Posts Tagged SOLO

First steps in SOLO Taxonomy

The SOLO Taxonomy’s power is in its simplicity.  After 6months of implementing it into what we do in Quest (Year 8 integrated Science and Geography) I had a conversation with two year 12 Biology students about how they could improve their written response to HSC questions and released that I was seamlessly describing how they had connected ideas, but they had not extended as the question had ask.  I was explaining this with the simple hand gestures that describe SOLO and realised I had assimilated SOLO into the way I was thinking to the point it was flowing naturally out of me, and what surprised me most was the students grasped what I was saying instantly.

When I first started exploring SOLO Taxonomy I was confused by the terminology and I came to it with the mindset of the complexity of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  I have been a Bloom’s devotee, I believe much of what we have had students doing for so long was low level and not challenging.  Blooms gave some structure to help improve the depth of tasks but I have found Blooms relies on a deep understanding of the verbs used and that often leeds to confusion.  Blooms lacks an underlying framework of what happens when we think and learn.  SOLO on the other hand in its very nature of looking for observably thinking provides the framework that the learning verbs attach to.

Yr_8_Quest__How_has_penicillin_changed_the_world__A_Case_Study_My first steps in introducing SOLO into the lesson preparation for Quest was to describe the SOLO Taxonomy to the team of teachers I work with and create a template using the SOLO symbols that we expected all tasks to aline to (see the image for an example of how it was implemented). We started by only using the last three levels of SOLO (Multistructural, Connected and Extended abstract) in our scaffold and allowed teachers the flexibility of not including all levels if they felt the task could not be pushed into the higher thinking levels. We made extensive use of Pam Hook’s HookED site and the useful tools she makes available. It was stressed that we really wanted the extended tasks to push the students thinking and that they could be seen as ‘extension’ tasks for the brighter students.  In practice I have found that treating these tasks as optional for students or telling capable students to start with the extended tasks has been a helpful differentiation tool for a mix ability class.

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What should learning look like?

I currently have responsibility for a team of teachers implementing an integrated (science & geography) year 8 course.  A large part of the learning that occurs in this course occurs in an open learning space with up to five classes being present at any one time. Our school has a bring your own device policy (BYOD) and all of the learning tasks are available via the online learning portal.

Two question that I have been contemplating as we reprogram this year are what is “the role of the teacher?” and “what should learning tasks look like?” These two questions are interrelated, both effect the other. Neither can be properly answered without a clear idea about what learning should look like.

The role of the teacher in one sense has never changed, that is the teacher is the guide for the learner. Expert teachers have always been a guide, but many have also acted as the font of knowledge that was poured into empty minds.  But students don’t come with empty minds and they lose attention after 7 to 10 minutes of teacher talk. Having all our learning online allowed some teachers to go too far in another direction, allowing students to just get on with it and stepping so far back that they became absent in the minds of some students. This is not new either, it’s just the teacher who set work in a text and left the room.

Good teachers are active in the learning of their students. To be active they need to know ‘the what next’ for each learner. To know the what next, teachers need to have obtained feedback from the learner about what they already know, what is their current understanding or misunderstanding and how big a next step the learner is capable of taking. Teachers need to be good at building relationships with students to build the trust that allows for the honest feedback from student to teacher to occur.

How then do you build tasks that help facilitate teachers to be active participants learning?

One answer that I have found useful is one in which a common language of learning is developed around obtaining a deep understanding of a concept.

SOLO Taxonomy is a common language for learning.

SOLO Taxonomy helps both students and teachers identify ‘the what next.‘ It is based on the science of how we actually learn and is simple enough that it does not get in the way of learning. SOLO is about understanding, connecting and then extending ideas.  It  allows both teacher and student to quickly assess what stage they are at and identify what the next step is.

SOLO Taxonomy

SOLO Taxonomy via

Not heard of SOLO?

SOLO stands for Structured of Observed Learning Outcomes and was proposed by Australians Biggs and Collis (1982).  I will not go over what it is here but will direct you elsewhere. The best source of information on SOLO and its implementation is Pam Hook @arti_choke  via her books and website HookED. I have also benefited from reading about the experiences of others including Chris Keipert @keipertc and his blog Chemisty Chris.  Finally checkout GlobalSOLO @globalsolo for some great ideas about how SOLO is being implemented.

Biggs, J.B., and Collis, K.F. (1982) Evaluating the Quality of  Learning-the SOLO Taxonomy (1st ed) New York: Academic Press.

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