Monday, 12 May 2014

First Lesson with SOLO Taxonomy

Wow. It worked.

SOLO actually works. They knew what level they were learning at and what they needed to do next.

So I did that beginning of the PBL project lesson from the last post where I talked about V for Vendetta themes with my Year 11s.

I messed up the beginning because I was having a mind freeze with how I had planned it on my blog. In the end I had the students brainstorm a theme from the four they wrote definitions and got real-world examples for last week. I'm not even worried that they may not have done their homework on the examples for homework because of the amazing work that was done just now.

That didn't work because I didn't scaffold it from the beginning. So I did my usual class go first and asked students for their examples of the theme of Accepting Diversity. One student was visually happy that we were starting off the class with this theme - because he had done it - and also because it is a theme most relative to him individually. We discussed as a class the different examples and got specific examples from the film as well.

I then realised that this would be the perfect time to bring in SOLO at the same time.

I had the students copy down the brainstorm we'd done as a class and then write down SOLO Taxonomy.

I drew the symbols and wrote the levels for each one on the board - just saying them as I drew them - without any explanation. I asked the students after uni-structural what comes next and someone said Multi-Structural. Someone else had taught SOLO at school! We went back through each one and I asked them and I tried to explain the levels using an analogy of a house.


  • Pre-Structural - Got the plans - kind of know what we have to do to build the house
  • Uni-Structural - Have an idea how to create the house - perhaps laid the foundation and have a wall beam up
  • Multi-Structural - Several ideas now on how build it - Have the walls up and the basic skeleton structure of the house built
  • Relational - know that we need to put insulation in to be warm and still need to put a roof up. 
  • Extended Abstract - Know that to be warm in the house we need to have heating and that might cost a bit for electricity if we have a heat pump and a wood fire - so would need to buy wood. A way to combat the cost would be to think about and place a solar panel on the roof and then - and then - and then...


I needed to make sure they got it - so worked with the first group and asked - they saw the differing levels and were having trouble with the phrasing - got them to think of the theme as prestructural - they know what they have to do. Finding out a definition to understand the theme and what it meant could be Uni-structural. Multi-Structural would be finding examples for that theme in the outside world. Relational would be making connections between the examples to gain a stronger understanding of the theme itself. Extended Abstract would be using this deeper understanding of the theme to make connections with V for Vendetta and the examples in the film that directly relate to those found in the outside world and also think about the impact that theme has on them as an individual and also how they now relate with the world around them.

I was stoked. This first group picked up the ideas relatively quickly and focussed on the levels and knew what they needed to do to get to the next level. We worked out each individuals themes and examples and most at that table were thinking multi-structurally straight away. One was stuck on pre-structural until I explained a bit further but then got it and will be working at multi-structural level by now - and hopefully extended by tonight when doing the homework. Another just needed reminding of the next level and was eager to carry on at his own pace.

After this group I went back to the class and explained the expected levels as I'd done clearer with the group before. Then carried on going around each group to check understanding and that they got the levels.

I managed to get around four out of the six groups of students. Two of the ones I didn't get to did overhear what I was explaining to another group and were interacting but I need to catch up with them and the other group first thing tomorrow. All four groups - while some students needed individual help - knew what level they were working at and what they needed to do next. They were using the symbols and phrases easily in their own books to remind them where to go next. One student even set out his page with differing levels so that he knew how much he thought he might need to write to get to the next level.

I was able to reference the levels and remind them - okay you've done this - now what do you have to do. Or You're at this level - what needs to be done before you can move onto the next level. It felt how teaching should be. With the students working and me assisting. Rather than me doing all the work and the students assisting me to help the rest of the class.

At least three students are consistently working at extended abstract level thinking - and one is able to but struggles to get there by completing the written stuff - but can verbalise it perfectly. Perhaps I need to be more lenient with her to allow her to verbalise her thoughts - but I see myself in her and she needs to get her thoughts down on paper before she loses them. Plus she's in my house tutor class so I have higher expectations with her because I know what she's capable of achieving.

A few students were stuck at pre-structural and that's okay - when I'd explained the next step they were still a bit unsure but were able to sort out their thinking enough to be able to complete the task for homework.

Before doing SOLO with my students I was always expecting my students to just BE at the relational level and the extended abstract level. I would get frustrated but of course try to help them get there. Now that I've seen how SOLO actually works I see that by having the different scaffolded levels - extended abstract thinking is actually possible - without too much interference from me.

I'm looking forward to using SOLO in class now that I know it works - and how quickly the students picked up on the various levels - and how they were constructed to form a deeper level thinking.

I just used HOT SOLO questioning with one Year 12 when he noticed that the colour pic at the end of 'The Sapphires' doesn't have them all the same colour as he said. I asked him what he meant and whether he meant that because they weren't all a dark shade of brown - did that make them not aboriginal etc etc etc - trying to put words into his mouth to make him realise he needs to be more clearer with what he says the first time - so that people don't misunderstand what he's trying to say... which was simply that the actual ladies were not as dark as the ladies portrayed in the film. Which is a very interesting observation and one in which we'll be picking up first thing tomorrow.