Waxing physically and philosically...

After literally years of deliberation, and as a result of some delicate and some less delicate prodding, this blog is my effort to organize - to bring together - my thoughts about my work as a conductor and as a personal trainer, to rant and rave as necessary, to celebrate the little things and the larger moments of brilliance, and to share some conductive magic and life lessons gained through 'waxing physically and philosophically'.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Feuerstein in Aotearoa

Last Saturday night I attended a lecture at the University of Auckland introducing Feuerstein's Instrumental Enrichment to the New Zealand market.  Andrew Sutton has encouraged me to share my thoughts about this here.  Considering it was ridiculously cold outside and that the presentation was held from 7 to 10 p.m. on a Saturday night (after shabbos of course), they did a very good job, completely packing the university Auditorium – I'd estimate 600 were there.  They had enough demand to schedule a second meeting for Monday night.  Saturday night's presentation was free, Monday night was at the museum and was being charged at $15 a ticket.

Local speakers 

The Feuerstein Institute positioned themselves really well – they opened with a TED talk about stem cells and neuroplasticity in adults by Dr Richard Faull from the Auckland University Centre for Brain research. Dr. Faull was also in the audience and gave the closing remark.  

The second speaker was Professor Ian Kirk, the co-director of the Research Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience within the Centre for Brain Research, and leader of the Human Neuroscience team in the School of Psychology. He spoke about being able to prove that learning actually changes the brain.

The third to speak was Anne Gaze.  She talked about the volume of children with learning difficulties in New Zealand and the cost (emotional and psychosocial as well as monetary) of their carrying their disabilities and labels forward into adult life.

The visitors

Next up was Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein (Reuben's son and by chance the parent of a child with Down's syndrome – which is how he got pulled into his father's work).  He was interesting and dynamic – not quite his Dad's presence but powerful and believable – nothing new to those of us already familiar with Feuerstein.. He introduced Instrumental Enrichment, dynamic assessment, cognitive modifiability, discussed some of their work (e.g. the project with Ethiopian immigrants to Israel), and showed a case study. 

Rabbi Feuerstein took us through one of the assessments (dots and lines out of context, needing to be joined to make specific pictures), then worked through the types of likely mistakes to show how they used these tests to find out specifically how someone thought and learned – and what they needed to teach too.  There were lots of shameful giggling as individual thinking styles were elaborated.  I was one of the ones who tried turning the paper upside down and sideways - showing a lack of understanding of general rules.

There was a question period –  the usual stuff –  who do they help, how long is the intervention, what does it cost, can people be trained in New Zealand?.  Rabbi Feuerstein answered and was supported by Chaim Guggenheim, the Feuerstein Institute's Vice-President in charge of international and business development.  A woman in the audience  provided anecdotal reflection, saying that her school had Feuerstein instructors on the team and spoke about the difference that it made with the students, some of whom had 'overcome learning disabilities' to go on to university education as a result.

'Feuerstein' in New Zealand 

The Feuerstein Institute will be running a course in New Zealand.  Their model is to teach Instrumental Enrichment to teachers and therapists – they do not plan to run a Feuerstein satellite or actually work with children here.  There are a few teachers here already qualified and the plan is for Israel to support them and the newly trained in July through professional development. Instrumental Enrichment trainers from Israel will coming back and forth as well for yearly research updates and, it seems, recertification to ensure quality of program delivery.  The of course played their non-profit card very well.

Regardless of what anybody thinks about research, academics and funders are always impressed by it, and the Feuerstein Institute is able to brag papers totalling well over one hundred thousand research papers.  Their website links to many of them -- you can find out more about the Feuerstein Institute, their method (Instrumental Enrichment), their theoretical basis (Structural Cognitive Modifiability), and their plentiful research.

As impressive as the presentation was, I couldn't help but feel saddened sitting in the audience.  Not saddened because of what the Feuerstein Institute has achieved, but because of what we in Conductive Education have not.  The support from the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland, a platform of over one hundred thousand research papers, and a sturdy foundation of academic work underpinning what they are doing.  I include myself here, and am guilty as charged, but we certainly need to lift our game if we are going to see Conductive Education move forward.

My personal contact

I approached Rabbi Feuerstein at the end of the presentation, offered my condolences about his father's recent passing, and told him that I had the opportunity to meet his father in Tel Aviv at the Tsad Kadima conference (he knew Tsad Kadima and asked about the work with cerebral palsy). I told him that I was a conductor (and he knew what that was) and he had heard of Andrew Sutton.  It was a really pleasant exhcange.

He asked why I haven't yet qualified in Instrumental Enrichment. I told him that I'm interested and will keep my eyes posted for the New Zealand. I have also emailed Chaim Guggenheim to express interest in upcoming courses in NZ, who has since responded and promised to keep me in the loop.  I will look forward to see what come of Feuerstein's forray into New Zealand