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The impact of the implementation of thinking skills programmes and approaches on teachers. Summary


The Thinking Skills Review Group is interested in establishing the extent of the research evidence of the impact of the implementation of thinking skills on teaching and learning, and the first review focused on the impact on learners. Having established in the Group’s first review that there is evidence of a positive impact on learners, we turned to the question of the role of the teachers and this review takes that as its focus.


The aim of this review is to provide an overview of evidence that can inform practice and support the effective implementation of thinking skills programmes and approaches. The focus is very close to the interests and expertise of the authors and wider Review Group, who are either practising school teachers or have a role in initial teacher education (ITE) and the continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers. The overall approach of this review was to focus on those studies identified by the search strategy for the first review and which had significance as measured by the inclusion criteria for that review, but then to direct attention to the role of the teacher and the impact of the interventions on teachers and pedagogy.

Review questions

What is the evidence for the impact of the implementation of thinking skills approaches on teachers?

The question of impact is explored in the context of any reported changes to teachers’ pedagogical practice, attitudes towards pupils, and professional development following the implementation of thinking skills approaches.


Three lead reviewers were identified who had experience of thinking skills and teachers’ professional development, representing a predominantly research, primary practice and secondary practice background respectively. The three lead reviewers met regularly and moderated the application of the EPPI Centre review process at each key stage: that is, finding studies, applying inclusion and exclusion criteria, data extraction and synthesis. Updates and reports were shared with the wider group via email.

The studies were drawn from those identified in the mapping stage of the Group’s first review (sourced by searches run in 2002). Studies were included in the map if they:

  • were set in schools and were concerned with any section of the school population (including pupils with special educational needs (SEN))
  • evaluated the impact of the implementation of thinking skills interventions on teaching and learning, where
    • thinking skills interventions were defined as approaches or programmes which require learners to articulate and evaluate learning strategies and/or which identify specific thinking processes that are amenable to instruction, in order to improve teaching and/or learning,
    • interventions could be taught as separate programmes or infused into curriculum teaching, and where
    • measures of impact were broadly conceived and could focus on motivation and/or engagement and/or patterns of classroom interaction and/or self regulation and/or meta-cognitive monitoring and/or pupil attainment
  • were concerned with the phases of compulsory schooling (5–16)
  • contained empirical classroom research with data or evidence (pupil outcomes, classroom processes, teacher role)
  • were written in English.

A subset of studies in the map had received mapping codes that indicated that they might contain data relating to the impact of thinking skills approaches on teachers and teaching. These were screened against a further set of review-specific criteria. Therefore, studies in the synthesis for this review met the criteria for the map in our first review but also:

  • contained quantitative or qualitative data about the impact of thinking skills approaches on teachers and teaching; and
  • included sufficient detail regarding the role and training of the teachers involved to enable conclusions to be drawn that are relevant to practitioners.

The studies were read by two reviewers and references to other studies that might have teacher data were followed up. Also, authors were contacted to ascertain if they had teacher data which had not been written up or included in existing reports of their studies. In-depth data extraction was conducted independently by two reviewers, who then met to reach consensus. This process was moderated by EPPI Centre personnel for a sample of studies.


Of the 191 reports in the map, 22 had mapping codes that identified that they might provide data about the impact of thinking skills programmes and approaches on teachers. Following screening with specific inclusion criteria for this review and follow-up of study references, 13 studies were identified for inclusion in the synthesis.

All 13 studies were included in the synthesis of evidence even though their rating in terms of the weight of evidence showed some variation. The justification for this was that, in most cases, judgements on the weight of evidence reflected inadequacies in the reporting of the study, which prevented the reviewer from being confident about the robustness of the research. As in the first review, the process of the systematic review of the evidence highlighted the need for studies to be accessed directly rather than solely through journal articles as is usually the case in education research.

The synthesis resulted in the following key areas emerging as significant:

  • Changes in pedagogical practice, including teacher questioning; grouping of pupils; changes in planning and assessment
  • Changes in attitudes towards pupils, including perception of pupil ability; facilitation of greater pupil responsibility and autonomy' access to pupil learning
  • Implications for professional development, including practical tools being necessary; collaborative CPD being preferable; and partnership with researchers as co-inquirers and critical friends being beneficial.



  • The review builds on and refines the review undertaken in Year 1 and so is based on an extensive search of the literature on thinking skills programmes and approaches, and their impact on teaching and learning.
  • Close involvement of users in the review. As with the first review, members of the group have been fully involved in all stages of the process and this has helped ensure that the link is maintained between research, the interpretation of that research and the development of practice in schools.
  • The review not only builds on the previous work of the Thinking Skills Review Group but also demonstrates a high level of agreement with the findings of another recent review (CPD Review Group) and so provides consolidation of evidence of effective practice in CPD.
  • The focus of the review is particularly relevant, given the widespread use of thinking skills approaches and programmes in schools, and the position of thinking skills in key government frameworks and strategies in both primary and secondary schools in the UK. Schools are looking for ways to support teachers in developing innovative pedagogy and also to promote their professional development.


  • The studies included were only those written in English.
  • Studies were found by searches conducted in 2002. Further updates of this review would need to search beyond this date.
  • Attempts to retrieve additional information cited but not reported means that, among the excluded studies, there may be rich sources of data. Unfortunately, it was not possible to do more given the limitations of time and resources.
  • There was poor quality of reporting of studies, particularly of qualitative data.



  • The evidence from this review suggests that technicist delivery models of implementation will not only reduce the professional involvement and motivation of teachers but may also reduce the effectiveness of the interventions in terms of pupil impact
  • Thinking skills interventions appear to have potential to support and encourage teachers to develop pedagogy that enables students to achieve greater understanding, engagement and higher achievement but it is a process that requires close partnerships and sustained involvement of teachers working together within and across schools, as well as links with critical friends and this has resource implications.


  • Joint planning and peer observation are effective means of supporting innovative pedagogy.
  • The impact of teaching thinking on teachers is to provide greater insight into pupils’ learning and assists in the meeting of the requirements for assessment for learning as well as promoting higher order thinking.
  • Tools designed to assist the research/evaluation process in an intervention can also be useful in improving the range and quality of feedback to pupils.


  • The quality of reporting of studies needs to be improved so that judgements can more easily be made regarding the reliability and validity of findings and conclusions.
  • More research in which the rigour of the qualitative research and quantitative research are matched and the sample sizes are greater would enable the findings from these studies to be tested and firmer conclusions drawn.
  • This review, considered alongside the first review on impact on learners, shows where the gaps in existing research lie and there is a need to provide more comprehensive evidence drawn from a wider range of contexts.

This report should be cited as: Baumfield VM, Butterworth M, Edwards G (2005) The impact of the implementation of thinking skills programmes and approaches on teachers. In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

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