CASUISTRY: Vladimíra Fortunová

ETP Slovakia was the first organization in Slovakia, which implemented the Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment (FIE) method in education process of children from marginalized Roma communities and presented the results achieved. Our colleague Vladka Fortunová was one of the first FIE lecturers applying this method while working with children in the afternoon school clubs. The clubs included children who entered zero grade primary school but were not ready yet for school. In most cases, these children did not attend pre-school education, they did not speak Slovak language, they did not have any experience with organized work or play in a group, they did not have basic motor skills and developed cognitive skills. ETP Slovakia has established five FIE school clubs, two of which are in primary school in Veľká Ida. For three years, Vladka led one of them (2015/2016 to 2017/2018) and made great progress with children. Due to lack of finances, only one club could continue in Veľká Ida. However, what the children have learned and experienced in the club is something that will remain in them forever.

FIE helps to develop the child’s cognitive abilities, improves school performance and strengthens self-esteem. Apart from this, the FIE also changes the teacher’s or lecturer’s perspective on  children themselves and the learning process. The case study describes the process of Vladka’s self-development and changes achieved in teaching children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds in the school club.

 

Casuistry

Vladimíra Fortunová

 

  My name is Vladimíra Fortunová. In 2009, I graduated from a Slovak university where my field of study was teaching general subjects in combination with Slovak language, literature and history. I currently work for a non-profit organization, ETP Slovakia – Center for Sustainable Development, which operates the Community Center in Veľká Ida near Košice, the second biggest city in Slovakia. ETP Slovakia also partners with the local primary school in Veľká Ida, where I run a FIE afternoon school club. In 2014 I first encountered the Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment (FIE) method. In 2015, I attended the FIE Standard I course, followed by FIE Basic I course, since when I have been using the FIE method in my day-to-day teaching of pupils attending the FIE school club.

 

How the Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment method has changed me?

   The current education system in Slovakia puts a lot of pressure on teachers to continually increase their qualifications. In practice, this means participating in different training sessions, often just to get a certificate. So, after graduating from the university, I became such a “certificate-collector”. Having in mind my experience with other training courses organized for teachers, I came to the FIE course full of doubts butut, on the other hand, I knew that every certificate could be handy in the future, so I went. I had heard very little about the FIE method but I had seen my colleagues at work using this. So, I had very few expectations, since none of the new methods promoted during my previous trainings had taught me anything. I was in for a big surprise.

The FIE opened my eyes in many ways. The time spent in the training was therapy for me that helped me to realize a lot of things, to understand many life situations and to organize my thoughts. My view of the world was given   a new dimension. I started to understand my surroundings better and to listen to it more. The FIE also taught me to listen and to and respect different opinions, even though I disagree with them.

It helped me improve my orientation in space. For example, if I want to take a right or left turn in my car, I no longer need to say aloud “right hand” or “left hand”. It was the FIE that gave me more confidence. It taught me to fight my fear of the unknown and not be afraid to overcome it step by step.

I grew up in an environment where mistakes were not tolerated and were condemned. Any error was simply a failure. That’s why I only started to do things when I was not threatened by my failure. It was restrictive, but I didn’t know any other view and I thought it was correct. The FIE has taught me to perceive mistakes as simply part of our lives which can push a person forward. I stopped looking for culprits of my failures and I learned to take responsibility for my actions. Knowing this gives me greater freedom.

A significant shift developed in my communication with my family and friends. I learned to articulate my thoughts more clearly. I’m now not waiting until they are able to read my needs and feelings just from my eyes. I judge other people less but rather I try to understand them and take a look at the world through their eyes.

The FIE method has had a major impact on my work with children in that I used to be very directive.  Everyone had to work at the lesson, whether they liked it or not. I was not interested in what they needed and whether they were even ready for the lesson. My role was to teach them something and that was it. The result was a stuffy atmosphere in the classroom, children being tired from the work pace, and from me, and I was frustrated that I was unable to make progress with them according to the plans. I didn’t understand why children find it difficult to learn but, as I remembered that was the way I had been taught that is what I did. The FIE has helped me understand that this is not the way to go … It has shown me a whole new way how to educate children in a non-violent way.

The FIE method has demolished the whole system of work I grew up with and which I was convinced was the right one. It has turned my thinking and my approach to learning upside down.

 

How the FIE has changed children from the school club

   The school club is attended by children from a socially excluded Roma settlement.  These children are from very disadvantaged circumstances. They grow up in an environment where there are no appropriate conditions for a healthy child’s development. They are not educated by their parents, nor by the environment, they are not led, and often they are not loved. They are doomed to failure before they enter school and in most cases they are unable to master the prescribed primary school curriculum.

When I started to use the FIE method the children were a little confused, as it has many different rules compared with what they had been used to at school. The big problem for the children was to accept the fact that they were not to be given precise instructions on what to do and how to do it. They were not used to thinking freely, just to mechanically fulfil given assignments. A huge obstacle was their own fear of doing anything on their own. I don’t know and I can’t, these were the most common words I heard from them. If, for example, after a long encouragement they drew a square on the blackboard or they wrote a letter and they were not satisfied with their work they quickly succumbed to stress. They needed my constant attention and assessment that what they had done was right or wrong. The children lacked imagination, they couldn’t dream. Their significantly limited vocabulary has prevented them to express themselves. When they started to talk, they would get stuck in the middle of a sentence because they couldn’t find the right words and they would give up and, feeling ashamed, would stay silent. They could not focus just on one activity.

After three years of using the FIE method, the children in the club have made awesome progress:

  • The working atmosphere has improved significantly, children are no longer tense, they feel relaxed,
  • Their self-esteem has increased, they believe much more in learning, At the club I now rarely hear the words I don’t know and I can’t,
  • Their internal motivation has improved, they work in the club not because I want them to or they have to, but because they want to,
  • They have started thinking about what they are doing and they plan their steps,
  • They have started to ask: Why is it so?
  • They have learned not to worry about new things but how to gradually overcome them,
  • During different activities they are more balanced, and they can concentrate longer,
  • Their vocabulary has expanded, they express their thoughts much better and can name things,
  • They can express their own opinions and some children can also now defend their point of view,
  • They have learned to work with error and they are able to find it, or admit it, and fix it,
  • They have stopped competing among themselves, every child in the club has its own pace and the other children respect it,
  • They have learned to ask for help and they help others if they ask for it,
  • They can express their own feelings, and they are less aggressive,
  • They can evaluate the results of their work,
  • They enjoy their own successes, and they are able to show their emotions,
  • Their imagination has started,
  • They are able to use their acquired knowledge in different life situations.

Every day the children make progress, thanks to the FIE method. This is not only evidenced by my observations and experience from my work in the FIE club, but also from feedback from school teachers and from parents. According to this, the children attending the club are more polite, calmer than their classmates, have a broader vocabulary, and can focus more during the lessons. Their school attendance has also improved.

But the most important feedback comes from children when they look at you with their big eyes and say that they liked the day’s club. Or if they don’t want to go home after the club and they remain seated in the classroom. When they tell you on our way home their impressions and feelings about what we have learned today then you tell yourself that you are walking with them in the right direction.

 

Why the FIE method is good for teaching the children from Roma settlements

The FIE method is non-violent and respects the child’s level of ability. It teaches them to be independent. It gives children the feeling that they mean something and that they can do a lot of things if they want to. It doesn’t allow them to fail, but it finds and supports their strengths upon which their self-esteem can be built. It instills in them the basics of decent behavior. It teaches them how to handle their emotions and behave appropriately in various important situations. It forms personalities that gradually understand not only themselves but also life. All of this takes place in a pleasant atmosphere and without coercion. The FIE method is kind to these children, something which, in most cases, they have never experienced in their lives.

 

Veľká Ida, June 2018