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

Roger Titcombe's picture

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)£****

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.

You can find an extendede version of this article here


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