New Book-Changing Minds & Brains

Book review

Changing Minds & Brains: The Legacy of Reuven Feuerstein, Reuven Feuerstein, Louis H. Falik, Rafael S. Feuerstein.
Teachers College Press, New York (2015). 221 pp.,

ISBN: 978-0-8077-5620-1 (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-8077-5621-8
(hardcover) ISBN: 978-0-8077-7353-6 (ebook)

   Professor Reuven Feuerstein, clinical, developmental and cognitive psychologist, and founder and chairman of the Feuerstein
Institute in Jerusalem, died last year in Jerusalem, aged ninety-three. It is impossible to overstate the importance and influence of Reuven Feuerstein’s ideas to psychology, teaching and parenting. In Changing Minds and Brains, his final publication during his lifetime, Reuven Feuerstein, together with his long-time colleagues and collaborators Professor Louis Falik and Rafi Feuerstein, revisit Feuerstein’s theories to discuss current thinking and developmental theories in the field of cognitive modifiability, cognitive education and psychology, and the neuro sciences.
   

   Reuven Feuerstein is the author of a number of important theories concerned with human development and cognitivechange which have had a profound impact on our generation’s understanding of cognitive processes and cognitive change (Feuerstein, Klein, & Tannenbaum, 1994; Feuerstein, Rand, & Hoffman, 1979). His ideas, developed out of his own experiences in the nineteen fifties have influenced a whole school of thought in education and psychology which has come to be known as cognitive education. His recognition of the importance of cultural transmission for normal human development developed through decades of extensive work with migrant communities which continue in projects around the world today. Feuerstein was a pioneer in acknowledging the adaptive and malleable properties of the human brain which led to the construction of his powerful theory, Structural Cognitive Modifiability (1979) yet it was decades before neuroscience was able to prove this phenomena. Structural Cognitive Modifiability recognises the capacity of the human brain to grow, adapt and change throughout our lifetime, if the organism is provided with sufficient and specifically targeted intervention, or mediation of two kinds, and on two levels: firstly, by means of human interaction and secondly, by means of cultural transmission. These are described here in the specific and qualitative aspects of Feuerstein’s theoretical framework of Mediated Learning Experience. There is a huge body of well reported empirical research conducted around the world over the past five decades which illuminate the successes and challenges of implementing Feuerstein’s methods in the field (Feuerstein, Feuerstein, Falik, & Rand, 2006; Feuerstein & Lewin-Benham, 2012; Klein, 1996), so that now our own generation can benefit from these past experiences to continue and extend Feuerstein’s valuable work to explore new and exciting developments and applications. What is becoming clear to theorists and practitioners in the field is that the potential for the application of Feuerstein’s methods seems limitless, and it is only now becoming evident how much we still need to understand about Feuerstein’s legacy to us all. Indeed, with the growth and interest in current thinking in the fields of cognitive psychology and cognitive education, it is well to be reminded in this publication of the debt we owe to the life and work of Reuven Feuerstein.

   A few weeks before the publication of this final work I was at the Feuerstein Institute in Jerusalem where by chance I met Louis Falik who told me about this forthcoming publication. A long-time colleague and collaborator of Reuven Feuerstein, Louis Falik and Rafi Feuerstein came together with Reuven Feuerstein for this final collaborative project, spending hours seated in the company of Reuven Feuerstein, allowing him the time and space to reflect on his long life, his work and experiences, expressed in his own words, at his own pace, and in the comfort of his own home. This sensitive, somewhat personal and important account holds each aspect of Feuerstein’s major theories up for scrutiny and evaluation against the accumulated wisdom of vast practical experience, and viewed through the prism of current thinking and concerns in educational and cognitive psychology, and scientific advancement. It provides both the novice and experienced student of cognitive education a valuable insight into the past five decades of the development and application of Feuerstein’s theories, and their importance to a new generation of psychologists and educationalists. The result of this
endeavour is a wonderful mix of the old and the new: revisiting the fundamental principles of Feuerstein’s gestalt of theories and methods, sharing with us, the reader, Feuerstein’s own personal experiences of putting aspects of the theory into practice, using case studies to illustrate various aspects of his work, and holding each example up to the light and scrutiny of contemporary thinking and new research in the fields of cognitive education, neuroscience and modern technology. In doing so, it is made abundantly clear by the authors that Feuerstein’s theories and philosophy are as relevant today as when they were developed decades ago.

   The central theory of Mediated Learning Experience is explained and illustrated with a number of practical examples of its wide application across the contexts of parental, clinical and teaching practice. In explaining the key role of teaching practitioners, Feuerstein challenges established definition of labels such as Learning Disabled suggesting instead the term Teaching Disabled, to describe someone who has been exposed to ‘disabling teaching’ which does not mobilize meaningful learning because of a lack of specific aspects of Mediated Learning Experience. He challenges our perception of learning difficulties as a fixed state, suggesting that it could be remediated and changed if provided with sufficient and qualitative mediated learning. He discusses the imperative for mediators, care givers and teachers to maintain a strong belief system in the learning potential of the individual, insisting that only then can that individual develop a strong believe in him/herself.
It is therefore a dynamic process. By clearly describing the various and many aspects of Mediated Learning Experience and
its applications, the authors skilfully remind us of the central role that the theory of Structural Cognitive Modifiability plays
in its outcomes. 

   I was particularly interested in chapter six, where the discussion moves on to describe some developments in recent
research concerned with the relationship of mind and body. Observable evidence is being gathered by means of advances
in non-invasive neurophysiological technology (such as MRI) which shows that the spirit, mediation, religious practice, and so on, can change the nature and functioning of the brain. To support this, Feuerstein refers to the work of Siegal (2010) on mindfulness, and Schwartz and Begley (2002), who developed the term, self-directed neuroplasticity which he claims helps us think about the importance of the volitional actions of humans to determine their development. Feuerstein suggests that there might be important implications here for the importance of consciousness in the application of MLE to promote both cognitive modifiability and neural plasticity. He also describes important developments in our understanding of mirror
neurons, and his increasing confidence that MLE could be meaningfully interpreted and elaborated in terms of mirror neurons. The important summary of this chapter poses some critical questions about where research into brain sciences should take us from this point and offers an interesting caution to suggest that our work could lead to an accommodation of a number of perspectives, or one of polarization and denial. I felt this chapter in particular poses a strong challenge to all of us to explore these issues further. 

   The fascinating aspect of this book is the authors’ readiness not only to accept, but acknowledge and embrace important developments in our understanding of cognitive psychology and human development since Feuerstein’s original theories first took form in the nineteen fifties and sixties. In the intervening period, Feuerstein and his colleagues have been at the forefront of initiating cognitive programmes and structured treatments and interventions which have had a profound impact of the development of countless individuals. In Changing Minds and Brains, and emphasised on every page of this fascinating footnote to a remarkable career, is Feuerstein’s unwavering determination to explain to us the eternal importance of his two major theories: Structural Cognitive Modifiability (1979) and Mediated Learning Experience (1994). 

   To sum up simply, Changing Minds and Brains reminds us that despite all the wonderful advancements in science that have allowed us to see what is actually happening in the grey matter of the brain, whilst it is happening, and have a scientific means to measure the impact of mediated learning experiences on cognitive growth, we still need a clear understanding of the impact of human interaction, and an understanding of the specific aspect of mediation to initiate and be the cause of cognitive change. Moreover, as educators and psychologists we still need to believe that we can make those changes a reality. This is Feuerstein’s enduring message to us all.

References

Feuerstein, R., Feuerstein, R. S., Falik, L. H., & Rand, Y. (2006). Creating and enhancing cognitive modifiability: the Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment program. Jerusalem, Israel: ICELP Publications.
Feuerstein, R., Klein, P. S., & Tannenbaum, A. J. (1994). Mediated Learning Experience: theoretical, psychosocial and learning implications (2nd edition). UK: Freund Publishing House Ltd.
Feuerstein, R., & Lewin-Benham, A. (2012). What learning looks like: mediated learning in theory and practice, K-6. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Feuerstein, R., Rand, Y., & Hoffman, M. B. (1979). The dynamic assessment of retarded performers. Baltimore, MD: University Park Press.
Schwartz, J. M., & Begley, S. (2002). The mind and the brain: neuroplasticity and the power of mental force. New York, NY: Regan Books/Harper Collins.
Siegal, D. J. (2010). Mindsight: the new science of personal transformation. New York, NY: Bantam.

Judy Silver University of Exeter, United Kingdom
E-mail address: 1judysilver@gmail.com
10 February 2016
12 February 2016
Available online 17 February 2016

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