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Beyond Smarter: Mediated Learning and the Brain's Capacity for Change

reviewed by Mandia Mentis - December 06, 2010

coverTitle: Beyond Smarter: Mediated Learning and the Brain's Capacity for Change
Author(s): Reuven Feuerstein, Rafael S. Feuerstein, and Louis H. Falik
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807751189, Pages: 156, Year: 2010
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Beyond Smarter is a book about change. The word change or modifiability occurs at least once on almost every page of the book. This is not surprising, as the ideas and methods that are presented in this book are based on the lead author’s unchanging and optimistic belief in every individual’s capacity for change. With that belief comes the will or need to do something to bring about that change and this is the focus of the book. If change is defined as a process of becoming different – then this book explores that process, of overcoming barriers to change in order to achieve an optimistic alternative. It foregrounds what can be rather than what is and bridges the gap between a learner’s potential and actual performance. It is not about change of a superficial nature but rather deep change of the kind that begets further change. The goal is always, as the authors say, to improve thinking and learning.

As indicated in the first chapter, the theories and practice outlined in this book stem from an enduring belief in modifiability, in the capacity for people to change and be changed by experience. Originally the concepts arose from the lead author, Reuven Feuerstein’s work as a student of Piaget and his realization that Piaget’s cognitive system places thinking and interactive intelligence at the center of the process of change. This insight provided both the hope and means to bring about a better outcome for children of the holocaust with whom Feuerstein subsequently worked. This is where the initial methods were developed; they are now used in all corners of the world with learners who are culturally deprived, culturally different, who have learning difficulties or disabilities, or who have chromosomal or genetic deficits. Change for these learners mean they are not doomed to live out the status quo, or as the authors say, let genetics have the last word.

It is not only the learners who have benefitted from Feuerstein’s methods. Educators, professionals, practitioners, and parents who now use these ideas and methods celebrate the fundamental changes to their own understanding and practice. For some it has radically changed their conceptions of intelligence and how we teach and learn. The concepts explored provide answers to the three core questions posed in the book, namely: What is thinking? Can we modify it? If so, how?

In addressing these questions in the first few chapters, the authors define thinking as the central element in shaping behavior and present a very optimistic and positive message about how it can be changed or modified at all ages and stages of development. At the outset they reject the “fixist” view that intelligence is innate and unchangeable and determined by our genes. In contrast, they posit that intelligence – which includes both intellect and emotion - is not static, but, as the title of the book suggests, a dynamic state, responsive to the need to change and capable of deep ongoing change. This change happens at a structural level and as such is referred to as structural cognitive modifiability or SCM. SCM occurs when what is learned becomes permanent and retained over time, is resistant to changing circumstances, is able to be applied in related situations, and can be generalized and adapted to new situations.

Change, as the authors see it, begins with a belief in SCM. It is this belief that leads the way to overcome the barriers to change, which includes the etiology, duration and severity of the barrier. If you have a need to overcome these barriers, then you will find the means. And the means that is described in this book, the way that cognition is modified at a structural level, is through mediated learning experience (MLE). MLE, unlike direct learning through interaction with stimuli, involves a mediator or significant person interpreting or mediating the stimuli in a way that invests the stimuli with meaning and cultural significance. MLE is seen as the way to actualize the belief in SCM and realize the plasticity of humans and is described in depth in Chapters 5 and 6.

Mediated interaction involves three essential and universal elements that occur between the mediator, the mediatee, and the stimuli: intentionality and reciprocity (interactive focus on the stimuli); transcendence (going beyond the stimuli to see where else it applies); and meaning (finding the cultural significance of the stimuli). These three criteria are considered the sine qua non or essential conditions for an act to be considered a mediated learning experience and contribute to the flexibility and modifiability of the learner. In addition, there are nine other criteria that also contribute to MLE at different times and in different circumstances or cultures, and these are detailed in Chapter 7 of the book. These include mediation of: feelings of competence; regulation and control of behaviour; sharing behaviour; individuation and differentiation; goal seeking, setting and achieving; search for challenge, novelty and complexity; awareness of being modifiable; optimistic alternative and a sense of belonging. The latter two criteria were relatively later additions when compared with earlier writing on MLE (Feuerstein, Rand, & Hoffman, 1979) and yet seem to embody two critical components of Feuerstein’s approach of SCM, that of believing in positive change and mediating culture from one generation to the next.

The absence of mediating culture can occur through factors either in the external environment (such as poverty) or internally within the learner (for example biological or psychological factors). These barriers are what the authors describe, in Chapter 8, as distal factors, which render the learner less receptive to receiving mediation. The proximal factor of whether or not the learner does receive MLE will result in either adequate or inadequate cognitive development. Thus despite both internal and external barriers, if mediation occurs, cultural deprivation will be overcome and cognitive modifiability will occur. If mediation is not received, the learner’s cognitive functions or thinking skills could be deficient or impaired. This could occur at one of three phases of the mental act, as outlined in Chapter 9: the input phase (where data is collected by the learner); the elaboration phase (where data is mentally manipulated and thought through); or the output phase (where the response is communicated). Mediation is the means to overcome and modify the identified deficient functions within these phases.

These three concepts – SCM, MLE, and cognitive functions seem to be at the core of the optimistic message of change that is explored in this book. And the argument is as follows: deficient cognitive functions are a result of barriers to receiving MLE – but this is not irreversible. Providing MLE overcomes cognitive deficiencies resulting in adequate cognitive development thereby actualizing the belief in SCM and the plasticity of humans to change.

These three concepts of SCM, cognitive functions, and MLE are the why, what, and how of the change described by the authors and answer the questions posed in the first half of the book. The second half of the book describes three applied systems that have been developed to actualize these concepts. These systems have been developed, implemented, taught, and researched over the past thirty years across the globe and are presented in more detail in previous books by the author/s and others  (Feuerstein, Hoffman, Rand, & Miller,1980; Feuerstein, Haywood, Rand, Hoffman & Jensen,1982).

The first of these applied systems, outlined in Chapter 10, is the Learning Propensity Assessment Device (LPAD) which, as the name states, consists of a device (or set of instruments/tools) used to assess the propensity to learn. This is a dynamic assessment tool to measure the learner’s modifiability and arose out of the inability of conventional psychometric assessment tools to assess change. Conventional intelligence testing is at odds with the notion of modifiability and instead is based on a “fixist” position that intelligence is static and unchanging, and therefore future development can be predicted on manifest levels of functioning. The LPAD, in contrast, is based on a belief in SCM and as such looks at a learner’s modifiability or potential to change through specific learning activities.

The second and third applied systems, outlined in Chapters 11 & 12, are the Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment Programme (FIE) and the Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment Programme basic FI-B. These programs consist of instruments or tools to provide cognitive enrichment. Through using these instruments in a mediated way, the learner’s thinking structures and motivation are modified to the extent that they are subsequently able to modify themselves and benefit not only from mediated learning but also from direct learning. FIE-B focuses on early intervention and prevention. Instead of waiting to remediate cognitive deficiencies as a result of not receiving MLE, FIE-B proposes early and systematic intervention using instruments to create situations where MLE can be explicitly used, thus promoting adequate cognitive functioning.

These three applied systems form the basis of ongoing training programs all over the world, are used in teaching, therapy, and parenting situations with students with diverse learning needs, have been the focus of numerous research and academic projects over time, and have provided the raison d’être for an extended and active international community of practitioners. The concepts of SCM, MLE, and cognitive functions, and the related applied systems of LPAD, FIE, and FIE-B have resulted in a world-wide community of psychologists, educators, specialists, parents, and teachers becoming accredited users and trainers who implement, research, or write about the methods and systems in their own practice, as they debate the essence of the approach - a belief in change.

And it is this belief in change where the book begins and ends – and the final chapter is perhaps the most optimistic as it introduces new findings in neuroscience regarding the brain’s capacity for change. In the past, the evidence for the ideas and methods documented in this book has largely been based on faith, on a belief in SCM, and the anecdotal accounts from professionals, parents, and learners who have been changed by this faith. It now appears that faith and science might meet in new research in neuroscience that is providing evidence of the plasticity and modifiability of the brain. The changes that are being found using new neurological research methodologies such as MRI and CAT scans show changes in neurological structure and activity and that there is a reciprocal relationship between these changes and behavior. This notion that modifiability is not only behavioral but also neurological provides another dimension for future research and development of the beliefs outlined in this book.

The value of this book is that it is both simple and complex. It provides an easy to read and accessible account of a complex theory and practice with examples from lived experiences of practitioners and learners. It provides an updated and integrated synopsis of Feuerstein’s theory and methods in one book. The questions and answers in this book are for teachers, parents, educators, therapists, practitioners, and professionals. If you are interested in change, accept that modifiability is possible and desirable, care about overcoming the barriers to change, and believe that we have a responsibility to do so, then the ideas and practices in Beyond Smarter are for you.   


Feuerstein, R., Rand, Y. & Hoffman, M.B. (1979). The dynamic assessment of retarded performers: The learning potential assessment device: Theory, instruments, and techniques. Baltimore: University Park Press.

Feuerstein, R., Hoffman, M.B., Rand, Y. & Miller, R. (1980). Instrumental enrichment. Baltimore: University Park Press.

Feuerstein, R., Haywood, H. C., Rand, Y., Hoffman, M. B., & Jensen, M. (1982). Examiner manuals for the Learning Potential Assessment Device. Jerusalem: Hadassah-WIZO-Canada Research Institute. (Revised 1983, 1984, 1986).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 06, 2010
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16255, Date Accessed: 1/20/2022 9:46:22 AM

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About the Author
  • Mandia Mentis
    Massey University
    E-mail Author
    MANDIA MENTIS is coordinator of the postgraduate special education programmes at Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand. She has over twenty years experience as a teacher and educational psychologist working in the areas of special and inclusive education in primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Her research interests include dynamic assessment, cognition and metacognition, and differentiated teaching and learning. She is an accredited trainer of Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment and has co-authored two books on Feuerstein’s methods. Her current research focuses on interprofessional and inquiry based approaches to specialist teaching.
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