It is clear that the disruption of teaching and learning caused by the Covid-19 lockdown and its aftermath will have a lasting effect on the education of many children and particularly on the disadvantaged. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has found that school closures are likely to reverse progress made to close the educational gap experienced by disadvantaged children in the last decade and that sustained support will be needed to help disadvantaged pupils catch up (EEF 2020). The Education Policy Institute has found that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has stopped closing for the first time in a decade. This was evident before the pandemic and has been exacerbated by it (EPI 2020).
It is unknown how effective teaching and learning will be in the socially distanced arrangements being initiated in England’s schools from September or whether there will be further disruptions if there are local resurgences of infection.
School education in England, as elsewhere, is therefore experiencing unprecedented disruption. In these circumstances the quality of remedial teaching provided by schools, particularly those with significant numbers of disadvantaged pupils, will be crucial to these pupils’ future. Policy makers should therefore be prepared to use the most effective methods of large-scale remediation for which there is good evidence.
The best evidenced programme of large-scale educational remediation was carried out by the new State of Israel in the 1950s to 1970s. Under its ‘law of return’ Israel welcomed large numbers of Jewish immigrants from throughout the world, but found that the children of those from North Africa and the Middle East were much less successful in school than those from Europe and North America. They were typically three years behind in their education and were subsequently much less successful as young adults competing for jobs.
Israel was committed to educational equality for its immigrants and invested heavily in research on remediation. The government established a substantial team of clinical and educational psychologists, many with experience of treating children traumatised by the Holocaust, to tackle this problem. They were led by Reuven Feuerstein. They decided to avoid school subjects as areas of past failure and devised a separate programme called Instrumental Enrichment (IE). This was designed to change, over a period of two or more years, the disadvantaged students’ concept of themselves as learners, their motivation and their ability to process information.
The IE course was primarily designed for young adolescents. It consisted of thirteen sequences, each with 12 to 24 activities (instruments), intended to be taught for five hours per week over two years in parallel with the normal curriculum. An essential feature of the IE instruments is that they involve little use of language and therefore have the appearance of logic puzzles and non-verbal reasoning problems (see e.g. International Renewal Institute 1982). The reason for this is that the pupils’ mother tongue was usually Arabic and they were simultaneously having to learn Modern Hebrew (Ivrit) as the language of their new country (Feuerstein et al 1980).
Each activity was delivered in three phases – input, elaboration and output – each involving discussion designed to develop pupils’ awareness of themselves as learners:
the different cognitive functions appearing in the input, elaboration – or problem solving – and output phases become part of the everyday metacognitive discussion between teacher and student and between student and student when thinking about their own strategies of problem solving … IE aims to provide the necessary mental tools putting students in a position where they have to construct for themselves the higher level thinking required. This could be described as meta-constructivism – the construction by the learner of learning strategies (Adey and Shayer 1994).
The programme was rigorously evaluated with controlled trials and found to be highly effective. Significantly, two years after the intervention the students (both sexes) entered compulsory military training in the Israeli Army. On a test of general intelligence for all recruits derived from the American Army Alpha test, the IE group performed better than many others. Although they had typically been three years behind when entering school, they were now equal with others, for example, in promotion prospects.
Feuerstein’s IE was highly successful for the purpose for which it was developed – raising the attainment of large numbers of educationally disadvantaged learners. A significant feature of the programme was that, although it generally didn’t raise attainment immediately, evidently because of difficulties of accessing the mainstream curriculum while learning a new language, IE learners’ ability continued to develop after their participation in the programme had ended. Their ability continued to rise on all the tests they took, including Army Entrance and for further and higher education so that, as adults, they suffered no disadvantage compared with the general population (Rand et al 1981). The work of Feuerstein and his colleagues is permanent evidence of what can be achieved by government commitment to raising the attainment of disadvantaged learners.
A South African case study
Feuerstein’s IE was also used in the early 1980s by Mervyn Mehl who taught first-year Physics to medical students at the University of the Western Cape, at that time a wholly black university under apartheid. Owing to under-resourced education in black high schools, 50 per cent of first-year medical students regularly dropped out through failing their Physics course. Mehl devised an IE course closely modelled on Feuerstein’s work but designed to be delivered in one year. At the end of the year the failure rate was reduced to zero. There was a convenient control in that about half the students were taught in Afrikaans and half in English. IE was used with the English-medium students only; the failure rate for the Afrikaans-medium students remained unchanged (Mehl 1985; Adey and Shayer 1994).
As Mehl demonstrated, IE can be effective over a shorter period. A crucial difference was language. Mehl’s students had been taught in English-medium high schools, so were not having simultaneously to learn a new language as in Israel.
IE’s limitations and its successor
IE has been used experimentally in settings in the USA, UK and elsewhere with positive effects on attainment, but has not been adopted widely. This is partly because it is seen as a remediation programme intended for a minority of pupils and partly because of its deliberate separation from school subjects. Schools and education systems have been reluctant to devote significant resources to a programme apparently relevant only to disadvantaged pupils and without direct relevance to the rest of the curriculum.
These issues were addressed by Adey and Shayer in the 1980s. Michael Shayer was one of the leaders of the Concepts in Secondary Mathematics and Science project (1974 – 1980), a large-scale British Government-funded project on how to improve the teaching of these subjects across the whole ability range in comprehensive schools in England. Shayer investigated IE closely and, with Philip Adey, developed a new programme which overcame its limitations, calling it Cognitive Acceleration (CA). Like IE, CA was based on research by Vygotsky and Piaget – it trained learners how to understand their own cognitive (thinking) processes and use them more effectively. Unlike IE, CA related directly to school subjects and, not being designed for immigrant children learning a new language, used open questions in English rather than diagrammatic problems.
In essence Adey and Shayer took the ten cognitive schemas underlying scientific understanding identified by Inhelder and Piaget (proportionality, compensation, variables, etc) and devised 30 lessons to help pupils to develop these schemas. The lessons were all designed on the same pattern involving five ‘pillars’: concrete preparation, social construction, cognitive conflict, metacognition and bridging.
The programme – Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education (CASE) – proved very successful in the 1980s to 2000s before being squeezed out of schools’ curriculums by Ofsted’s requirement of frequent school-based assessment for progress tracking. CASE typically raised attainment by 1 to 2 GCSE grades across the full ability range (Adey and Shayer 1994; Shayer and Adey 2002; Adey 2012). This effect has been confirmed in more than 20 international trials (Let’s Think 2013).
(A programme based on CASE, called Let’s Think Secondary Science, was trialled by EEF in 2013 – 15 and found not to be effective (EEF 2018). It should be noted that this programme was significantly different from CASE and was not approved by Adey and Shayer.)
Cognitive Acceleration (CA) programmes in Mathematics and English have subsequently been developed, also with full suites of lessons for primary and secondary schools together with KS3 lessons in Drama, Music and Visual Art.
The English CA programme (Let’s Think in English) has become particularly successful and is currently used by some 350 schools in England and Wales as well as in Switzerland, Poland, Brazil, Hong Kong and Vietnam. It has some 20 age-appropriate lessons for each of Years 1/2, 3/4 and 5/6 together with 30+ for K3 and 20+ for GCSE, each using fiction, non-fiction, poetry or film. Samples of the English lessons are available at Let’s Think in English (2020).
Remediation after educational disruption
As the successor of Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment, Cognitive Acceleration (CA) shares some features with IE but is different in others. Taken together, these would make it particularly effective in enabling pupils to catch up after educational disruption.
- CA raises attainment by all pupils but especially the disadvantaged. CA lessons are designed to be used with whole classes rather than, as with IE, smaller groups of disadvantaged pupils. In this way all pupils’ abilities rise, but disadvantaged pupils make the greatest progress. Two recent small-scale trials demonstrate this.
- In six schools in Hampshire, each with two KS3 CA classes, all the students made an average of 41.5 per cent greater progress than two parallel non-CA classes, but the pupils on Free School Meals in these classes made 58.3 per cent greater progress (Let’s Think in English 2018).
- An International School in Switzerland used the Australian Council for Educational Research tests (similar to the PISA tests) with Year 6 before and after a year’s use of Let’s Think in English, with these gains (effect sizes):
Mathematical Literacy Reading Narrative Writing Expository Writing All pupils 0.27 0.30 0.12 0.42 Least able quartile 0.61 0.42 0.46 0.67
Again, the least able achieved the greatest gains, though the overall results compared to the performance on the same tests by the top 14 International Baccalaureate schools (Black 2018).
- As with IE, lessons are immediately available. Suites of fully trialled age-appropriate CA lessons in English, Maths and Science are available for Key Stages 1 to 4. They consist of full lesson plans and pupils’ materials in photocopiable or electronic form. Teachers are therefore not required to create lessons and professional support is available to enable them to deliver the lessons most effectively.
- Unlike IE, CA lessons are designed to be used fortnightly – 30 lessons over two years. IE was designed to be used for five hours each week and CA’s lesser frequency relates directly to the fact that the lesson’s use language in which pupils are already proficient. This is helpful, of course, when schools have a great deal of other work to cover. Nothing is gained by using CA lessons more frequently and, in fact, the gap between them provides opportunities for developing metacognition. Some schools using the English programme have a ‘metacog wall’ in the classroom – a large sheet of sugar paper on which pupils are welcome to put comments or queries about the CA lesson on post-it notes in the two weeks following the lesson. After the early lessons there are few notes, but after a time there are many, providing the focus for discussion before the next CA lesson.
- Longer-term effects. Both Feuerstein’s IE and CA which is based closely on it show that intensive systematic focus on improving pupils’ view of themselves as learners has long-term effects on their attainment. The development of their cognitive abilities, accompanied by a growth in self-confidence, is transformative and leads to long-term, possibly permanent, increases in attainment. This is a recurrent feature of research on the long-term effects of IE and CA (Rand et al 1981; Adey and Shayer 1994; Shayer and Adey 2002; Let’s Think 2013A).
It is hoped that a reconsideration of Feuerstein’s response to systemic educational disadvantage and Cognitive Acceleration as its successor will be helpful in this current unprecedented situation.
1st September 2020
The author is a trustee and the unpaid Company Secretary of the Let’s Think Forum which is a charity (number 1150648) and company limited by guarantee (number 07736467). He is a visiting lecturer and honorary research associate at King’s College London. Although previously involved in the development of Let’s Think in English, he now has no financial interest in it or in any of the Cognitive Acceleration programmes.
Adey, P (2012) – Let’s Think, formerly known as Cognitive Acceleration: Programmes for developing high-level thinking
Adey, P and Shayer, M (1994) – Really Raising Standards: Cognitive intervention and academic achievement. London: Routledge.
Black, A (2018) – Effects of a one year Let’s Think in English intervention in an International School https://www.abceducation.ch/blog/2018/03/30/effects-of-a-one-year-lets-think-in-english-intervention-in-an-international-school/
Education Endowment Foundation (2018) – Let’s Think Secondary Science
Education Endowment Foundation (12th June 2020) – Best evidence on impact of school closures on the attainment gap
Education Policy Institute (26th August 2020) – Education in England: Annual Report 2020
Feuerstein, R, Rand, Y, Hoffman, M and Miller, M (1980) – Instrumental Enrichment: Intervention Programme for Cognitive Modifiability. Baltimore: University Park Press.
International Renewal Institute (1982) – Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment: Standard Program
Let’s Think (2013A) – Evidence of Efficacy (CASE)
Let’s Think (2013B) – Cognitive Acceleration Through Mathematics
Let’s Think in English (2014)
Let’s Think in English (2018) – Hampshire
Let’s Think in English (2020) – Sample lessons
Mehl, M (1985) – The cognitive difficulties of first year physics students at the University of the Western Cape and various compensatory programmes. PhD thesis, University of Cape Town.
Rand, Y, Mintzker, R, Hoffman, M B and Friedlander, Y (1981) – The Instrumental Enrichment programme: immediate and long-term effects. In Mittler, P (ed) Frontiers of Knowledge: Mental Retardation, Vol 1. Baltimore: University Park Press.
Shayer, M and Adey, P (eds) (2002) – Learning Intelligence: Cognitive Acceleration Across the Curriculum 5 to 15 years. Buckingham: Open University Press.