiety, I returned to school to upgrade my education and I proceeded to learn EVERYTHING I could about childhood brain development and learning. Something I continue to do to this day.
There is nothing more thorough or passionate than a mom on a mission for her kids. Especially when those kids have special needs the greater world doesn’t understand.
CHILDHOOD TRAUMA CHANGES THE BRAIN
My son was far from unteachable. What I did know is that childhood trauma had changed his brain significantly during the most important developmental stages of a child’s life. His brain would be wired differently for his entire life, but that didn’t equal unteachable or without potential. My child had immense amounts of potential in that little body of his. Did I mention he was 5 years old when that psychologist wrote off my son as unteachable? 5 YEARS OLD!
The issue was that the school was so stuck classifying kids into their neat little academic boxes, that when they were faced with a child who had a different brain, they didn’t know how to teach him.
It should come as little surprise that within 6 months I was homeschooling my child. 4 years later he is thriving and a full grade ahead in some subjects. How did we unleash his potential? How did we teach him intelligence? A child who was deemed unteachable? Through Mediated Learning.
We also used Mediated Learning with amazing success with my gifted kid who struggled with dysgraphia and severe anxiety. He is now a confident, strong academic who is thriving in the school environment. All thanks to Mediated Learning techniques.
Mediated Learning benefits all children. Everyone from neurotypical to gifted, to those with special needs stemming from having a brain that is wired a differently. The key is understanding why education doesn’t work in it’s most common form, and what needs to be done differently.
WHAT IS MEDIATED LEARNING?
Mediated Learning is a concept developed by Dr. Reuven Feuerstein. Dr. Feuerstein believed that intelligence was not fixed, but modifiable. He dedicated his life to developing methods to foster cognitive development in everyone, especially students our educational system deemed unteachable. In particular, he focused on the psychological and educational needs of immigrant and refugee children. He started his career by working with child survivors of the Holocaust.
MEDIATED LEARNING IS ABOUT HOW TO TEACH A BRAIN THAT IS WIRED DIFFERENTLY
Dr. Feuerstein is an educational psychologist, who dedicated his life to understanding the educational needs of trauma victims! His entire program is about how to foster cognitive development and intelligence in a trauma brain. And he developed it working with some of the most severely impacted childhood trauma survivors.
I had found exactly what I needed. I had found someone who understood that underneath all the trauma was a brilliant little boy who was craving knowledge and could one day be an amazing man with so much to offer the world around him.
Even better, Dr. Feuerstein’s approach not only fosters incredible learning in trauma brains, but in our experience it is also highly effective with gifted children, plus other mental health struggles that can affect learning, such as anxiety.
What is intelligence?
One of my boys is gifted and I can already hear the cries saying you can’t teach intelligence! You are born with it! So let’s take a quick moment to clear the air.
Intelligence is actually not a clearly defined term. Most sources will define intelligence as the ability to think, reason and understand things to gain and use knowledge and skills. It is not an IQ test score.
Mediated Learning teaches a person how to think and how to use critical thinking and metacognition skills so that they can independently change, adapt and learn in any situation.
Based on this, Dr. Feuerstein believed intelligence was modifiable and imminently teachable. Anyone can become more intelligent.
I often see this struggle in the gifted community between what some see as the discrepancy between “high achieving” and “high intelligence”, but that is a discussion for another time. For now, understand that in this context, and based on the generally accepted definition, intelligence is absolutely teachable.
THE CORE CONCEPT OF MEDIATED LEARNING AND EDUCATION
The key to Mediated Learning is that it forces educators to remove their focus from academics and test scores, and instead focus on what is truly important in learning and education – teaching students HOW to learn.
The goal needs to be on fostering a student’s cognitive abilities (including teaching them how to learn and be a critical thinker), and empowering them with a powerful desire to learn and pursue interests for personal growth.
In short, we need to foster a passionate love of learning. Only once we achieve that will education improve for all kids.
We need to teach kids how to be effective, passionate life long learners!
If you have spent any time on STEAM Powered Family reading my writings on education and kid brains, you will recognize a lot of these concepts. They have become a core part of my mission to improve education for all children. Like Dr. Feuerstein, I believe all children can learn, we simply need to change how we educate. Mediated Learning, I believe, is key to this educational transformation in our experience.
understanding Mediated Learning
AN EXAMPLE – LEARNING ABOUT BEES
If you have training in educational theory, you have studied Piaget’s formula of S-O-R. It represents a learning approach that stipulates the Organism (learner), interacts directly with a Stimulus, and Responds. Through this method learning will take place in an incidental, almost accidental, way.
A child can play in the garden and see the flowers and bees, learning how the bees sound, how the flowers smell and feel, but with the help of a mediator they can be guided to see how the bees are pollinating the flowers and how their actions are part of the greater circle of life.
In Mediated Learning we add the role of a human mediator (educator) to the equation. Dr. Feuerstein uses the formula S-H-O-H-R. The role of the educator is to put themselves in a key role guiding the learner by helping them interpret and give meaning to the stimuli. In this type of interaction the learning is very intentional.
Although both approaches are necessary for learning, Dr. Feuerstein’s approach develops competence for self-directed learning, with proper cognitive functioning, so the student can adapt and grow intelligently in response to the world around them.
The bee may buzz, but in the second instance the child now understands the importance of bees and why they need to be protected and not feared.
A key piece in Mediated Learning is that the focus is on both the mediator and the learner to work together. Too often we see finger pointing at the child, implying it is their fault, a failure in them, that is the reason they are not learning. Which is exactly what we experienced in the school system.
HOW TO TEACH INTELLIGENCE WITH MEDIATED LEARNING
People train for years to learn how to become effective at Mediated Learning. It is a complex and robust approach to fostering cognitive development in complex brains. There is no way I can summarize it all in a brief article.
I continue to learn and study these approaches and even hired a Mediated Learning professional to continue working with my son as he grows and his needs become more complex. I highly recommend finding a local professional trained in Dr. Feuerstein’s method if you wish to learn more about this and explore how it might help your child.
Teachers in particular could really benefit from learning more about this method and applying it in the classroom. The Mediated Learning Professional working with my son offers training for teachers. See if someone in your area offers similar training.
A great place to start in your search is The Feuerstein Institute. On this site you can access a wealth of information, including a directory of professionals around the world.
Our Mediated Learning BookSHELf
In addition I love a great book on kid brains! Here are some books I have found to be very valuable in learning more about Mediated Learning and how to apply it in the education of my children. My copies are dog eared and well loved.
Over time I hope to share more about our lessons and experiences with Mediated Learning. Today I simply wanted to share the term and introduce you to the concepts. When I first started learning about Mediated Learning and Dr. Feuerstein’s work it was a light bulb moment in my study of cognition and brain development. Suddenly how the brain learns and how to educate children, made a lot more sense.
It all comes down to one thing, teaching children how to learn, and how to love learning.
So simple, yet profoundly life altering.