Lee Garrett

A teaching and learning journey through PE


10 steps to consider for using SOLO

I have recently been asked for some tips when using The SOLO Taxonomy in lessons. I must stress that I have only started using this framework since September 2012 and consider myself still learning and exploring the concept. But nevertheless, since then I feel I have made some half decent progress with it and feel confident using it in all my PE theory classes.

The 10 tips provided have been a result from my own experiences. Rightly or wrongly, the positive experiences have overshadowed the negatives and I have most certainly took risks in trying to be creative which by and large have been successful. Here goes:

Introduce the framework

#1. Introduce the idea to students as a thinking and learning framework. I made conscious efforts to encourage students to think and write down ideas en mass whilst discussing about the use of the multi-structural level. We even related this to exam questions for revision. Once ideas were jotted down we then set about making links/connections and associations (Relational). Again we looked at how we could use our SOLO framework to answer questions which were requiring explanations. And to extend, challenge and differentiate we looked at bringing in other topics to establish a higher order level of learning.

#2. For 2 of my groups, I sacrificed some lesson time to discuss and explain the SOLO concept and the associated terminology. In conjunction with #3 the language used was quite impressive within such a short space of time. Students were able to articulate their level of learning, what they needed to do to improve and how they were going to do it. They were also very aware of the use of the building blocks and the requirement for connections to be made. At no point do I ever assign grades to the various distinguished levels as Im trying to lead the students into thinking about their depth of learning as opposed to the grade they are working at which I’m trying to relate to the work of Dweck and the Growth Mindset. At the same time, I have also tried a different approach with my Year 11s. They are knowledgeable on SOLO but the concept was taught via intertwining it with the syllabus, therefore having no special time set aside to go through the language and framework. My reasoning for doing this was to see how effectively students could apply the taxonomy after being taught 2 different ways. For future planning, I personally would recommend to spend some time going through the different learning levels and the use of the SOLO language.

Classroom environment

#3. The classroom environment is a particularly important one. Firstly, to help embed SOLO, the symbols representing each level have been printed and laminated and stuck down one side of the whiteboard. This for me has been a key factor as the whiteboard now has become one of the main workplaces when discussing, using feedback, demonstrating and thinking. For example, it makes it far easier to write out a success criteria so that students can visually understand what is expected and required to make progress. Using good old post-it notes allows students to come up and show at what level their learning is at by simply writing their name and sticking it next to a SOLO symbol. If you compare where they were at the start of the lesson and where they are at the end, students can start to understand, reflect and feel how their learning is developing. By continuously applying stages of learning to the symbols, it helps students to use the SOLO framework and hopefully positively transfer across different subjects/situations.

Take risks and be creative

#4. Take risks and be creative. When I first set out using SOLO, I really enjoyed seeing the learning being developed and applied by the most simple yet effective tool.The hexagon. My concern though now is death by hexagon!!! For those new to SOLO, students write on one hexagon shape which represents 1 idea (unistructural). Students continue to write down numerous ideas (multi-structural). The power of this tool comes into effect when you then start to join various hexagons together linearly (relational) or like a jigsaw. If you use different colour hexagons which represents different topics and make links this is working towards the deep learning of extended abstract. Since then I have tried a spiders web approach whereby I aim to use the whole classroom and make links and connections with string. To be honest the theory behind it is exactly the same as the use of hexagons but just an alternative way of doing it.

Embed within your lessons

#5. This next point is similar to #3. Encourage the students to apply the SOLO framework in planning, evaluating, designing, answering, explaining etc. This way the common use of the learning language starts to become habitual. In preparing students for the big 6 mark questions in GCSE PE or the 14 mark questions in GCE PE, I have started to combine the IDEAS model (shared by @thebenhorbury) in conjunction with the SOLO to help students think, apply and structure their questions more constructively.


#6. Another way I encourage the students to think and apply the framework and become more accustomed to the language is by structuring homework questions using the associated verbs. For example, list, name, define and describe would be uni/multi structural whilst the more extended questions would be to include explain, compare & contrast, design, predict and construct. I find that students begin to understand the nature of the question and the level of detail required. With students understanding the question and the level of learning/thinking they know that for more developed statements, verbs such as, BECAUSE, SO THAT, THIS ALLOWS and THEREFORE or similar must be used to enhance their answer. Obvious, I know but for some of my students this has made a big difference.

Feedback tool

#7. Getting students to ‘feedforward’ can be quite a straight forward process using the SOLO success criteria and the help of a few SOLO symbols in the classroom.

where am I now?’ with the explicit learning objective and the success criteria, feedback for the students is important and using SOLO has for me made this an easier process. Using Formative Assessment strategies and carefully constructed questions helps this.

Where do I need to get to‘ With the shallow to deep’ continuum its a very visible and dare I say easier progressive pathway to reach a target/objective with the intermittent SOLO levels. However, in 1 lesson, I find that reaching extended abstract is not always possible. The deeper learning may be discussed and touched upon but to actually store and retrieve the learning is not always possible and takes quite a few days/weeks. Is it possible to go from pre-strucual to extended abstract that easily? Im not so sure it is.

‘How will I get there‘ is an important question and if the student can identify this themselves, then surely you are facilitating independent learning bearing in mind that of course direct instruction will have played a big part in helping you reach this stage. Again if the learning objective is explicit and success criteria links in with SOLO, it makes a far easier discussion to understand the feedback report FROM the students in aiding you for your future planning.

Peer and self assessment

#8. When peer/self assessing, get students to identify what level of learning has been demonstrated/achieved. Get them to highlight the work and symbolise it. This has many advantages but the most important element of this activity is allowing students to redraft. After hearing so much and reading Ron Berger’s, The Ethic of Excellence, this is an absolute must and one where improvement can be visible. Let the students redraft and learn from their mistakes.


#9. When planning, I think about the lesson objective first, then the success criteria and then design the activity ensuring it is pitched at the right level.  I am a big fan of the SOLO stations (@totallywired77). Put simply, each table or area of the classroom represents a SOLO learning station. Students can start at any station they feel matches their knowledge and then they complete several tasks which are pitched at the levels appropriate for each station before moving on. This really is differentiation heaven. If students are struggling they can move back down a SOLO level before moving back up until they feel they are ready. I found that the more the students get used to this type of lesson, the more confident they become and the more independent they are at making their own decision to move on.

#10. My final point is one of sharing. Firstly, Twitter is an unbelievable tool for sharing and collaborating. There are some outstanding practitioners who are more than happy to support, share and advise. Follow the #soloarmy. Secondly, from Twitter, there are some very informative blogs which will help inspire you to take a chance and be creative. I first came across SOLO thanks to @davidfawcett27 and from there was directed to @totallywired77 and @lgolton. I would also really recommend watching @learningspy on youtube. He clearly explains the SOLO levels at a TeachMeet and clearly explains the Taxonomy. Finally, I would make sure you fully understand the SOLO concept and get a clear idea of how you are going to use it in your lessons. I came across it in June 2012 but didn’t actually implement it until September 2012 and used the summer holidays to fully understand the concept and now it has become an essential ingredient in my theory lessons.

Hope this helps.