Wednesday, 30 May 2012

iTeachFreely - SOLO Taxonomy 1: My first few weeks with SOLO

The Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) Taxonomy developed by Biggs and Collis (1982) is a model of learning outcomes that helps schools develop a common understanding and language of learning and in so doing helps teachers and students to understand the learning process and learning outcomes.

- Pam Hook and Julie Mills, 2011

Lesson 1

About 4 weeks ago, SOLO was something I daydreamed about a lot, but done nothing to actually implement. About 2 weeks ago I finally got down to planning a string of SOLO lessons and I quickly came up with the following questions:

  • How am I going to implement the language?

  • What activities can I plan that will make full use of the Taxonomy?

I imagine these will be the first questions on many a classroom teacher's lips when introduced to SOLO. The idea of an 11 year old describing their learning in terms like prestructural or relational, seems fairly farfetched. I was dubious. I had read numerous sources describe how pupils absorb the language and use it with ease, but I felt if a child in my class couldn't remember the word respiration and what it meant, how would they be able to describe to me what extended abstract thinking was? Despite my doubts, I decided to jump in and try anyway, if they couldn't grasp the language, I would improvise and get students to create and agree on alternative names for the stages.

I introduced the pupils to the key words for the lesson (unistructural, multistructural etc.) using a simple word search.

This in part was just a behaviour management tool to have them in the classroom settled and focused from the moment they walk in the door. Next I lead a round of questions, focusing on the literacy aspect of the terminology. I asked questions with SOLO in mind, I can't remember exactly what I asked as i was improvising, but it went something like:

  • What does pre mean? (Unistructural)

  • What does pre/multi/structure mean? (multistructural)

  • Now what structures might you be building in your minds?

  • So what does prestructural mean? Multistructural?

  • What might relational sound like?

And it went on.

Next was to see if they could sort out a selection of phrases into the levels of thinking. I used @totallywired77's brilliant idea of phrases about the X-Factor and Leeds United to convey different levels of thinking to the pupils, and have them identify the stages on the taxonomy. I changed some of the football facts to represent Manchester United and left the X-factor untouched.

The pupils managed this task very well and were finished very swiftly. Having taught this lesson a few times since, I have tried doing this as a class on the IWB, individually and in pairs. I preferred the paired work to the others as the students seemed to enjoy it more.

Next, they assessed an infogram I created about food webs. The infogram showed levels of thinking thought it and it was the pupils task to identify where in the work it showed levels from SOLO.

The pupils annotated the infogram to show where they could see evidence of thinking levels on the taxonomy:

I used an exit pass technique to have pupils explain the taxonomy levels as they left the class and most students could explain what all the levels meant.

This lesson worked well with the two year 7 classes I trialled it with. When I tried to use it with a fairly high ability year 8 class, they met it with resistance. They weren't interested; instead, they adopted a stance of "what's the point, this won't be in the test". I hope as I develop as a teacher, more pupils will enjoy school for the act of learning than passing exams.

Lesson 2

The next lesson continued on. This time, I agreed with my pupils that they would create their own infograms on anything they had studied this past half term. Pupils began by agreeing success criteria onto SOLO rubrics.

Once their success criteria was set, they began creating their posters. One thing I changed from the original lesson I taught, is the groupings. I need to get into the habit of setting groups more often, as the friendship group system that prevails in my class is not conducive to learning.

A lot of this lesson is caught in video clips. Once I have permission/our school has set up an educational video channel, I will embed the videos here for your viewing pleasure. Teachers at Canons High School, you can access these videos on the staff drive, email me for a link.

Lesson 3

The next step I took used the lesson format being exercised by the #SOLOarmy at the moment, SOLO stations.

SOLO stations in a nutshell, involves having ~5 stations with different work at each, with different success criteria. Pupils gauge at the beginning of the lesson which station they should start at by attempting to answer 3 questions. Each station represents a different level on the Taxonomy.

Most pupils placed themselves at either Pre, Uni, or Multistructural.

Here is a rough lesson plan:


  • Pupils assess their prior knowledge of mineral extraction and agree on a starting place in the SOLO stations. They do this by answering the following questions:

  1. In what form are metals usually found in the Earth’s crust?

  2. Why can gold be found in the Earth's crust in its pure state?

  3. Why is copper extracted from copper ore by electrolysis?

Activate/Demonstrate: Solo Stations:


  • Pupils are given multiple resources to read about mineral extraction and establish an understanding.


  • Pupils study a sample of Iron Pyrite, and then answer the question “what would be the difficulties of being in the gold rush looking for gold”. They answer by writing their response on the window in board marker pen.


  • Pupils look at different methods of extraction and answer comprehension questions on it. (I don't know why but pupils seemed to enjoy this one!)


  • Pupils answer the question: Why do we extract so much copper when it is so difficult? They will be prompted to write about the following: • Uses • Properties • Alternatives

Extended Abstract

  • Pupils hypothesize and predict what will happen when a graphite and carbon electrode are put in to a copper sulphate solution and a current is passed through them. Pupils then carry out the experiment. They need to try to explain WHY this happens. They write their explanations on a white board.


  • Pupils write down 2 things they have learnt today, and then pass their books to their neighbour who writes down what they could do to move up a stage in their thinking.

A problem I had was the activity I chose for the Extended Abstract station; it was a practical activity. Pupils were to hypothesize and predict what will happen when a graphite and carbon electrode are put in to a copper sulphate solution and a current is passed through them. Pupils then carry out the experiment then try to explain WHY this happens. They write their explanations on a white board. A number of pupils rushed this with no prior knowledge of electrolysis. I explained to the pupils that if they went to an earlier station first, they would find and learn the method. While most pupils accepted this and trotted off to find the information for themselves, I was left with 3 pupils that incessantly attempted to explain it to me to allow them to work at the station. I couldn't allow these pupils to keep my attention the way they were, and they failed to really focus on anything else all lesson. This is a problem I hope will iron out with time. I also feel the pupils weren't completely aware that they could move on from stations once they met success criteria. I was observed during this lesson for an NQT obs, part of my feedback suggested finding a means to monitor and regulate where pupils are start. The suggestions included using mini whiteboards to display the station they have decided to start at and WHY, or explaining to their neighbour why they have chosen to start where. Both suggestions require the pupils to qualify their starting positions, so they don't just follow their friends.

Other things that came out of the observation for improvement were:

  • Keeping the more unruly pupils on task from earlier (the tasks engagued them but they didnt take to them quickly enough. I hope this one will improve with routine, as students get more used to completing less structured tasks).

  • Making it clearer WHEN pupils can move on from a station.

I really love how SOLO stations provide differentiation by supplying pupils with opportunity to work to their potential and inspire the pupils to stretch themselves.

As with any circus/station type work, Behaviour for Learning should be maintained by engaging activities, pupil routine and good habits. It's important to have these in place before attempting this format of lesson.

I will follow up with a blog post about more classroom uses of SOLO in the future.

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