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Thinking skills approaches to effective teaching and learning: what is the evidence for impact on learners?

What do we want to know?

Thinking skills approaches are important for the promotion of effective questioning and extending pupils' oral responses in classrooms, as well as the potential contribution to assessment for learning. They are approaches or programmes which identify translatable mental processes for learners and/or which require learners to plan, describe and evaluate their thinking and learning. A thinking skills approach therefore not only specifies what is to be taught but also how it is taught: the content of lessons and the teaching approach form an integral part of thinking skills approaches to teaching and learning. The aspect investigated in this review is the impact of thinking skills approaches to learners' attainment.

Who wants to know?

Policy-makers; teachers

What did we find?  

  • There is evidence of a positive impact on pupils' attainment in both curriculum and non-curriculum measures, and some evidence that pupils' can translate this learning to other contexts.  However, improvements may not be apparent immediately.
  • The impact may not be even across all groups of pupils; there may be greater impact on low-attaining pupils, particularly when using metacognitive strategies.
  • There is some evidence that pupils benefit from explicit training in the use of thinking skills strategies and approaches.
  • The role of the teacher is important in establishing collaborative group work and effective patterns of talk, and in eliciting pupils' responses.

What are the implications?

  • Provision of guidelines for the implementation and evaluation of thinking skills in classrooms based on research evidence would enable schools to make informed choices.

  • When introducing interventions that focus on improving specific cognitive strategies, it could be more efficient to target particular groups of pupils and identify the most appropriate times for development. However, interventions aimed at developing a classroom ethos conducive to making learning more explicit and fostering dialogue about teaching and learning, can be promoted at any time.

  • There may be a significant delay before attainment becomes apparent in tests and exams.

How did we get these results?

Twenty-three studies were synthesised.

This summary was prepared by the EPPI Centre

This report should be cited as: Higgins S, Baumfield V, Lin M, Moseley D, Butterworth M, Downey G, Gregson M, Oberski I, Rockett M and Thacker D (2004) Thinking skills approaches to effective teaching and learning: what is the evidence for impact on learners. In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London. 

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