“Education in our times must try to find whatever there is in students that might yearn for completion, and to reconstruct the learning that would enable them autonomously to seek that completion.”
Allan Bloom, 1987
The Closing of the American Mind
An introduction to NILD Educational Therapy®
The theory that there is a critical period for developing learning abilities and after the child became older than that – the “train has gone” has been changed. Brain researchers now argue, that the critical period differs from function to function. The critical period for acquiring the phonemes of a language is considered in the early developmental age while syntax has its critical period at a later time. The development of vocabulary and the social aspects of language may never close down (Pléh et al.,2002). Many scientists of our time, however, claim that the brain does not lose its plasticity after puberty, but poorly working structures can be modified (Feuerstein et al, 2002). It does not mean that the degree of plasticity remains the same because younger structures are easier to be modified and the brain responds faster to the intervention in the case of an early treatment. Therefore, the earlier an impairment or disorder is diagnosed, and the earlier the treatment is given, the better and the quicker results we may receive. However, the importance of the theory of structural cognitive modifiability lays in the good news that it is never too late to intervene. This gives hope for older students with learning difficulties and also for families with low functioning children. This theory provides the basis for developing tools which stimulate the brain effectively in order to develop new neural connections and well functioning neural network for the targeted cognitive function.
Mediation is the method that conveys the assistance of a more capable person for the student in intervention. There are educational programs which rely on the natural curiosity of the children when they meet interesting and challenging tools. Obviously, typically developing children are able to discover many things themselves but they also need the feedback of the environment. However, children with atypical developmental line are unable to perceive and process information properly without the interaction of a more capable person, who can be the caretaker, the older sibling or a professional helper. In mediation, the mediator provides the necessary (not more and not less) assistance for the child/person in intervention to make him/her able to perceive and process the stimulus/new information and give the proper response to it (Skuy, 1996). The proper amount and type of mediation stimulates the targeted cognitive function within the zone of proximal development (ZPD). This zone refers to the child’s problem-solving capacity with the help of a more capable person, as it was discovered by Vygotsky (1956, 2000) at the beginning of the twentieth century. As soon as the child learns the strategies he used with the therapist or teacher, he will be able to solve similar problems autonomously, raising the ZPD to a higher level.
Mediation is manifested many times in interactive language (probably the most widely used in good formal education). Another form of mediation is the motoric way, when the mediator only points to the stimulus (or part of the stimulus) which the student need to focus on. The quality of mediation is inversely proportional to the necessity of a precisely developed tool for cognitive development. A very good mediator can use very simple tools to reach the goal, though preparing or collecting tools can be laborious. However, the person of the mediator (teacher, psychologist, educational therapist) is a variable in the process of intervention, therefore, a good educational therapy cannot lack the precisely developed materials together with its well-considered methodology, i.e. the technique how to use the tools.
A good mediator is intentional, i.e. knows what and how he wants to mediate and also reciprocal. It means that he responds to the needs of the students, realizes if they require more or less or different type of mediation and able to make the necessary changes. Therefore a good mediator is able to mediate to different age groups and to different levels and types of problems. A precisely developed material and technique consists of different levels of difficulty and complexity and also provides a well defined flexible use for diverse groups.
The NILD Educational Therapy®
NILD Educational Therapy consists of 26 techniques for the development of well defined perceptual and cognitive functions with different level of complexity. Besides, in-term therapists receive training and gain personal experience in mediation during the three levels of NILD educational therapist training courses. On the basis of cognitive modifiability, NILD educational therapy provides intense stimulation to auditory, visual and tactile perception, to attention and memory along with higher order thinking. For example, there is a visual perceptual and visual memory task on the concrete level that the mediator uses for strategy building. Further, he/she mediates transfer to a school subject area or to a real life situation. This way the student’s associative thinking and memory are strengthened and will remember the problem-solving strategy in other situations as well. Therefore, a technique covers the whole learning process.
NILD Educational Therapy provides treatment for the impaired perception of the visual, auditory and tactile stimuli. However, even minor physical problems connected to the sensory organs may cause problems in reading and writing and many times they occur concomitantly with learning disorders. These problems (micro-diplopia or poor speech-hearing due to contaminated sinus or auditory meatus are out of the competence of educational therapies. With proper mediation attention is focused on the relevant information, student receives strategies for enhancing working memory. Transfer – or bridging – results better long-term memory and the capability of the application of an acquired strategy. Information receives meaning through its analysis, categorization. Students learn to generalize, and reason on an abstract level as well.
NILD Educational Therapy is very intense: the student is actively involved in thinking, in interactive expressive language throughout the 80 minutes of the therapy session, two times a week. For example, in the above mentioned task, the student needs to focus his attention to the visual stimuli, express verbally the relationship between parts and parts to the whole figure, has to be involved in planning and discovering key elements which support his memory. In the phase of transfer he generalizes, analyses and synthesizes. Therefore, both concrete and abstract, logical and creative thinking are integrated in an 8-10 minute technique. Usually, 7-8 techniques, which stimuli different perceptual, cognitive and academic skills, are covered in a session. The therapeutic effect is expanded to the home as well (where parents are partners in the development process) and certain exercises are practiced at home, too.
Beside the cognitive development, an NILD educational therapy provides the individual the personal attention he may miss in a big classroom, which provides the feeling of security. This feeling liberates the cognitive processes, too. As mentioned above, parents are also involved in the treatment. However, we emphasize the parents’ role as mediators and not as therapists.
Many of the techniques are adopted from child psychiatrist Archie Silver and psychologist Rosa Hagin’s (Bellevue Hospital, New York) techniques which they used with their 8-12 year old clients who suffered from attention and/or behavioral problems along with reading difficulties (in 80%) (Silver & Hagin, 1970, 1976). These techniques were further developed by school director Grace Mutzabaugh and later by the Professional Support Team of NILD. Within the 26 techniques, there are five core techniques [Rhythmic Writing, Buzzer (Morse), Blue Book, Math Block and Dictation and Copy] which are the most complex, most integrated techniques. The rest of the techniques stimulate auditory, visual or tactile functioning along with the development of several cognitive functions and strategy building.
The level of effectiveness
Effectiveness is a key factor when we choose among the various methods for the treatment of different learning difficulties or disorders. Therefore, it is important that treatments go through testing to determine their effectiveness. Prior the quantitative research of the NILD model of intervention, A Study of the Effect of Interactive Language in the Stimulation of Cognitive Functioning for Students with Learning Disabilities (Hopkins, 1996) was completed by Dr. Kathleen Hopkins for her doctoral dissertation in 1996. In her study 47 students (average IQ=97, btw. Grades 1-12, age btw 6-18 years) were involved, who received treatment for 36 months. The result indicates that students completing a three-year program of NILD Educational Therapy™:
- made statistically significant gains over time in all six variables measured: general IQ, verbal IQ, reading words in isolation, spelling and arithmetic
- significantly outperformed students in the control group in measures of general and verbal IQ (NILD, 2006).
The NILD model has been introduced in every continent, in many countries. The techniques have been adapted into Spanish, German, Hungarian and Romanian languages.
Feuerstein, R.- Feuerstein, R.S. – Falik, L.H. – Rand, Y.2002. The Dynamic Assessment of
Cognitive Modifiability. ICELP. Jerusalem
Hopkins, Kathleen (1996) A Study of the Effect of Interactive Language in the Stimulation of
Cognitive Functioning for Students with Learning Disabilities. Unpublished doctoral
dissertation. The Collage of William and Mary, Williamsburg.
Pléh, Cs.- Palotás, G. – Lőrik, J. 2002. Nyelvfejlődési szűrővizsgálat (PPL) Akadémia Kiadó,
Silver, A. – Hagin, R. 1970, 1976.
Skuy, M. (Ed) 1996. Mediated Learning In and Out of the Classroom. SkyLight. Arlington
Vigotszkij, L.Sz. 2000 (1956). Gondolkodás és beszéd. Trezor, Budapest