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.



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Blended Learning? I’d call it diverse teaching!

Ive recently been observed by senior management. I tried to keep the lesson as routinely normal as possible without dressing it up, so I opted for SOLO stations. why not? Students have already experienced the benefits and the challenge of progressing and seeing their own visible learning, they know and understand the language and the process involved. Done!

These are some post obs reflections.

Briefly, each station had a different activity. To start, Socrative was used to generate a hinge question and find a starting point for the students to begin working. There was a Flipped Classroom approach integrated with cooperative learning, there was peer critique on another station and finally hexagons for the Extended Abstract which was planned but not used. Students needed to pay extra attention on the relational stage.

Some may call the above a Blended Learning approach, who cares, I would just simply call it diverse teaching and learning to engage the students into personalised learning. The great @learningspy recently posted a blog called Is there a right way to teach? in which I totally agree with his sentiments. Direct Instruction has been found to be extremely effective in terms of student achievement (Hattie – 0.59 effect size). Just reflecting back to my lesson observation, did I exercise Direct Instruction? Most definitely because it was easy for me to create a success criteria through the use of SOLO levels, the students knew what had to be achieved and as the teacher I set clear learning intentions (cheers WALT) AND from time to time I was checking progress. This does not mean I used didactic teaching methods which is sometimes confused with the term Direct Instruction. No way. In fact did I mention that cooperative learning was used, the great Think-Pair-Share strategy pops up again (reciprocal teaching).

William Glasser

There were times that as a teacher, I felt that my expertise needed to interject some of the conversation. As much as I felt it would be right to allow them to explore various avenues and allow them to make the mistakes in order to learn, there are some restrictions which prevent me from allowing this to happen. Mainly TIME. We have an even shorter academic year due to the cultural environment this school is located in and time is tight to finish off the syllabus. Fortunately, formative questioning steered them back on course and the students themselves questioned me and others for their own understanding (these were duly congratulated).

Hattie’s Visible Learning is not predictive, it is evidence based on many millions of students and a synthesis on over 800 meta analyses and if you want to know what impacts on student’s learning this should be a good starting point.

The lesson showed visible learning. Students achieved set learning intentions. They demonstrated the use of various skills, interdependence, accountability, formulated questions to consolidate understanding, and made mistakes which they learned from. They received feedback in order to feedforward. They gave me feedback in order for me to gain an understanding of their actual learning.

The use of teaching strategies are an important contributing factor (0.6 effect size). One thing Ive learned is that with my expert personal learning network via Twitter and the professionally written blogs being shared, diversifying the strategies has been made easier to use and explore. The Blended Learning (BL) approach is an interesting one in that it combines face to face interaction (teacher) and online learning (screencast).

The use of the SOLO stations fitted in well with the BL model Station Rotation with a few variances to make the lesson work. I would certainly use this model again as it allows more effective use of the teacher within the classroom in other words, there is more student-teacher time making effective use of feedback. Part of the reason why I used SOLO stations was that as a whole school, we are having a drive on differentiation. Students can start at any stage and their decision can be guided by the hinge question. Students then progress forwards or backwards (consolidate) at their own pace. During the flipped approach students could watch the screencast as many times as they wish (self paced). As highlighted, the BL model allows for differentiation.

Call it what you want but this lesson was filled with a variety of different tasks and activities pinned against learning criteria. The fact that I used a potential BL model is irrelevant. Diverse, specific and engaging teaching and learning tasks for me is a successful recipe in the classroom. I will however pay a little more attention on Blended Learning to see exactly what it can offer.


QFT makes it’s debut

Ever since I read @taitcoles’ blog post on the Question Formulation Technique here, I have been intrigued as to the power of students generating their own questions through this method. More information and resources on the use of QFT can be found at rightquestion.org

So here is my attempt, thoughts and findings.

STEP 1. Create a question focus.

My learning objective was to “devise questions to learn the effects of CO2 on the respiration system SO THAT you know how the body controls breathing rate”

The prompt which I used was a simple statement:

The brain uses CO2 to control breathing rate

STEP 2. Produce your own questions.

The students had to write down as many questions as they could and write them down as it was said. Any statements were changed to questions.

After a quick example, the students produced their questions. Once they got to a point where progress on the questions slowed, we related back to the idea of SOLO Taxonomy and the use of the multistructural building blocks to build up knowledge and understanding. This short discussion gave a few more ideas.

STEP 3. Improve your questions

The students then categorised each question either open or closed and then discussed as a group the advantages and disadvantages of each type of question. What was realised was that the majority of the starting verbs of the questions began with What making it a bit too vague. This gave me the cue to relate to Blooms Taxonomy and the associated verbs for questioning. They began to scribble out the what and write explain, describe, recall etc. It was evident that this helped with catergorising the questions and they were then asked to change the open questions to closed and visa versa.

STEP 4. Prioritise your questions

The 3 most important questions had to be chosen and again discuss why the questions were chosen. Responses here centered the use of carbon dioxide, the use of the brain and the mechanics of breathing.

STEP 5. Next Steps

How are you going to use the questions? How will it make you learn more? How will it make you learn better? I must admit at this stage, I felt a little apprehensive about this method. Yes the students were generating some great questions but it almost felt like they were walking into a room, pitch black with no lights on. I allowed the students to use a text book to extract the answers needed for their questions. One response was, “Sir, is this right?” When I looked at the work, was it right? Indeed, absolutely bang on! All the key terms were used, and it was very concise and accurate. When I looked at another students work, again, very good but through discussion with him, he was still unsure.

I had an activity ready and waiting which was to rearrange some cards in a sequential order to test if learning had occurred. This formative assessment was useful because those that succeeded could move onto an exam question and those that were still unsure, I very briefly went through a flow chart of the control of breathing. If anything, this was to confirm to those students that what they had questioned themselves and written was actually correct. You could see the relief on their face. Now it was my turn to pounce on the students with questions. I suppose I wanted to make sure no stone was left unturned. I was not disappointed. Independent learning had definitely occurred.

STEP 6. Reflect

There was mixed feelings to start with. A bit slow? Maybe because it was the first attempt at using QFT. Was the question focus too vague? Could I have made it easier by providing some other resource to supplement the statement? Could it be that the students were highly stretched and used unknown thinking skills? Have they ever had to use so much thinking power? After all we do know that spoonfeeding does occur to try and get the best results. Spoonfeeding, I would like to add is not in my vocab!

Questioning is certainly powerful and the QFT provides a helpful structure. This lesson provided a huge amount of independent learning and masses amount of thinking power. There was visible learning, group processing and higher order thinking skills.

Next time :

1) Be more creative of how students will use their questions (make more use of the group processing factor)

2) Consider the use of a more informative question focus to help lead the students into questioning. (A very basic screencast maybe?, an article?)

As a teaching tool goes, this one is powerful if used correctly. I can see how this is used for enquiries and PBL but with a bit of tweaking and reflective feedback from the students this teaching method is one to keep.

I would be more than happy to hear of other examples of QFT in learning new information and any suggestions to progress my use of QFT.



I recently read an article written by @bennettscience on the concept of Flipped Classroom and he described it as, “a hybrid of direct instruction and constructivism”.

Now being quite a keen golfer, the term hybrid refers to a club with a combination of an iron and wood characteristics. (These are type of clubs for the non-golfer). But all week the term hybrid has just stuck in my head travelling to and from work and then I started to make analogies of golf clubs and teaching and learning strategies. Don’t know why – Just did.

The Driver – Questioning: The BIG POWER hitter. When used correctly can give you big advantages. When used incorrectly (hook/slice) can slow down progress.  

The Golf Pro – Marginal Gains: An instructor who can make minor changes to improve performance. May use technology, practical drills, and video analysis. Anything to improve performance. Will make minor changes for BIG gains.

The Club House – The Ipad: The club house is a place where you can organise yourself, make bookings, and arrange instruction even order food.

The Score Card – The Exam paper: Summative assessment at the end of the round. Often used to reflect on performance, where improvements can be made.

The Caddie – Cooperative Learning: The caddie (not that I ever will need one with my skills) is used to HELP make decisions, group process and contribute to overall performance. 

The Putter – Feedback: The saying in the golfing world is “drive for show – putt for dough”. Good putting can be the difference of winning and losing. Putting is essential for golfing as feedback is for effective teaching and Learning.

The Golf Bag – Twitter: The golf bag gives you all the tools you need. You can use any club (@follower) you wish depending on the shot you want to hit.

The Golf Course – Project Based Learning: Golf course come in all forms of difficulties, features, environments. To get around the course requires careful shot selection, engages the player, requires problem solving, critical thinking, failure and success.

The Flag/Hole – Learning Objectives: The flag/hole is the target. To get there in the first place requires some criteria. Do you have to avoid bunkers, hit over water, and keep out of the woods.

The Driving Range – Critiquing: Used for practice. Once you receive feedback in the sense of intrinsic, extrinsic, augmented, knowledge of performance or knowledge of results. Allows you to re-draft and shot and tweak.

Feel free to add any more crazy golf analogies.

That’s it, that’s what whizzes around in my head after I go through my daily duties that need to be fulfilled. Just going through this list it occurs to me that teaching and Learning has taken big strides forward. I really enjoy the flexibility of teaching and learning within a student centred environment where they themselves are guided to be creative, inquisitive, reflective and responsible. Now that I have got this off my chest and written, perhaps I can move on to think of something more purposeful. Who knows?