I have been using SOLO Taxonomy since Sept 2012 and I have to say that generally it has been absolute key element to my classroom teaching. As a PE teacher, I decided to use SOLO in my theory classes, GCSE and A Level and my first inspiration was David Fawcett (@davidfawcett27). It was after discovering his blog that I then started chasing people on twitter and people’s blogs making sure that understood the language. After reading the brilliant Tait Coles (@Totallywired77), I was certain that I was not going to visibly associate a level descriptor or grade against the learning taxonomy. I know some people do and thats fine, but I feel that with my particular students, they get too hung up on what grade or level they are currently working on and ignore the importance of utilising feedback and working towards developing that growth mindset. The students do know however that relational learning is the threshold they should at least be aiming for and to be honest without the public grades, the students use the appropriate language when using SOLO as an exit ticket.
So for those reading this, and wondering what on earth is SOLO all about, I will talk about the presentation I did at a Teachmeet that I participated in and which I ran out of bloody time!
SOLO ( Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) Biggs & Collins
SOLO is a taxonomy for teaching and learning. It has similarities to Blooms (taxonomy for thinking) which I still use to help frame differentiated questions.
To get people to understand the SOLO taxonomy, I used the example of a sandwich. The AW Sandwich! Here goes:
Prestructural – I have no ideas about the AW sandwich, I need help to describe it.
At this level of learning, students will have no idea what it is that is being learned and therefore will need help to build the language, terminology and basic factual blocks of information in order to progress. Unless you are the chef who designed this culinary delight I am probably guessing that most people reading this will be at this level.
Uni-Structural – I have 1 idea about the AW Sandwich. I know 1 ingredient/characteristic of the AW Sandwich.
For those of you wanting to learn all about this sandwich, you now know that the main ingredient is a slice of wagyu beef tenderloin.
Multi-structural – I have several ideas about the AW Sandwich. You know the main ingredients.
As previously stated, this sandwich contains a slice of wagyu beef tenderloin, a poached quails egg, rocket lettuce, seared foie gras, black truffle mayonnaise, crispy strip of turkey bacon and finally heirloom tomatoes.
When planning the learning objectives and the success criteria, there are key verbs to help (this is where it is similar to Blooms)
For example: define, list, name, state, describe, and identify.
PE exam question: State 2 factors that will cause optimum weight to vary between between individuals in the same event (2 marks)
LG example: Describe how hungry you after after knowing the ingredients of the AW Sandwich.
The next two levels are the most important ones. For my subject, this is where the big marks are allocated and usually found in the differentiated questions. However if a student can identify a relational or extended abstract question and understand how to approach answering them correctly and recall and link the correct knowledge then they are well on their way to achieving and demonstrating their learning.
Relational: I can connect and relate relevant ideas and learning. I can explain why these ingredients are used and how they compliment each other.
In classical French cooking, the beef and foie gras form part of the Tournedos Rossini dish and are used together for texture and balance of flavour. Using wagyu beef takes this to the next level. The rocket lettuce adds a crisp texture and the peppery flavour balances out flavours of other ingredients.
The verbs to help the learning at the Relational stage include, compare and contrast, sequence, classify, explain, analyse.
PE exam: Explain the requirements of a balanced diet (4marks)
Extended Abstract: I can look at the ideas in a new way and make links to other concepts.
The AW Sandwich as described was on the menu in a hotel in the UAE, hence the turkey bacon. BUT what if we were in the Caribbean? How might the sandwich change? Would we swap the wagyu beef for Canadian lobster? The black truffle mayo for Beluga caviar? How would the sandwich fit within a dinner party? What colour wine would you use if eating at 1pm as opposed to 7pm?
As you can see this is a lot more about making generalisations, predicting , evaluating, hypothesise, create.
A2 PE Exam: Outline the possible causes of spectator violence at sporting events and explain how the law aims to protect them (14marks)
One well documented tool for using SOLO is the use of hexagons. Here each hexagon is used as an idea (uni/multi-structural). On each hexagon an idea is written down and to advance the learning connections are made (relational) by placing the hexagons side by side.
To further enhance the learning, students need to make connections to new concepts. Using different coloured hexagons which represents different concepts and making connections, students are on their way to developing learning at an Extended Abstract level.
I have been devising other ways to engage the students into making connections and facilitating students to become more deeper learners and deeper thinkers. One way myself and colleagues have explored is the spiders web. As a revision lesson the aim was to answer this question which was generated by @revisePE on Twitter:
David is a swimmer who competes around the country. Suggest some of the influences of participation that has helped him get to this level
In groups, students worked on an individual concept. For example one group worked on factors influencing participation, others worked on Sport England, Youth Sport Trust, National Governing Bodies, and the performance pyramid, five groups in total.
Starting with a multi-structural task, groups had to write as many ideas (1 idea per piece of paper) and make Relational connections/links within that topic by drawing the connections on the table. Each group then moved around the classroom (carousel style) and contributed where appropriate to each topic.
Then armed with a load of string, new connections across the room were made to link ideas from different topics. As an extension task, students had to answer the question which was on the whiteboard throughout the lesson.
As time was running out from the lesson, each person had to think of 2 E.A connections and discuss this with a partner and then to the whole group. What came out of the whole group discussion was that even more connections and deeper thinking emerged as fresh ideas came to light. All ideas were photographed and made into a PDF as a resource on Edmodo.
The progression from multi-structural to E.A is not an easy one and should take time to reach. I admit that I do not always get to E.A in my lessons and sometimes don’t even plan to get to the deepest level of learning (mainly due to time issues). But what I have found is that where appropriate, the E.A level creates new opportunities for learning to occur, engages the students as they are being stretched out of their comfort zone which as research has shown increases rate of learning and allows students to grow in confidence as they can connect information easily and accurately from a wider perspective.
The Power of Feedback
One of the strongest applications SOLO has is its use as a feedback tool. I have particularly found this useful in A2 PE theory lessons where students are explicitly shown via the whiteboard where they are now, where do they need to get to and how will they get there. This can be shown to the students quite easily with a rubic success criteria or simply stated on the board.
Certainly with my A-level group, we have moved up and down the taxonomy several times before reaching our final destination of learning and this is the beauty of the taxonomy. There is a saying which I really find true to its word;
feedback to feedforward
And SOLO helps you to facilitate effective feedback in order for you and the students to move forward towards deeper learning. This notion of feeding back to feedforward had really helped my understanding and use of SOLO.
And finally planning. I have already mentioned that uni and multi-structural is more quantitative and relational and extended abstract more qualitative. David Fawcett (@davidfawcett27) wrote a great piece on his blog about planning to get to extended abstract and it is something which I fully agree with. He notioned the fact that you dont have to keep to the linear path of working systematically from unistructure to E.A. Why not start from the bigger picture first? This makes perfect sense to me. I used to plan from bottom up; uni – multi – rel, and then admittedly struggled to see how this fitted in with the bigger picture. Now I much prefer to work using the top – down approach. With the adapted 5 min lesson plan by @teachertoolkit, its far easier to plan the bigger picture first (what do you really want the students to understand) and then plan the foundation of ideas. Darren Mead wrote on his Sharing Pedagogical Purposes blog “who would buy the best high revolution precision cutter, and then decide what to make“. And this is the point I am trying to make. What is the main deep learning foci that is your target? What key ideas, learning tasks do you need to learn to understand the goal objective? As Darren calls it backfill the building blocks.
I am certainly still a novice playing with this teaching and learning concept and there is much more I could write about but my final thought on this is that the more risk you take in being creative, engaging and ambitious in leading students to the path of deeper learning, the higher the quality of teaching and learning and the more satisfying your job becomes. Anyone for a sandwich??