Demonstrating the top five EEF Toolkit teaching interventions using the kitchen sink

It is necessary to first read this article. What follows is an explanation of the top five most effective teaching interventions according to the research summarised in the EEF Toolkit. These are as follows.

 Very Effective

1= Metacognition and self-regulation (8)£****

1= Feedback (8)£***

Fairly Effective

3= Collaborative learning (5)£****

3= Oral language interventions (5)£****

3= Peer tutoring (5)£****

The Toolkit explains them as follows (italics).

Metacognition and self-regulation

Meta-cognition and self-regulation approaches (sometimes known as ‘learning to learn’ approaches) aim to help learners think about their own learning more explicitly. This is usually by teaching pupils specific strategies to set goals, and monitor and evaluate their own academic development. Self-regulation means managing one’s own motivation towards learning. The intention is often to give pupils a repertoire of strategies to choose from during learning activities.

There is a bit more to it than that. In ‘Learning Matters‘, metacognition is explained as being aware of your own thinking process. It implies that language provides the tools for thought and that learners benefit by silently but consciously ‘talking to themselves’ as well as talking to peers and the teacher. The idea is that as learners experience cognitive development they also develop a metacognitive ability that can be characterised as ‘higher level thinking’ (in Piagetian terms). ‘Self regulation’ is often now referred to as ‘resilience’. Resilience describes that quality by which learners approach problems with confidence, persistence and a willingness to discuss, reflect and research. There is more here.


Feedback redirects or refocuses either the teacher’s or the learner’s actions to achieve a goal, by aligning effort and activity with an outcome. It can be about the learning activity itself, about the process of activity [or] about the student’s management of their learning or self-regulation.

It is closely linked with metacognition and addressed in depth here.

Collaborative learning

Collaborative or cooperative learning can be defined as learning tasks or activities where students work together in a group small enough for everyone to participate on a collective task that has been clearly assigned. This can be either a joint task where group members do different aspects of the task but contribute to a common overall outcome, or a shared task where group members work together throughout the activity.

 Oral language interventions

All of the approaches reviewed in this section support learners’ articulation of ideas and spoken expression, such as Thinking Together or Philosophy for Children. Oral language interventions therefore have some similarity to approaches based on Meta-Cognition, which make talk about learning explicit in classrooms, and to Collaborative Learning approaches, which promote pupils’ talk and interaction in groups.

See also this Local Schools Network article.

Peer tutoring

Peer tutoring includes a range of approaches in which learners work in pairs or small groups to provide each other with explicit teaching support.

In my view this is best understood and approached through Vygotsky’s emphasis on ‘social plane learning’ and his ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ (ZPD). The ZPD is the learning space between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers. Vygotsky viewed interaction with peers as an effective way of developing skills and strategies. He suggests that teachers use cooperative learning exercises where less competent children develop with help from more skillful peers – within the zone of proximal development.

Vygotsky believed that when a student is in the ZPD for a particular task, providing the appropriate assistance will give the student enough of a “boost” to achieve the task.

All of EEF’s ‘top five’ interventions share the common fundamental understandings and approaches of developmental learning described by Piaget and Vygotsky.

Kitchen sink learning

As grandparents, my wife and I take a keen interest in the education of our grandchildren. Some of this is recorded in ‘Learning Matters‘ where I refer to the developing cognitive ability of our six-year old granddaughter. What follows is more recent and describes some kitchen sink experimentation with her (now 10) and her younger sister. The children were asked to do the following with a deep kitchen sink, a tumbler, some thin card, a sharp point to make a hole in the card, a drinking straw with a flexible end and a feather.

  1. Fill the sink with water, then attach the feather to the inside bottom of the tumbler with a small piece of sellotape..
  2. Invert the tumbler with the feather inside and push the tumbler down into the water in the sink until it touches the bottom. Will the feather now be wet?
  3. Remove the tumbler from the water and examine the feather. Is it wet? – No.
  4. Now remove the feather and carefully fill the tumbler to the rim. Cut some thin card to fit over the top of the tumbler avoiding air bubbles as best you can. While holding the card in place, invert the tumbler. Now take your hand away from the card. Does the water fall out? – No.
  5. Now repeat the experiment again but this time first bodge a hole in the piece of card. Will the card still stay in place when the tumbler is inverted? If so will the water pour out from the hole? – Yes and No.
  6. Now immerse the tumbler (without the card) in the water sideways so that it becomes full of water. Now, while holding it under the water turn the tumbler upside down then gently lift it partially out of the water. What happens to the water in the tumbler? – It stays in the tumbler.
  7. Now, holding the tumbler with the open end still submerged under the surface of the water, take the drinking straw and bend the flexible end up into a hook shape. With the other hand hook the bent end of the straw into the inverted top of the tumbler then blow gently into the other end of the straw. This is tricky – it could be a two person task. What happens now? – bubbles are blown into the tumbler which rise to the top (the bottom of the tumbler), expelling the air.

This activity can include all five EEF interventions, all of which depend on the ‘cognitive conflict’ that arises from each unexpected, and therefore curiosity stimulating outcome. Such ‘cognitive’ conflict is vital to all developmental learning, which can then proceed as follows.

Inverting the filled tumbler with the piece of card on the top then letting go (of the card) is a sure-fire jaw dropper and attention capturer. It works with any thickness of card that is  not too thin so as to get waterlogged and soggy. Beer mats are good. I haven’t tried it with a pint of beer in a pub, but it should work. Look out for it now on You Tube!  It also works fine with cling film and perhaps more surprisingly with cooking foil – no need to wrap it round the sides of the tumbler, just push it into place onto the top of the tumbler.

  1. The children are asked why the feather does not get wet in the first experiment, why the card and the water stay in place in the second, why bodging a hole in the card makes no difference, why the water stays in the inverted tumble as it is lifted out of the water and why blowing into the straw removes the water from inside the tumbler.
  2. Let the children spend some time thinking about what they have seen and experienced and ask them to try to work out why surprising things happened (metacognition and feedback).
  3. Encourage them to come up with their own ideas and then debate their metacognitive hypotheses with each other (collaborative learning and oral language interventions).
  4. Then the teacher introduces some facts and information about air pressure. Does this help the children modify their hypotheses? Encourage more discussion. The teacher then feeds in more questions and hints until one of the children begins to understand. He/she then shares this emerging understanding with the other children (peer tutoring).
  5. Then leave the children to play with the tumbler, card, feather and to invent  their own experiments (fun – its allowed/encouraged!)

There is a further intervention called ‘Bridging’, which is a feature of ‘Cognitive Acceleration’ practice. EEF have not researched this. In this example this would involve asking the children to think about sucking drinks up a straw -what is really happening? Then there is ‘cling film’. Why does it stick to smooth surfaces (but not rough ones)? How do rubber suckers work? If possible show how window glass fitters handle large heavy slabs of plate glass – with big suckers!

All this takes up a lot of time, but there are three vital advantages compared to the ‘teacher telling/pupil listening under threat of sanction’ method.

  1. Deep learning and understanding that is more than memorising what the teacher has said.
  2. The cognitive ability of the learner has been permanently developed. (the learner has become cleverer through the process of engagement with the problem).
  3. This developmental cognitive gain is transferable to all learning.

The last advantage is by far the most important in KS1/KS2 where the main pedagogic aims should be developmental – raising cognitive ability/general intelligence.

Imagine a school where all subjects are taught this way. This is an example in science, which readily lends itself to the approach, which was the initial basis of Shayer and Adey’s ‘Cognitive Acceleration’ project, which can be adapted to all subjects including English, maths the humanities, arts design and technology as explained in their book, ‘Learning Intelligence‘. There are some great ideas for working with five year olds. I love the green dinosaurs and red mammoths activity – you will have to read the book. However no methodology, however effective, should be treated like a religion. Other kinds of lessons can still be taught, teachers can explain and demonstrate things, videos can be watched, notes can be made and tests can be taken.

Such an approach cannot be imposed on teachers as a national initiative. School leaders have to understand it and believe in it first. Teachers then have to be trusted to discuss it in departments and staff meetings. Dissent has to be tolerated and met with rational debate, not the pulling of rank.

Schools should become ‘institutions of learning’ that include the teachers and all other staff in the learning process.

Does Morgan and Gibb’s compulsory academisation plan suggest such a future?

I don’t think so.

Are teachers willing to be bullied into submission?

I hope not.


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1 Response to Demonstrating the top five EEF Toolkit teaching interventions using the kitchen sink

  1. Pingback: School Councils – misunderstandings, misuse and missed opportunities for learning excellence | Roger Titcombe's Learning Matters

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