On the morning of Easter Monday, I happened to drive past a homeless person sleeping at a bus stop at the very moment when a car pulled up, and the driver anonymously delivered a meal to the sleeping person. He took care not to awaken the sleeping tramp. I was struck by this act of kindness as much as by the person’s care to remain anonymous.
This act of kindness reminded me of Schopenhauer’s question in his work On the Foundations of Morality: “How is it possible that suffering that is neither my own nor of my concern should immediately affect me as though it were my own, and with such force that it moves me to action?” According to Schopenhauer, this phenomenon reveals that “my own true inner being is the ground of that compassion (Mitheid) upon which all true, that is to say unselfish, virtue rests and whose expression is in every good deed.”
In this newsletter I have decided to focus on the development of Cognitive empathy as a key aspect of education. Cognitive empathy relates to the ability to take the perspective of others and feel concern for others. Schopenhauer alludes to this an innate human quality of what he refers to as the “inner being”. My own view is that whilst this may be true, it is the environment that will enable the child to access these inner qualities and “flower in goodness”. This environment is created by significant others in the child’s life: parents, teachers or mentors. Through skillful interaction and mediation and recognizing the “teachable moments” when they present themselves, these qualities are cultivated.
“Goodness can flower only in freedom. It cannot bloom in the soil of persuasion in any form, or under compulsion, not is it the outcome of reward. It does not reveal itself when there is any kind of imitation or conformity, and it cannot exist when there is fear.” Krishnamurti
Inner vision of what is possible arises from a secure sense of that inner self and the ability to set goals and muster the determination to realize them.
Throughout my years as Director of Learning Unlimited, I have encountered instances of kindness, support, and care from colleagues, parents and students alike. Collectively this has created the conditions for students to thrive and strive to achieve what seemed at times, impossible goals. Courage and determination has become the hallmark of our students and teachers, and the interaction and relationship between them has enabled them to thrive personally and academically. Our students have had to face their fears, pursue their dreams and overcome what seemed at the time to be insurmountable obstacles.
I have included the testimonial of Calum Wehmeyer in this newsletter as one such student. Calum approached me at the start of 2016, a former grade 11 Bishops student Calum Wehmeyer approached me. He wanted to do his A levels ahead of finishing his NSC matric. I was hesitant at the time as he was looking to complete his 4 AS subjects and 3 A level subjects in one year, whilst at the same time continuing his formal schooling and continuing to train as a provincial rower. Calum completed his A levels in May 2017 and commenced his studies at Edinburgh University in September 2017, the same year his peers wrote their matric.
Calum’s testimonial below shows what can be done with commitment on the part of the student and dedication on the part of the tutor. Like Calum, a number of our LU graduates developed a passion for the biological sciences and have gone on to study medicine both locally and abroad.
In this newsletter, I will be highlighting the development of cognitive empathy as a key component of education. I shall examine both what it is and how educators and mediators play a key role in its development. I have asked Lilian Lomofsky, a Feuerstein-trained instructor, to write an article on Feuerstein’s Cognitive Enrichment program and how it can assist our students with the acquisition of critical thinking skills and the development of cognitive empathy.
Testimonial: Calum Wehmeyer
In 2016, whilst in Grade 11 at Bishops Diocesan College, I made the resolute decision to apply to study at a university in the UK. However, I found myself in the situation where the National Senior Certificate offered by Bishops was insufficient to gain entry to nearly all UK universities. As such, I embarked on an ambitious and exciting journey with Sharon and Learning Unlimited to study for Cambridge International A-Levels. One of my teachers was Mr Tapuwa Muchinga, who taught me Maths and Biology. With a superhuman amount of dedication, positivity and enthusiasm, Tapuwa guided me through two years worth of exam content within a year. He made extraordinary efforts to facilitate my learning, including setting up practice lab work for me and teaching on weekends and late night sessions during the week, often at short notice. Without doubt, I had no hope of getting through my exams without him.
After having sat my A-levels, I headed off to the University of Edinburgh to study Biomedical Sciences, with the ambition of taking a very roundabout way into medicine. My BSc (Hons) and a global pandemic whizzed by, but I stayed on for another year to complete an MSc by Research in Biomedical Sciences, having picked up a keen interest in neuroendocrinology. I handed in my thesis in August, graduating with a distinction and moved up to St Andrews, where since September, I have been studying medicine. Only three more short years and I will have achieved the goal I first outlined to Sharon, Tapuwa and all those who helped me at Learning Unlimited. A better and more deserving group of educators, there are none.
These photos below are from my first day in St Andrews and my graduation in Edinburgh, decked out in my kilt.
The acquisition of “Cognitive Empathy “ by Sharon Levy
Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist known for his work on child development, set out the stages of cognitive development and proposed his theory of “genetic epistemology”. In 1934 he declared that “only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent or gradual”. According to Piaget the child develops in several stages, each associated with a biological age range. The formal operational stage (the stage in which the child can think logically about abstract propositions and test hypotheses systematically) of development can only occur in adolescence.
Although my whole stance has been to encourage the use of concrete in the world learning in order to grasp concepts it has been my experience that with appropriate scaffolding children below the age of 11 can engage with abstract ideas that are not immediately based in concrete examples.
According to Piaget because young children could not imagine the viewpoint of someone on the other side of the table, he concluded that they are incapable of empathy.
The issue at hand is that with the assistance of a skilled mediator, the formal operational stage can be acquired much earlier than Piaget predicted.
Jane Elliot, who was mentioned in the previous newsletter, was able to get her 5th grade (10-11 years old) students to engage with issues of prejudice and racism and develop empathy for those who are treated unfairly through a real-life simulation experience. Here she acts as a mediator.
Which brings us to the question of mediated learning and the role of the educator as a mediator. This does not mean one who acts as an authority but one who, together with the child, supports the learning process by engaging the child in dialogue about the task at hand.
We make a grave mistake to think that meaningful learning can occur by putting a child in front of a computer with pre-recorded lessons and no interpersonal engagement with the tutor. A rather hit and miss affair, to say the least!
I met Reuven Feuerstein in the late 1990s. At the time I was in Jerusalem presenting a paper at a conference on Science Education Policy. My paper was based on research I had done on various models of education in South Africa, which had brought me into contact with a project in which his cognitive development tools were being applied. I took the opportunity to visit him at his home in Jerusalem.
More recently I connected with one of Feuerstein’s students, Lilian Lomofsky, whom he trained in his method and have been reminded of the potential benefits to all students, those who are academically gifted as well as those who are experiencing learning difficulties; whether one is from educationally enriched or impoverished environment.
I have invited Lilian to write an article on Feuerstein’s cognitive enrichment program and the development of cognitive empathy through his instruments.
Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment and Social Cognition. By Lilian Lomofsky
In cognitive education learners are not expected to learn facts by rote but instead should be encouraged to form associations or find the connections among objects, behaviours and situations. In current times, with the explosion of information and advances in technology, knowledge is accessible. We need to make a distinction between learning subject content and knowing how to apply this knowledge (what has been learnt) in such a way that it is relevant in a different context.
The cognitive psychologist, Reuven Feuerstein (1921 – 2014), developed a theory and practice in cognitive development. He believed that an IQ score is not fixed and that intelligence can be educated so that anyone can become a more effective learner. Feuerstein’s theory is consistent with Vygotsky’s in that learning takes place in a social and cultural context. Therefore, social interaction is a determinant in enhancing human thinking and behaviour. (Falik, 2021)
Feuerstein’s belief is that learning is most effective in the presence of a human mediator who may be an educator, parent, caregiver or even a peer. Consequently, there are guidelines about how a mediated learning experience (MLE) can be effective in bridging the interface between the cognitive functions and social interaction. Thus, cognition and emotions are viewed as being two sides of the same coin.
The programme Instrumental Enrichment consists of a series of exercises or tasks to develop the cognitive thinking skills and metacognition in learners. The teacher/mediator then assists the student to select the relevant concepts or principles from the tasks to be ‘bridged’ to the academic subjects and their daily social lives.
An MLE interaction must be intentional, purposeful and convey meaning to the learners who respond positively. Only when the student has acquired a feeling of competence and manages to have self-regulation and control of his own behaviour, feelings and ideas is he able to ‘place himself in the shoes of the other’ to feel empathy. This entails understanding a point of view or perspective of another that differs from his/her own. He needs to be accepting of these differences which may, for example, refer to cultural and ethical values, particularly in a country like South Africa where we have a variety of cultures.
At the same time the teacher or parent must be accepting of these differences and encourage the students to express their ideas in the classroom and in their daily lives. In this way they feel safe to express their own opinions as well as accepting those of others. This is an important factor in schools where there have been incidents of bullying. This encourages them to become autonomous and critical thinkers who are also empathic.
One example is for bridging to the content subject, History, the narrative, may be taught and discussed from different perspectives, for example when explaining events or a particular period. In a colonized country such as South Africa perspectives on historical events usually differ in writings by the colonizers in comparison to those of the colonized. In history it is important to link the past with the present and with this understanding one is able to plan for the future.
In Instrumental Enrichment, there are instruments which are designed to deal with social/affective cognition in identifying various emotions, some of which were initially for younger children who tend to be egocentric but have proven to be suited to learners of all ages. The instruments are in the form of student books, and I refer to one which is ‘From empathy to action’. At the top of each page a picture scenario is provided in which the person is experiencing a problem. The mediator presents questions about “What is this person feeling and why do you think so? How would you feel if it happened to you?” Showing empathy is when one understands the ‘need of the other’ and takes action that would be the best way to help another. In mediated learning the bridging would then transcend the immediate situation by asking questions such as, “Does this happen in the family, in the school, in the community?” This leads to an awareness and discussion about possible solutions to address the problem situation.
- R. Feuerstein, R.S. Feuerstein, L.Falik and Y. Rand. (2006) The Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment programme. ICELP publications.
- Louis H. Falik (2021) Integrating Social Cognition into Therapeutic Practice. New Yok. Routledge
Cognitive Enrichment Institute
FEUERSTEIN’S INSTRUMENTAL ENRICHMENT
(FIE) STANDARD LEVEL 1
Enhance ‘thinking and reasoning’ in teaching,
learning and counselling.
To be applied with learners at primary and high schools,
tertiary education and adults
For Psychologists, Counsellors, Teachers at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, Learning Support Teachers, Speech Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Facilitators
• Theory of Modifiability and Mediated Learning Experience (MLE)
• Recent research in neuroplasticity.
• Instruction in the materials and didactics of 7 FIE Level 1 Instruments.
• Bridging of concepts to academic and social contexts
VENUE: 30 A Tullyallen Road, Rondebosch, Cape Town
Dates: 26 June to 1 July 2023
Times: 8.30 – 16.30 daily
Course Fee: R 8 950
Presenter: Lilian Lomofsky, ATC director and FIE trainer
On completion of the requirements for FIE Standard Level 1 workshop, participants will be awarded an IE Practitioner Certificate from the Feuerstein- Bassou International Training Academy.
More information: Lilian Lomofsky WhatsApp: 072 397 9462