A new year often signals resolution time, both personally and professionally, which (depending on your commitment to the cause) end up 1) Followed to the letter or 2) Broken within days. Over Christmas, I had the chance to reflect on 2012 and it was a year of extreme highs and lows for me. As well as finally putting faces to Twitter ‘handles’ at a range of events, being able to share my own practice and learn a great deal from others; it has been a year of huge educational change and specifically the implementation of new OFSTED criteria. It is no longer possible to be judged as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ simply because you teach well; you must be able to demonstrate ‘rapid and sustained progress’ both during the course of your lesson and over time. It is simply not enough to have good results at the end of the year or course; it is necessary to demonstrate the progress involved in the process and make it explicit!
Enter resolution number 1 – work smarter to show regular progress within lessons.
I have been a fan of SOLO taxonomy for some time now since @DKMead introduced me to it last year and his blog, in addition to those of Pam Hook @arti_choke @lisajaneashes Tait Coles @Totallywired77 and David Didau @LearningSpy have all continued to offer excellent examples and review of SOLO in practice. I have used the system with some of my classes (see previous blog Collaboration in the Classroom) with success, finding that it allows pupils to identify their current level of knowledge and feed-forward, planning the next steps required to move themselves on, using it as a feedback tool to plot the level of learning within the lesson.
The hook with SOLO for me, is that it is so straightforward which means that it can be used with a range of ability levels and it is excellent for showing progress at any point within the lesson, the ‘grail’ of current observation requirements. Often as classroom teachers, we spend a good deal of time preparing engaging and worthwhile tasks which ensure the learning objectives are met; they are fun and meaningful but in spite of this, it is not always possible, in a 25 minute snapshot, to show the full range of the ‘Learning Arc’ (a very interesting blog on this is available from Tom Sherrington @headguruteacher The Learning Arc: It takes the time it takes), which is where SOLO comes in to clearly define the level of thinking and how it has developed over the course of the lesson.
This week i introduced SOLO to my year 10’s using a powerpoint that I had personalised from an excellent example used at Lincoln High School in New Zealand and developed in line with Pam Hook & the Hooked on Thinking methodology. It uses a simple analogy of a game of tennis to demonstrate the levels of thinking ranging from Prestructural, the ‘I know nothing’ stage, to Extended Abstract in which the requirement was to link a number of examples of factual knowledge and hypothesise about the outcome of a game (of tennis).
It was really important to ensure that pupils understood each level of thinking and having explained the initial structure of SOLO; I asked pupils to answer a basic question about An Inspector Calls, our new literature topic, What can you tell me about the play? At this point we had done little more than explored the cover and talked about the idea of the individual, community, society and responsibility. As you can imagine, there were one or two who considered themselves to be working at a Prestructural level, ‘I know nothing, we haven’t done anything about the play!’ although the vast majority of the class were happy to classify themselves as working at a Multistructural level, knowing basic information about the main character, The Inspector, the key themes and the structure, it being a play.
It was refreshing to see pupils grasp the basic concept of SOLO so quickly and one of the key outcomes was that pupils were immediately using the language to feedback to each other, without prompt:
‘Well, I think my answer is Unistructural because I have only
one idea about the play but yours is Multistructural because
you have three separate ideas. What can we do to move to
The purpose of implementing SOLO with the group is to clearly show progress within each stage of each lesson and I hope to develop this further by linking the SOLO stages with the GCSE banding criteria as we progress with our coverage of the play. I already use the SOLO symbols to plot the level of thinking in the learning objectives for lessons, a simple but very useful method as demonstrated within SOLO Taxonomy: A guide for Schools by Pam Hook & Julie Mills and find this useful for differentiation.
During the introductory lessons, pupils are finding it to be valuable as a measure of their developing knowledge; we can stop at any point and identify the level of thinking that pupils are currently demonstrating but more importantly, pupils are able to set their own targets to move their thinking on, and are able to logically explain the process of their learning using a common learning vocabulary. They can build up each paragraph they write, using the SOLO stages to improve the quality of their work. We are able to plot the progression in their learning at different points in the lesson, which is one of the key elements that OFSTED are looking for but more importantly, it is a method by which pupils can clearly improve the quality of their own contribution.