Sunday, 5 October 2014

Going SOLO: My first year using the taxonomy

This is an overview of what I've done with SOLO taxonomy over the last year.  If you'd like a beginner's guide to using SOLO, I'd recommend one of the following sites:
Pam Hooke:
Andy Day's blogs on SOLO: 

"Unless you’re willing to have a go, fail miserably, and have another go, success won’t happen." Phillip Adams

SOLO-ing it out
I first came across SOLO taxonomy during my PGCE at the University of York: one of our sessions was led by a teacher at Fulford School (Jill Lavender, @JillLavs). Jill spent a morning going through the basics of SOLO taxonomy and we started to apply some of the ideas to lessons in our subject area. However, I was still a bit sceptical about how much difference it would actually make.  This, coupled with the myriad of pressures during PGCE year, led to SOLO being shelved at the back of my mind.

That being said, something about the idea stuck.  At the end of my PGCE, I was lucky enough to go and observe SOLO in action at Fulford.  This gave a little more clarity as to how it helped students to reflect on their own progress and, independently, identify the steps needed for progression.  Though this is not what drew me to SOLO.  Instead, it was the lack of levels and numbers; students did not feel limited by their NC targets and I though this was vital, especially as my NQT year would involve me teaching mixed ability classes across KS3 and KS4.

Failing Miserably
Early on in my NQT year, I decided to try using SOLO with my year 10 class.  It did not go well.

Students seemed confused by the objectives that I had attached to each SOLO level and most of the class did not understand how this was an improvement on the usual criteria they were given as learning outcomes (these were linked to the differences between GCSE bands).  I made the decision, after one lesson, to abandon SOLO for the time being.

Another Go
A few months later, I returned to the idea: this time to use with a year 8 class across a unit of work.  This time my motivation was slightly different; rather than using SOLO to get students to set their own objectives, I wanted them to use it as a method of recording progress (both across a lesson and across a unit of work).

Embedding this from the start of a unit of work was crucial.  I started by briefly explaining SOLO to the class, saying that it was a way of them recording their understanding of a topic and drawing attention to the fact that it didn't link to NC levels: I was keen to stress that a low NC target should not affect a student's ability to reach the 'extended abstract' stage.

Following this, I went back to SOLO in each lesson. We'd start by looking at the key question and students would assess which SOLO level they were at, drawing the symbol in their margin and writing a sentence to explain/prove their level of understanding.

This was especially useful in highlighting progress that they had made through flipped home-works, as students would use their knowledge from this to verify that they had already reached the multistructural or unistructural stages.

We would then refer back to the criteria throughout the lesson, and students would update the SOLO symbol in their margin (to demonstrate exactly where in the lesson they had progressed to the next level).

Having students reflect on their progress also made it easy to differentiate for the levels of understanding when doing independent tasks, as they could use their level as a basis for which activity they would choose.

The next step was to use SOLO across several lessons. In order to do this, I divided up a larger subject (writing to entertain) into separate skills.  Students then used the grid to chart their understanding of the different topics across the unit, along with the help of some bookmarks that defined each SOLO stage.

Success: Hexagons and Beyond
Now that I had worked with SOLO to assess student progress, I wanted to focus on making links through the use of hexagons.  Again, with the same class, I used the hexagons template on Pam Hooke's website ( to get them to link ideas about characters, themes and language analysis whilst studying a novel. Another fantastic success was had: students were making links that they had struggled with before and using the SOLO terminology to confidently explain their progress to myself and to observers who has popped in to see what I'd been doing.

My Progress
Now, in my second year of teaching, I've trained the rest of my department in how to use SOLO and I'm using it myself in lessons across KS3 and KS4.  My colleagues who have been working with it since September are happy with the outcomes of using it and have been able to share their own uses for SOLO-based activities, such as ACCooke5 's use of hexagons (below).

I've concluded that for that crucial success, it needs to be embedded into a series of lessons; an isolated 'go' just won't deliver the results that SOLO is so popular for.

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