Intelligence and school based intervention

Can We Teach Intelligence? A comprehensive Evaluation of Feuerstein's Instrumental Enrichment Programme. Author: Nigel Blagg

Published by Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991
Review by Robert Burden. Published in The Psychologist. December 1991

Back in the heady days when the Secretary of State showed signs of actually caring about what happened to the less advantaged children in the edu-cation system, LEAs were encouraged to bid for funds from the Low Attaining Pupils Project. One authority, Somerset, gained support to train a number of teachers using Feuerstein's Instrumental Enrichment (FIE) programme, and subsequently introduced it to all four comprehensive schools in Bridgwater. Nigel Blagg was seconded to carry out a DES-funded evaluation while simulta-neously coordinating a team of teachers working on bridging materials to foster IE skill-transfer to the mainstream school curriculum. This fascinating book is the long-awaited outcome of the Bridgwater experiment.

Feuerstein's work has echoed Vy-gotsky's emphasis on the social inter-actionist nature of learning ('mediated learning experiences'), and the import-ance of language as a basis for learning how to learn. The FIE programme dif-fers from domain-specific approaches to learning in claiming that the skills, strategies, vocabulary, and concepts necessary for successful learning and problem-solving can be taught independently of any particular subject area.

Readers of recent issues of The Psy-chologist will be well aware of the disputed nature of such terms as "cogni-tion" and "intelligence'. Thus, when Blagg asks, "Can we improve intel-ligence?", the answer must be, "It all depends ...". Moreover, such a fundamental question as "How will we know if a cognitive development programme works?" is capable of being answered in a multitude of different ways. For example, although Feuerstein has never claimed that IE will affect IQ, most at-tempts to assess it have used this measure. While Blagg's research found no discernible effect of intervention on British Abilities Scale performance, Savell et al. (1986), has provided generally positive evidence on this score. Of far greater interest to my mind, however, were the rating scales and interviews that Blagg devised. These showed that a number of positive behavioural and atti-tudinal shifts occurred in both IE students and their teachers.

Reviewing this book is not easy. It is not only rich with data but also with inter-pretations and implications for cognitive theorists, curriculum developers and pro-ject evaluators. Its very scope leaves it open to criticism on a number of fronts, but to nit-pick would be manifestly un-fair. Rather, Blagg is to be commended for providing us with one of the very few "warts-and-all" evaluations of a real-life curriculum innovation that has potentially great significance to psycho-logists and educators. In doing so, he has faced squarely a number of fun-damental issues about whether schools can and should become more cognitively oriented, how we might measure "suc-cess" in this endeavor, and what kind of evaluative design is most likely to do justice to the complexity of the variables involved. Whether or not I agree with Blagg's choice of measurement techniques, or the conclusions that he draws from some of his data, is in a sense neither here nor there. In presenting us with an up-to-date summary of the state of the art, he has provided an invaluable launching pad for future research and speculation in the area of children's cognitive development.

Savell, J M, Twohig, P T & Rackford D L (1986). Empirical status of Feuerstein's Instrumental
Enrichment techniques as a method of teaching thinking skills. Review of educational Research, 56, 381-409. Dr Burden is with the School of Education, University of Exeter.
Can We Teach Intelligence is available from Nigel Blagg Associates


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