Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment (FIE)
(1) What is Instrumental Enrichment?
Learning how to learn...
Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment (FIE) is a range of practical pen and paper tasks which target specific cognitive skills. With correct application (ie the ‘mediated learning experience’ or ‘MLE’), the programme can be used to teach (or remediate) thinking and attention skills to students aged 3 to adult.
The FIE approach is premised on the notion that intelligence is not fixed; it can be developed and taught (neuroplasticity).
Feuerstein’s theory that the brain can form new neural connections throughout life was ahead of its time but the field of neuroscience has caught up and now there is a wealth of evidence to support it.
We are all able to improve our cognitive functioning (perception, critical thinking, reasoning, and remembering), and to grow new neural pathways regardless of age, disability or disadvantage.
(2) Who is FIE for?
A variety of ages and a range of abilities and needs...
The FIE programme was initially designed (over six decades ago) to aid ‘culturally disadvantaged’, slow-learning or low-achieving adolescents. Since that time FIE has been used across a wide range of population groups. Those with neurological impairment and developmental differences, normative students, as well as high-performing and gifted learners have all been proven to benefit from FIE.
Success has particularly been shown for:
intellectual and learning differences – including chromosomal disorders, processing disorders (such as dyslexia and dyspraxia), autism spectrum disorder and ADHD
intellectual giftedness and twice exceptional learners (those with high IQ who could benefit from both cognitive extension and remediation)
brain injury (including stroke)
dementia, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s
(3) How does it work?
Carefully crafted cognitive tasks...
The Basic programme (ages 3-9yrs) is made up of 10 instruments and the Standard programme (9yrs+) consists of 14.
Each instrument focuses on a particular cognitive function (brain activities and skills) however all instruments offer learnings for cognitive functions beyond the primary area of focus.
Instruments are made up of multiple exercises (eg there are 400 in total for the Standard programme) which carefully and gradually become more abstract and complex as the student progresses.
perceptual and motor attention
planning / thinking forward
self-regulation / controlling impulsivity
selecting relevant cues
concept of time
perseverance and resilience
systematic exploring/ search
understanding origin of objects & events
identifying optimistic alternatives.
Examples of the cognitive functions and skills that IE instruments focus on:
Specialised ‘mediated’ guidance and direction...
The role of a Feuerstein practitioner or ‘mediator’ is to observe their students when they are undertaking an FIE task, to determine where (at which cognitive stage) difficulties may be occurring and to identify which specific cognitive functions require particular focus in order to improve.
Professor Feuerstein referred to a special quality of interaction between the learner and mediator as the ‘Mediated Learning Experience’ (MLE) and identified three essential elements required for MLE to occur.
He described the presence of an optimal relationship between mediator and learner where there is ‘intentionality’ and ‘reciprocity’. When a genuine rapport exists and an interest and willingness from a student to engage has been elicited by a FIE mediator, focussed learning can take place. Specific internal barriers which hamper the ability to learn can be overcome.
The relationship between mediator and learner therefore provides the foundation for successful MLE and finding a good fit for your child will be a consideration.
Professor Feuerstein identified two other critical elements required for effective MLE; ‘transcendence’ and ‘meaning’.
Very simply put, these relate to the way a mediator supports a learner to bridge and put into meaningful context the things they have learned during a session and the strategies they used to successfully complete a Feuerstein task so these learnings and strategies can be applied to other contexts and scenarios (school, future careers, home life, sports, social situations etc).
The relationship between MLE, metacognition and motivation…
Effective MLE helps students to become more aware of their own thought processes (‘metacognition’ or ‘thinking about thinking’) and to enhance their skills and abilities in areas such as:
logic and reasoning
MLE increases students’ motivation and confidence as their stockpile of principles and strategies expands and is applied.
As the student progresses through the programme and completes increasingly complex tasks, the more optimistic they become about their ability to make ‘thoughtful’ decisions, to apply their ‘strategies for success’ and to achieve both in the classroom and broader life.
(4) Where and how are IE programmes delivered?
International and local application...
Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment is delivered worldwide (in over 40 countries) by child psychologists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, teachers, teacher aides, parents and private tutors, including here in New Zealand.
The success of FIE has also been recognised internationally by state or national level governments who have funded the delivery of these programmes (for example some States in Australia and USA).
Italy has recently made a huge investment in FIE (millions of Euros) and the programme is now the primary treatment method for children who have specific learning difficulties and special needs; there are 20+ training centres and thousands of students go through the programme each year.
Delivered in different ways...
The application of FIE varies. The programme was originally designed to be delivered over two to three years by regular class teachers with the requisite training. Students would participate in sessions lasting up to an hour, three to five days a week as a companion to the normal school curriculum.
This kind of approach has been adopted by some schools in New Zealand, however FIE is also delivered across the country in more intensive, therapeutic ways to small groups or one-to-one.
Such applications are aimed at providing concentrated intervention and support to students with particular needs and are delivered by psychologists, educational specialists, speech and language therapists, learning assistants or other trained individuals either within the school setting or externally.
(5) How do we know it works?
Extensive and compelling evidence...
A large body of published research (over 3,000 articles and case studies) provides a broad evidence base which consistently demonstrate FIE can significantly enhance cognitive performance.
It would be a formidable task to cite all references and international publications spanning nearly 40 years here. Helpfully, the University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research has recently ‘audited’ the Feuerstein programme, alongside other cognitive intervention programmes available in New Zealand and overseas, through its MovinCog initiative (see link below).
Out of 18 assorted programmes, FIE was positioned amongst the highest two focussed on broad cognitive enhancement (ie not aimed at a single specific area such as language or reading. If targeted programmes are included, a further two language-specific programmes were also appraised highly alongside FIE).
It is particularly interesting to note the high ranking of FIE within the audit results when compared to more widely known programmes, eg those focussed on remediating dyslexia such as Arrowsmith, Danks Dyslexia or Davis Dyslexia.
In some cases the impact of FIE can be profound and witnessed within a relatively short time-frame (well in advance of the completion of all instruments, in some cases within a matter of months of first exposure to a programme when that exposure is regular and/or intensive).
Studies have also demonstrated that IE has provided long-term gains, with some participants never needing special education support again.
© 2017 Rachel Lee
Useful sources of information…
The following websites provide access and links to key research and evaluation: