Systematic Review of Thinking Skills Approaches to Effective Teaching and Learning

From December 2001 to November 2002
Project Leader(s): Viv Baumfield and Steve Higgins
Staff: Mei Lin, David Moseley, Marie Butterworth (Heaton Manor School); Graham Downey (Kramel First School); Maggie Gregson (Sunderland University); Iddo Oberski (Stirling University); Mel Rockett (Northumberland LEA) and David Thacker.
Contact: Steve Higgins:
Sponsors: EPPI (Institute of Education)/DfES

Introduction The initiative was funded by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), and was managed by staff at the Evidence Informed Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre), at the Social Science Research Unit at the Institute of Education, University of London. The function of the EPPI groups were to provide rigorous and explicit research reviews of existing evidence in order to provide access to reliable information that can inform policy and practice. Key Objectives The DfES funded EPPI review groups were contracted to undertake a systematic review annually, the focus of the current thinking skills project had two phases and addressed the following key questions: Stage 1 • What were the parameters for defining a particular pedagogy or curriculum development as a thinking skills approach? Stage 2 • What was the impact of the implementation of thinking skills interventions on teaching and learning? • How closely did the findings of studies of the successful implementation of thinking skills correlate with current understanding of effective teaching and learning? The review process involved working with partners across different sectors of education and included practitioners, managers and researchers nationally and internationally. The teaching of thinking skills is an explicit part of the National Curriculum in England and Wales and contributed directly to the DfES’s initiatives at Key Stage 3. The descriptive review by Carol McGuinness (1999) provided an overview of recent research into the teaching of thinking skills and built on the work of earlier reviews in this area. Nisbet and Davies (1990) listed 30 specific programmes and indicated that there were then over 100 on the market in America. Hamers and Van Luit (1999) show that this is not an English speaking phenomenon and that interest in teaching thinking is evident amongst practitioners and educational researchers in many other European countries. Thinking skills initiatives have been used in schools in the UK since the early 1980s and have been in existence for somewhat longer, but the term itself is ambiguous and there is disagreement about how it relates to aspects of pedagogy more broadly. Our working definition for the purposes of this review was that thinking skills interventions could be identified as approaches or programmes which identify for learners’ translatable mental processes and/or which require learners to plan, describe and evaluate their thinking and learning.


Dr Mei Lin
Senior Lecturer