Friday, 3 August 2012

Sharing SOLO with students

One of the questions that I have been asked a lot lately from either colleagues or Tweachers is 'How do you actually introduce SOLO taxonomy to students?'  Many of the people I chat to obviously have caught the bug and want to take it further in their lessons but had the same cautious questions that I did to begin with.  Once you get your own head around SOLO, the terminology, symbols, resources and activities all make perfect sense.  But it's getting your head around it that's the worry, and even more so for students.  Or so I thought as you will find out!  So I thought I'd share with you how I introduced it to students.  This is just one way, not the way.

As usual, I needed inspiration myself.  I like to get ideas from people but then put my own slight spin on things to suit my own class.  Once again I found my first piece of inspiration from Tait Coles (@totallywired77) and this was the starting point I needed.  In a post (found here), Tait used a well thought out lesson that used the X Factor as a means to introduce the stages and get to grips with terminology.  It also involved analysing exemplar work and placing it on the taxonomy.

My second bit of inspiration came from David Didau (@learningspy) and the way he introduced SOLO taxonomy at Teachmeet Clevedon.  I liked the way he got people up out of their chairs and involved in the process.  This is something I would borrow (really I mean steal).

My third bit of inspiration comes directly from Pam Hook and her amazing website (click here).  Pam is the guru of SOLO and her site has a bundle of amazing material that you can use in lessons.  I like continuity so I aim to use her unique style of logos and resources with my students.

My final piece of inspiration came from the Otonga Road School and the slides that they used to introduce SOLO to younger students.  I really liked the way that they mapped out a stick man conversation using a topic that was obviously relevant at that time to the students.  A link to that site can be found here.

So what did I do?

To put it into context, two lessons prior to this my students undertook their mock unit test.  Last lesson we reviewed their tests and spent the lesson critiquing and redrafting their long answer questions (8 marks each).  This lesson I would get students to critique their latest redraft and then introduce SOLO taxonomy.  This lesson was also being observed by two local college teachers who have since networked with me to implement SOLO into their AS & A level lessons.

To begin with, I carried on from last lesson and got my students to critique the redraft of their long answer questions.  I have removed these slides and picked up where the SOLO stuff began.

I then started the introduction of SOLO taxonomy.  First of all I gave a brief introduction about the new way in which lessons would be structured and we would be learning.  SOLO is very similar, but more structured than the method I was previously using (a mix of Blooms and the Accelerated learning Cycle).  I simply wanted to let students know that things would be slightly different from now on and explain why.

I then got a number of students to get up and be part of the full on introduction.  I began by giving each of these volunteers an A3 sheet.  Each one had a different stage of SOLO on it.  I got them to stand up at the side of the classroom.  One by one I introduced them and using the stick men slides as support, I explained the significance of each stage.

The SOLO stage sheets that the volunteers held.

Whilst this was happening, the other students who were observing, made a note of the different levels using a blank SOLO stage sheet that I had given out.  I really wanted students to be exposed from start to finish and making their own notes on the key points of SOLO really helped.  I made sure I emphasised key words and used the SOLO slides to support their understanding of each level.  One thing that really helped was the use of the example I put on the stick men slides.  We had recently covered the topic of principles of training so it was fresh in their memory.  The increasing challenge and depth of knowledge I put into those levels was clear to see on the SOLO taxonomy ladder.  I really think a relevant topic from your subject to introduce the levels is vitally important and contextualises SOLO so well.
The SOLO notes page I gave to students.  Many
of them independently stuck these in their books
for reference.
After the students had been introduced to SOLO and had made brief notes on each stage, I wanted to see if they could use this acquired knowledge of SOLO to demonstrate they had actually got a grasp on the taxonomy.  I handed out blank SOLO rubrics and a variety of statements from different GCSE PE topics.  The students had to put these five statements in order on the SOLO rubrics with the one they thought was pre-structural at the bottom all of the way up to the one they thought was extended abstract at the top.
They found this quite an easy task and when we reflected, only one pair had put a statement in the wrong order.  When I questioned students, they demonstrated that they had developed a basic grasp of what each stage was.  Now the reason I made different statement banks from different topics is I didn't want students to simply look over other peoples shoulders to guess the answers.  If they were different, people had to work it out and show an understanding.  it took a little extra time to plan but was well worth it.  This also means I have resources for these topics in the future

By this point I was very happy that 99% of my class understood what the various levels were and could see how they clearly increase in depth as you go up.  It was also here that I think students could actually see the relevance of the symbols.  I now wanted to see, based on their SOLO knowledge, if they could identify pieces of work and place them on the taxonomy.  To do this I handed back 5 samples of a homework that this class had previously submitted.  I also handed out a SOLO rubrics for this piece of work. 

An example of a piece of homework and the SOLO rubrics we used to assess it.

What I wanted them to do was analyse these pieces of work, justify which level on the taxonomy they were at and, using 'feedforward', explain what needs to be done to the work to improve it.  This I think is a key point.  It's very easy for students to see where they have come from using feedback, but if they are to improve they need to feedforward and see what they need to add (to their knowledge, work....).  SOLO does this so well.

After they had made their initial judgements on what level these pieces of work were at, they began to properly critique it and used the SOLO rubrics as an aid to this process.  Once the critique was finished, we reviewed these as a class.  There were 5 sample pieces of homework and only one group disagreed on a level one piece was given.  This was excellent to see and created a great discussion as to how deep the level of understanding that piece of work was. 

Finally, I asked students to go to their SOLO notes page from the start of the lesson and quickly explain to a partner what stage they were at the start of the lesson (all were pre-structural because none of them had heard of it) and what level they ended up at.  Many finished the lesson at relational but could clearly see what they had to do to get to extended abstract. 

As I said, this is only one way of introducing SOLO taxonomy to students for the first time.  I feel I pulled the bits from my 4 inspirational sources that worked for my students.  If like always you have any questions, please feel free to tweet me at @davidfawcett27 or post a comment.  These resources are also in my folder in the #SOLODropbox.


  1. Hi David,

    I've been very interested in SOLO the past year or so But never really got around to getting a real understanding until this summer. Really appreciate your work an sharing it as I am also a P.E teacher, but I just have a quick question. Do you ever link the different stages of the taxonomy to exam grades or does that essentially defeat the object?



  2. No I try to keep grades and the stages seperate. Mainly because SOLO is about the level of learning and the depth in which an individual learns a topic. It allows more formative assessment to take place. Once they have got this and acquired the relevant knowledge, I can then focus on GCSE grades seperately and look summatively at their learning.


  3. Our school uses SOLO as a framework for learning and even though I am on leave this year,I get to present to the "SOLO learning team" in a few weeks time. All our staff are required to be part of a learning team and any new staff to school become part of the SOLO learning team. Anyway, thank you for sharing these ideas. I will also use David Didau's kinesthetic SOLO intro.

    Just for my ego's sake, the slides with the stick man metaphor are something I generated a few years ago for our school. I have no idea how they got around the world but glad they did.

    I am new to this digital sharing and twittering (@perrynator18)but keen to get involved.