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“I Give Up!” (or, How Mediated Learning Can Help Your Child)

About the Author

Carol Brown
Carol Brown has over 30 years of experience as a principal, teacher, cognitive developmental therapist, social worker, reading and learning specialist, speaker, consultant, and mother. Read more >>

by Dr. Carol Brown,
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant

“I can’t do it!” You may be familiar with these words, which often come when a child doesn’t understand something even after you’ve explained it numerous ways. Or perhaps your child simply gives a blank stare and is unable to express his frustration verbally.

Where do you go from here? Let’s go to Israel!

Dr. Reuven Feuerstein (1921–2014), an internationally renowned Israeli psychologist and scholar in the field of child development, believed that cognitive abilities could be increased through what he termed “mediated learning.” This is more than simply gaining content knowledge; it’s an increase in cognitive skills (such as processing, comprehension, working memory, and reasoning abilities). With the right kind of interaction, in the right kind of learning environment, a caring and encouraging adult (homeschooling mom, dad, grandma) works one-on-one with the student to lay a foundation for efficient thinking, communicating, and learning, to help the child develop into an autonomous and independent learner.1

What does mediated learning look like? According to Dr. Feuerstein, “Mediation is any interaction in which an adult intends to convey a particular meaning or skill and encourage the child to transcend, that is, to relate the meaning to some other thought or experience … with the intent of helping children expand their cognitive capacity, especially when ideas are new or challenging.”12

Practical Examples of Mediated Learning

Organizational skills. One challenging area for many children is organization. We hear people talk about having a disorganized brain. However, simply saying “You need to be more organized” or making charts are not always effective.

A student who struggles with organization may see the world as a series of separate and isolated events rather than seeing the relationships that exist between them. This in turn impacts her ability to organize items, events, and thoughts. So in order to help this child be more organized, you first need to help her see how organization gives meaning and purpose to the world she experiences.

For example, when you are at the grocery store, show your child how some food is organized in the refrigerated sections for perishables, how canned goods are on these specific shelves, or how cleaning supplies are separated from the food. Also, note the expiration date placed on items. Use these concepts as a bridge to organizing your child’s room or study area. Learning to see the benefits of organization in her world can help her as she learns to structure her time or organize history on a timeline.3

Decision-making. Another challenging area for children is decision-making. Imagine three children who have $10 to spend at the store. One child makes an impulsive purchase which he later regrets, another can’t make a selection and leaves with nothing, and the third has given careful consideration and is pleased with her choice. This was my life when my children were young. What I realized later was that the foundation of choosing wisely is the ability to make comparisons.4

Encourage your student to make comparisons between objects she sees around her. For example, take an apple and an orange and place them on the table. Ask your student what is common to both of them, as well as what is different about each one. Use Aristotle’s Ten Categories of Being as a guide:

  1. What is the name of each item
  2. Quantity, or the weight of each item
  3. Qualities, such as color, size, smell, or taste
  4. Action, or the use of each item
  5. Feeling, or how they can be affected or changed
  6. Time, such as when are they in season
  7. Place, such as where they grow
  8. Position, or how they grow
  9. Clothing, or peel
  10. Relation, or how are they related to each other

What Should I Say When Mediating?

The following dialogue is an example of language to use when using the card game Blink.

Modeling: “I say, I do.” The mediator models the game by stating what he is doing as he does it.

Mediator: “As I lay down cards, I say the number of the first card (‘three’), then I say the color of the second card (‘blue’), then I say the shape of the third card (‘triangle’).”

Demonstrate this for three rounds.

Receptive: “I ask, you say.” The instructor gives the language first.

Mediator: “Now it is your turn. Say the number of the first card.”
Student: “Three.”
Mediator: “Then say the color of the second card.”
Student: “Blue.”
Mediator: “Then say the shape of the third card.”
Student: “Triangle.”
Mediator: “Now, let’s continue this pattern.”

Expressive: “You say, you do.” The student explains the directions. He then speaks the language corresponding to the action and performs the action himself.

Mediator: “What do you see yourself doing?”
Student: “I see myself saying the number of the first card, then the color of the next card, and then the shape.”
Mediator: “Now do it.”
Student: “Three … yellow … stars.”

Reflective: “You do it on your own.” The mediator may or may not be present with the student at this point. The student performs actions or activities on her own or with someone other than the mediator. A great way to ensure that instructions are retained in a student’s long-term memory is to have the student play the role of the mediator with someone else. Students can do this by teaching a friend or a family member how to play the game or perform the actions that they had learned earlier themselves.

What Should I Do When My Child Makes a Mistake?

When a student is playing a game or is doing academic work and says the incorrect thing, simply tell her to “check.” If she says the same thing, ask her what she sees or what she heard. You always want to make sure that you are seeing and hearing the same thing. Always allow your student time to stop and think. Many times their processing may be slow, and you want to allow them time to answer. Remember, practice makes permanent—permanently right or permanently wrong. The goal of implementing these mediating techniques is to encourage self-correction.

The following chart will guide you in how to question when your students are collecting information, processing information, and expressing themselves orally or in writing. (These questions are based on the words of Aristotle, Socrates, and Dr. Feuerstein, and the chart is adapted from my Equipping Minds Cognitive Development Curriculum.5

Collecting Information

Processing Information

Expressing Orally & Written

What or who do you see, hear, feel, taste, touch, and smell?

What can you visualize or imagine in your mind?

What is the name of what you see or are thinking of?

What am I to do?

Problem, what problem?

What do you need to figure out?

What is relevant to the problem?

What is needed, and what can be ignored/omitted?

What does the other person believe and why?

How does the other person feel?

Can you imagine how you would feel in their position?

How would the other person want to be viewed and treated?

Where are you starting?

Do you have the correct information and materials?

What parts do you need, and what order will you need to follow to make the finished product?

What is similar?

What characteristics are different?

Consider: number, color, shape, size, direction, position, feeling

Have you thought through what you want to say or write?

Are your words relevant to the situation?

Is your language clear to the audience?

What do you know to be true, or what is constant and does not change?

What different categories do you see?

Do you need to take a break and attempt this later or tomorrow?

What is to your right?

What is to my right?

If you are facing in this direction, what is to your right? Left? Front? Back?
East? West? North? South?
Northwest? Southeast?

How are these related to each other?

What is your plan? What are the steps you will follow and the reasons for them?

Avoid trial and error! Have a plan.

Perseverance! “Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential.”
Winston Churchill

You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.

When do you see this happening—past, present, future?

How long did the event occur?

In what order did it happen?

Does this make sense?

If this is true, then what else must be true?

Are their different possibilities?

How can you see whether this is true?

“If we all did the things we were capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”
Thomas A. Edison

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Thomas A. Edison


I encourage every homeschooling parent to move beyond merely teaching content and to use mediated learning. Mediation will stretch your child’s mind and cognitive capacities, helping her to fulfill her God-given potential. “Developing each individual’s mental capacities is an end in itself,” Dr. Shmuel Feuerstein states, “but it is also an important religious value. Each individual is endowed by God with capacities which must be developed to the fullest in order to fulfil God’s will and place one’s abilities in the service of God.”6

As your child’s mental abilities are gently challenged and pushed to grow as far as they can, her confidence will grow as well. And soon you’ll start hearing her say, “I can do this!”

Additional Resources

Brown C. Equipping minds for Christian education or learning from neuroscience for Christian educators. In: Maddix M, Bevins D, eds. Neuroscience and Christian Formation.

Beyond Smarter: Mediated Learning and the Brain’s Capacity for Change by Reuven Feuerstein, Refael S. Feuerstein, and Louis H. Falik (2010)

A Think-Aloud and Talk-Aloud Approach to Building Language by Reuven Feuerstein, Louis H. Falik, Refael Feuerstein, and Krisztina Bohacs (2013)

Getting to Got It! Helping Struggling Students Learn How to Learn by Betty K. Garner (2007)

Equipping Minds for Christian Education: Learning from Neuroscience for Christian Educators by Carol Brown (2016)

Equipping Minds: Cognitive Development Curriculum by Carol Brown (2015)


1. Feuerstein, R.; Lewin-Benham, A. What learning looks like: Mediated learning in theory and practice, K–6. New York: Teachers College Press, 2012.

2. Ibid.

3. Mentis, M.; Dunn-Bernstein, M.; Mentis, M.; Skuy, M. Bridging learning: Unlocking cognitive potential in and out of the classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2009.

4. Feuerstein, R.; Falik, L.; Feuerstein, R. Changing minds and brains—the legacy of Reuven Feuerstein: Higher thinking and cognition through mediated learning. New York: Teachers College Press, 2014.

5. Brown, C. Equipping minds: Cognitive development curriculum. Danville, KY: Self-Published, 2015.

6. Feuerstein, S. Biblical and Talmudic antecedents of mediated learning experience and theory: Educational and didactic implication for inter-generational cultural transmission. Jerusalem: ICELP Publications, 2002.

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