Going SOLO! (Part 1)

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December 4, 2011 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin

For some time now I have been unhappy with how I assess the progress of my pupils in lessons. I have tried and tested various techniques including level ladders (KS3), ‘traffic lighting’ and have for a long time grappled with Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s in particular was enthusiastically pushed in the schools I have worked in since I started teaching 5 years ago. As much as I persevered with Bloom’s I found it incredibly clumsy and unwieldy. Admittedly, many of these issues may have been due to my lack of concrete understanding of the thinking behind the taxonomy. My biggest issue however, was the fact that the language of Bloom’s was not one that my pupils and I could easily converse in!

After the umpteenth observation in my current workplace in which it was remarked that my formative assessment was ‘Good’  but not ‘Outstanding’, I turned to Twitter for help. It was through the excellent Tait Coles (@Totallywired77) that I learnt about SOLO Taxonomy. After reading Tait’s fantastic posts I decided to give SOLO a go. Rather than go in to depth about what SOLO Taxonomy, here is the link to Tait’s blog – have a read yourself!

I followed Tait’s introductory lesson plan (which can be found HERE) to introduce pupils to the idea and concept of SOLO taxonomy. Surprisingly, the requirements to move from each level of learning and thinking were easily grasped by the pupils. At the end of the lesson I also gave pupils an opportunity to decide how the language of SOLO (in particular the title of each level of learning; Prestructural, Unistructural, Multistructural, Relational and Extended Abstract) could be changed to something more ‘pupil friendly’. Pupils worked in small groups to come up with a better way to describe each level of learning only to conclude that they couldn’t. As a class we had decided that in fact the language was easy to remember, use and understand.

At the end of the introductory lesson, pupils were set an open-ended homework task to produce something that demonstrated what they had learnt in the topic that we had just completed (C2 – Material Choices, 21st Century GCSE). Pupil’s had a week to complete the work and produced some fantastic pieces of evidence. Once the work had been handed in, pupils were given a lesson to work in small groups to mark each others work using SOLO. Pupils had to provide feedback of how the work they were reading had reached each particular level of learning, or how the work could move on to the next level of learning and thinking. Below is some footage of the pupils working on this peer assessment task.

At the end of the lesson I asked all pupils how useful they found the lesson. I was amazed to hear some of the insightful comments they made. The general theme running through most pupils comments was that the taxonomy allowed them to see what ‘real learning was meant to be’. It enabled them to focus on the idea that learning was more than just about learning a set of facts. Pupils were beginning to differentiate between surface and deep learning.

This first experience of SOLO with this class was an incredibly positive one, both for pupils and for myself. It has enabled us to think more clearly, not just about what we are learning, but how we are learning too. It is also enabling us to have meaningful conversations in class about our learning and the progress we are making. The language of SOLO is one that has proved to be easily used by pupils. In the short time we have used the SOLO language I have seen a real improvement in the confidence of pupils. They have truly begun to take responsibility of their learning.

So what next? I still class myself as a complete amateur when it comes to SOLO. There is so much more that I need to read and discover about how SOLO can be used. I am planning to do a SOLO display in my lab so that when I start introducing it to my other classes there is a constant reminder of the language, diagrams etc. I am hoping to broaden the use of SOLO within my teaching to encompass more than just marking criteria and eventually I would like to embed SOLO in to our schemes of work.

I feel incredibly confident about the ability of SOLO to improve my own learning and that of my pupils. It is the most accessible model of learning I have come across since entering the teaching profession and I do believe that the positive results I have seen so far are just the beginning.

For more information about SOLO go to Tait Cole’s blog HERE or the Hooked on Thinking website (click on the image below!).


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