The Teachers Toolbox – Resources

Teaching Intelligence

Instrumental Enrichment and ‘Metacognition’: How to teach intelligence

The Israeli educationalist Reuven Feuerstein developed a hugely successful course for learners with very low academic achievement. His students had very low IQs, and started his course with a mental age three years behind other learners. There was a ‘control group’ enabling Feuerstein to measure his students’ progress against the progress of students that were matched for ability but then taught in a more conventional way.

At the end of their two year course Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment students had shown modest gains in terms of increased IQ compared to the control group, though they showed a marked ability to transfer learning from one situation to another. Two years after the programme had ended, the students entered the Israeli army on compulsory service. On a test of general intelligence they were found to be average for the general population, though they had started Feuerstein’s programme three years behind! The control group had not shown this development.

Feuerstein attributed this gain to the students continuing to learn without aid in the two years after the programme. He had taught them to teach themselves. More than this, Feuerstein had taught his students how to teach themselves to become more intelligent! Feuerstein’s methods require special training, and are used all over the world.

Professor Michael Shayer has produced similar gains with students with moderate learning difficulties aged 12 to 13. In a 20 month programme he added an extra 12 to 20 months gain in the mental age of the students compared to the control group. That is, some students gained as much as 40 months in mental age during a 20 month teaching programme. Adey and Shayer also developed a programme called Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education (CASE) which was very successful. In it they taught students to think like scientists, and this improved their science grade, but also their English grades at GCSE. Some students gained as much as two grades improvement.

Lipman in his ‘Philosophy for Children’ programme produced a 27 month gain in logical reasoning with just 12 hours of instruction.

Feuerstein’s curriculum involved teaching ‘metacognition’, that is, he taught learners to think about their own thinking, and to act upon what they conclude in this thinking. He did not teach specific skills, but the generic skills or thinking skills required to gather information, and then use it to do something useful, and then to express this solution to others. See the ‘cognitive functions’ table below. Lipman and Shayer also made use of metacognition.

Feuerstein developed a programme of great complexity called Instrumental Enrichment, which requires special training for a teacher to use. However it is worth looking closely at his general strategy. This was not to teach the metacognitive skills directly by explaining ‘how to do it’. This is a common approach in teaching thinking skills and study skills, used for example by Edward de Bono. Instead, he used a guided discovery approach where students had to construct for themselves the higher level thinking required. A similar process is used in Graham Gibbs’ study skills programme described elsewhere. Roughly speaking his procedure was:

  • Set Real Tasks: He asked students to do something real, that required information, planning, doing, and explaining your solution etc.
  • Require Reflection on Metacognitive Strategies. When the task was done, he asked his students to reflect on how they did it. What had made them successful? What hindered them or caused difficulty?
  • Establish Learning Points in the Students’ Own Language. He asked students for very general advice on how to succeed with such tasks. This includes asking the students to name the strategies they used. The teacher then used the students’ names for these strategies.
  • Bridging: Students are then asked to ‘bridge’ from this learning to other applications. That is, they were asked ‘where else might you be able to apply this principle?’ The learners are encouraged to see the application of the thinking processes that they have just described and named, in other contexts.

This is called ‘mediation’. Learners often lack the ability to ‘see the wood for the trees’, they are swamped by the detail of the immediate experience, and need help to extract general principles from concrete experience. Then they need to be encouraged to see where else these same principles apply. The four part cycle above follows Kolb’s learning cycle: do, review, learn, apply.

Can this same four-step strategy be used to help students to develop their own thinking skills in your subject? It would require making the metacognitive processes involved in doing work in your subject explicit. The ‘icedip’ and ‘diacase’ or ‘ideas sac’ processes could be taught in this way rather than explicitly.

Instrumental Enrichment Cognitive Functions. (Feuerstein)*

The Table below summarises the cognitive functions focussed upon during the Instrumental Enrichment programme of Reuven Feuerstein (Adey Shayer 1994). Could you devise a similar set of skills for your subject, and focus on these in a guided discovery way?


Gathering all the information we need (Input)

1 Using our senses (listening, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, feeling) to gather clear and complete information (clear perception).

2 Using a system or plan so that we do not skip or miss something important or repeat ourselves.

3 Giving the thing we gather through our senses and our experience a name so that we can remember it more clearly and talk about it (labelling).

4 Describing things and events in terms of where and when they occur (temporal and spatial referents).

5 Deciding on the characteristics of a thing or event that always stay the same, even when changes take place (conservation, constancy, and object permanence).

6 Organising the information we gather by considering more than one thing at a time (two sources of information).

7 Being precise and accurate when it matters (need for precision).

Using the information we have gathered (Elaboration)

1 Defining what the problem is, what we are being asked to do, and what we must figure out (analysing disequilibrium).

2 Using only that part of the information we have gathered that is relevant, that is, that applies to the problem, and ignoring the rest (relevance).

3 Having a good picture in our mind of what we are looking for, or what we must do (interiorisation).

4 Making a plan that will include the steps we need to take to reach our goal (planning behaviour).

5 Remembering and keeping in mind various pieces of information we need (broadening our mental field).

6 Looking for the relationship by which separate objects, events, and experiences can be used together (projecting relationships).

7 Comparing objects and experiences to others to see what is similar and what is different (comparative behaviour).

8 Finding the class or set to which the new object or experience belongs (categorisation).

9 Thinking about different possibilities and figuring out what would happen if you were to choose one or another (hypothetical thinking).

10 Using logic to prove things and to defend your opinion (logical evidence).

Expressing the solution to a problem (Output)

1 Being clear and precise in your language to be sure that there is no question as to what your answer is. Put yourself into the ‘shoes’ of the listener to be sure that your answer will be understood (overcoming egocentric communication).

2 Think things through before you answer instead of immediately trying to answer and making a mistake, and then trying again (overcoming trial-and-error).

3 Count to 10 (at least) so that you do not say or do something you will be sorry for later (restraining impulsive behaviour).

4 If you cannot answer a question for some reason even though you ‘know’ the answer, do not fret or panic. Leave the question for a little while and then, when you return to it, use a strategy to help you find the answer (overcoming blocking).

5 Carrying an exact picture of an object in your mind to another place for comparison without losing or changing some details (visual transport).

The Table above comes from “Really Raising Standards: Cognitive intervention and academic achievement” by Philip Adey and Michael Shayer, Routledge (1994). This book is very highly recommended for those with an interest in teaching thinking skills or in raising achievement.


Is all ‘intelligence’ learned?

A recent research review by Ericsson on the nature and development of expert performance found that our abilities, talents, capacities and expertise, however exceptional or developed, are the product of learning not of innate genetic gifts. Also Intelligence only explains about 4% of the variance of professional attainment in academia and other professions.

In the battle between nature and nurture, nurture is winning, and teachers have a huge role here.

Further Reading:
On Feuerstein’s methods etc try the following book, which has an introduction by Feuerstein:
Sharron H., Coulter, M. (1987) Changing Children’s Minds: Feuerstein’s revolution in the teaching of intelligence. Exeter; Imaginative Minds

On an overview of cognitivist approaches to learning including a bit on Feuerstien:
“Really Raising Standards: Cognitive intervention and academic achievement” by Philip Adey and Michael Shayer, Routledge (1994).

On the development of expertise, talent, IQ etc:
The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance
K. Ericsson, R. Krampe, C. Tesch-Romer
Psychological Review 1993. Vol 100. No 3. 363-406


Learning Skills by ‘Bridging’ Geoff Petty 2003

This is an immensely powerful teaching strategy and it gets far too little attention. It is a central plank in Feuerstein’ teaching methodology, which can add 20 to 30 IQ points to a learner with moderate learning difficulties, giving them an average IQ in four years. Adey and Shayer describe similarly successful strategies of other educationalists, including themselves, based on bridging. A case could be made for this being the most powerful teaching strategy known.

Bridging is based on Kolb’s learning cycle, which is not as simple as it looks and is often misunderstood. It is used to describe the development of specific skills, such as serving at tennis, or writing an essay.

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Bridging based on Kolb’s learning cycle
The idea is that we learn by Doing, then Reviewing or reflecting on what we did: for example what went well, what badly, and why. The result of this reflection is to Learn general principles which help us to understand the original action and how it should be carried out. The next step is to Apply these general principles with the aim of doing a better job. In effect the learner plans an experiment with the aim of doing it better next time. They then carry out this experiment and Do it again. Though doing it differently, and hopefully better of course.
The cycle then continues.

It is very rare for this cycle to be satisfactorily applied in everyday life or even in teaching and learning. Teachers often take students through to ‘review’, and even then only review the students’ work (product), not the process the students used to produce this work.
Also, emotional blocks are encountered in each of the four phases: learners often don’t have the humility and honesty to review accurately, the patience and mental energy required to learn the abstract general principles, or the courage to do things differently. It is so much easier to be guided by habit and custom, and to continue failing in the same old way!

Feuerstein thought that the main reason for failing to learn well with this cycle is that the learner’s brain is so swamped by the immediacy of the concrete experience that the learner fails to abstract general principles from the experience. So if a student has just completed an essay on magnetism for example, the student’s focus both during the writing process and in reviewing it afterwards is the detailed facts about magnetism. They notice and think about what they wrote about magnetism, their diagrams and so on. The teacher’s feedback will be similarly concrete and ‘product focussed’. This focus on the detail of immediate experience, and on the product rather than the process, obscures the general principles of how to write a good essay. We need to shift their focus as shown in the diagram below:

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The ideas outlined above relate to the learning of any skill. So how do we create this shift of emphasis, and encourage learners to move round the Kolb cycle?

How to use bridging

Bridging takes place after the student has completed a task, and involves asking two ‘killer questions’. The first question ‘how did you do that?’ is used to focus the learner’s attention on the process, skills, and general principles they used. The second ‘where else could you use those principles?’ is used to encourage the learner to see the widest possible application of the principles. The session ends with the learner committing to making use of these principles in their next piece of work. (See ‘learning loops’)

  • How did you do that?

The student states how they did it, and then the teacher encourages the student to express this in the most general way possible. The students are asked to explain why these principles, processes or strategies work, and why they are important. The teacher also encourages the student to name these processes, and the stages in the processes. The teacher uses these student names, not the teacher’s own names for the processes.
Clearly the teacher can guide the learners in Socratic questioning technique to ‘discover’ the processes, skills and strategies that the teacher knows in advance are effective. However this takes time and should not be rushed. The goal is to build the learning on the learner’s experience, and build on the learner’s present skills which are often unconscious processes.
The analogy of a computer is useful here. We don’t want to install a new application, we want to update the old one. If a new and an old application exist together on the same machine, then the machine may default to the old one even though the new one is better. Because skills are often unconscious learners often default to their old way of doing things, especially when distracted by stress, excitement or other factors.

  • “Where else could you use those principles/processes/strategies?”

The teacher encourages the students to think of applications in the widest and most general way possible.
When first asked this question learners usually answer ‘the next time I write an essay on magnetism, I’ll do it just like we described’ the teacher can use Socratic questioning to lead the student to see much wider applications. This process is called induction.

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Induction is the abstraction of general principles from the detail of experience. The diagram above shows this process. Note that:

  • The higher the level of abstraction the more applicable the learning, and so the more useful the learning.
  • Higher levels of abstraction simplify our description of experience into maxims, principles, rules, or methods, etc.
  • It is one thing to learn these principles and another to actually use them however. This use involves deduction. We deduce how to write an essay on volcanoes from our experience of writing one on magnetism is not easy task. It requires time and practice. (See learning loops)

Case study

Let’s look at an example of bridging being used to improve students’ report writing on a level 2 Health and Social Care course.
First the students write a report from a brief given them. It requires them to write about the activites that take place in a local health centre. The bridging will come later. The teacher uses Socratic questioning to get the students to work out the process of writing a report.

Teacher: What shall we do first?
Student 1: get some information, we need to visit and…
Teacher: hang on, is that the first thing we need to do?
Student 2: No, we need to read the assignment brief first
Teacher: Well done Cindy. Read the brief. Why do you think that is important?
Student 2: Because we need to think it all through, what we have to do. Think out what we want before we get the information.
Teacher: So you’re saying there some planning to do before the visit?
Student 2: Yes.
Teacher: Good. So let’s look at the brief we are given. What does this report need to include?

In this way the teacher steps the students through the whole process of researching and writing the report? When this all done the bridging begins.

Teacher: So we have just completed our first report. We are going to have to write quite a few more so let’s see what we can learn from the experience. How did we go about writing the report.
Student 3: We visited the centre and
Teacher: Hang on. Was that the first thing we did?
Student 4: No. We did our plan.
Teacher: how did we write the plan Michael?
Student 4: We read the brief and decided what we needed to know then we like, did our plan.
Teacher: What shall we call this process? I’ll give you a minute in pairs to think of a title for it.
The class agrees to call it ‘Read, think and plan.”

Teacher: Right. What did we do after read think and plan?

The teacher encourages the students to write up the process in the most general way possible. For example while discussing the information collection process which the class eventually called ‘reasearch and brainstorm’ the teacher tried to get the class to think beyond collecting information about a Health Centre only.

Teacher: Well, we won’t always be writing reports about places we can visit. Suppose we were doing a report on measles? Where else could we get information?
Student: Internet?
Teacher: Yes! Anywhere else?

In this way the teacher helps the class discover the report writing process in general, and writes it up for the class to see. Then she types it up as a help sheet. (see example below)

Once this process is understood and agreed it can be used for self assessment, see the self assessment proforma below.

Uses of bridging:
Clearly any skills could be taught this way, at any academic level. For example you could teach:
Creativity: getting students to discover and use the icedip model (use their terms for the phases though)
Evaluation and critical thinking skills using the ‘ideas sac’ model etc
Practical skills: etc etc


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