Monday 16 July 2012

iTeachFreely - SOLO Taxonomy 2: usage examples

Despite setting myself the target of writing one post per week, due to a hectic month I have fallen behind. Time to get back on track! This is a very wordy blog post but I hope you find it useful.

Recently, I delivered a small section of an INSET day at our school. The INSET was planned and led by the school's 'Pedagogy Leaders', a team of teachers whose task it is to share good practice and promote great pedagogy across the school. I've been very keen to work with the group to improve my own practice and share my ideas.

The day was laid out around the school's newly proposed Accelerated Learning Cycle. My section was contained within the 'Consolidation' phase and was specifically about the use of SOLO taxonomy. To make the taxonomy (which could fit within any section of the ACL) relevant to the consolidation phase, I had a slight focus on peer and self-evaluation.

I felt the day was a great success, with lots of positive feedback received from our colleagues. The two most common questions I have been presented with since the INSET have been how could we use SOLO in our assessments, and what sorts of classroom activities can you do with SOLO. The latter is going to be dealt with in this post.

I think it's important to point out that SOLO can be used in plenty of activities that you may already be doing. SOLO should be supplementary to what the pupils are doing and not the focus of it. I want my pupils to be able to engage with interesting activities, and through their familiarity with SOLO be able to comment on their progression, as well as see what they could do to improve. For me, SOLO is there to inform the teacher that learning and progression is taking place, and to inform the pupil of how deep their level of thinking is, and where it needs to head.

To help "SOLO virgins" get started, I'm going to write about a few ways in which I have used SOLO in the classroom. Some of these methods may already be documented about in my earlier posts, but the format here will be more of a scaffold than a reflection on what I've done.

SOLO Stations

in a nutshell - SOLO Stations is a fantastic way of incorporating SOLO into the existing Carousel technique we use all the time! Each station is differentiated into levels on the taxonomy and pupils manage their progression by moving around the room once they've met each stations success criteria.

how to set up the lesson - You will need 5 stations, one for Prestructural, Unistructural, Multistructural, Relational and Extended Abstract. When I move labs next year I intend to have these hanging from the ceiling, providing the students continuity and routine. At each station you should have a task which reflects its level on the taxonomy. Prestructural should usually provide reference material for students to use when they are unsure of something (part of 3B4Me). I like to position the prestructural station in the middle of the room and allow students to access it at any time, outside of the linear progression of the other stations. Each station should have a clear set of success criteria so the pupils know when they have completed the task and can move on.

how the lesson runs - Students are instantly engaged on entering with the presentation of a question related to the LOs. The question should be difficult enough for them to realise they do not have a grasp of the topic. Some pupils may be able to handle the question better than others, and this is what facilitates the spreading of students around the stations. Once pupils have thought about the question, they should express where on the taxonomy they believe their understanding is. This then needs to be justified in order to stop little friendship groups from forming and pupils starting above their station. The two methods I have used for justification so far have been either "turn to your neighbour and tell them which station you are starting at and why" or "write you starting position and why on a mini whiteboard and hold it up". Both work but the second one incorporates a bit of AFL. Once you have ascertained the pupil's starting stations, they begin their tasks. Instruct the pupils to move on once they have met the success criteria. If a pupil is struggling to meet the criteria, they should be advised to move down a station and come back to it later. If they have already completed the prior station they should look to the Prestructural Station. I like to tailor my tasks so that the lower level stations build up to the higher level stations. This means pupils transfer skills between stations to help them progress. The movement of students around the room shows their progression but I like to signpost the progression by chosing a child to explain what they have done at a station, why they are moving on and to where they are moving to the whole class. At the end of the session I start a discussion with the class about what they've learnt, let them demonstrate something and then consolidate.

pros - Clear progression is made as pupils move around the class. Pupils can talk about their learning at each station and where their learning is going to go next. Differentiation is achieved and all students can be stretched easily by moving on from the levels they're comfortable at.

cons - Requires a room that can easily be moved around. Behaviour for learning is key to keep students on task. You need to be more safety conscious whilst students are moving about the room (practical/equipment).

HOT maps

in a nutshell - HOT SOLO maps are basically mind maps that guide students through different parts of the taxonomy. There are different maps for the different verbs associated with each level of the taxonomy. The HOT maps are extensively described in SOLO Taxonomy: A Guide for Schools Book 1. I may in the future write a more at length guide on each of the HOT maps along with advice on how the pupils could assess themselves.

how to set up the lesson - Depending on the task set, you should choose the HOT map aligned to the most relevant verb. For example in science, if I wanted my pupils to hypothesise what was going to happen if we changed a variable in an experiment, I'd want them to use the "predict" map. Here is an overview of the HOT SOLO maps paired with their learning verbs.

how the lesson runs - the maps could be used on their own, or as part of a larger project in order to clarify the nature of the learning task.

pros - An advantage of using SOLO in this context is that the task and success criteria can be at different levels. The learning objective could be at a relational level, but using the maps the outcome could be at a unistructural, multistructural, relational or extended abstract level. An example by Hook and Mills (2011) goes as follows:

  • A task set to Compare and Contrast is at a relational level, but students comparison statements in the map could be coded against SOLO - the task could involve the student:

      • listing similarities and differences (multistructural)
      • listing and explaining (relational)
      • listing, explaining and generalising or evaluating the extent of the similarity or differences
cons - There are a large number of maps that can seem overwhelming at first, introducing them slowly is recommended. I would suggest being comfortable with the way they work before setting them for your students.

Interacting with GCSE markschemes

in a nutshell- I recently visited the classroom of @7tbj to see how he was using SOLO taxonomy to help his pupils get better acquainted with the new style AQA science ISA. The difference in this new style of ISA to the old is the length of answers the pupils are expected to write. By using SOLO taxonomy whilst writing their answers, pupils could structure and connect their ideas better and we found it drew more information out of them.

how to set up the lesson- @7tbj had prepared a mock ISA, a mark scheme and a SOLO prompt sheet. He had arranged his classroom into groups and had a stash of numbered bits of paper for grouping. He also had post it notes to use as exit passes.

how the lesson runs- when I joined the lesson, pupils were grouped and were working on answering a different question depending on what table they were sat on. They first created their own answer before conferring with the group. Once they had all voiced their answer they were then given time to create a model answer and given the SOLO prompt sheet to help them.

pros - pupils made clear progress in the lesson and the length of their answers increased once given the SOLO scaffold. The new, slightly ambiguous mark schemes fit in nicely with the SOLO progression to reach higher marks.cons - only tested on Science ISAs.

Success criteria

in a nutshell - success criteria can be set by the pupils using SOLO taxonomy as the framework. Allowing pupils to set their own success criteria gives them ownership and gives you insight.

how to set up the lesson - when I have run this lesson, I have created an exemplar piece of work and opened it up to critique by the pupils. Instead of an example, you could just have clear learning objectives and ask the pupils how they can show they have met them. When I run this activity I like to have a SOLO display (more on this later) and laminated success criteria rubrics:

how the lesson runs - once pupils have evaluated the exemplar piece of work, I get them to write down success criteria they think is appropriate if they were to create something similar. Once the time is up, The pupils post it note these onto our SOLO display. From there, the class pick the "best" ones and we put them up on the whiteboard. We then have differentiated success criteria that the pupils have set and agreed on themselves.

pros - pupils take ownership of their learning and set their own, differentiated success criteria. All pupils should be able to meet at least some of the differentiated criteria.

cons - can be time-consuming if struggling to get through course content.

Peer and self-evaluation

in a nutshell - pupils are able to give useful feedback to each other using the taxonomy. They are able to identify clearly what they need to do to improve their work and/or level of thinking. I have grouped peer and self-evaluation together for the sake of this blogpost because I feel the methods in which it is executed do not vary much. The main difference is that a pupil will be saying I need to do this next in order to progress rather than pupil x needs to do this etc. Peer evaluation has been highlighted as a very effective tool in assessment for learning.

how to set up the lesson - in order to peer or self evaluate, pupils need to have done some work! I'll let your minds run mad with the possibilities here. As stressed by @CanonsScienceT at our recent INSET, it is important that pupils are given some form of training in order to peer evaluate. @totallywired77 recently blogged about Public Critique, definitely worth a read here.

how the lesson runs - once at an appropriate time in the task/lesson, an effort should be made to create space for some evaluation. Pupils can either look at their own work or feedback on another's. This could either be done by swapping books, or putting one pupils work up for everyone's to look at. I think it is very important that evaluation sessions should end with the critique of one piece of work by the whole class. It is important that pupils are trained to critique properly, and give feedback based on how to improve, rather than just commenting on how great or terrible it is. You could go down the route of two stars and a wish. The important thing to implement is the taxonomy. Pupils can use the taxonomy to clearly highlight levels of thinking in the work. For example:

  • in a presentation, Pupil X is describing the different ways you can hit a ball in tennis. She describes how to play both topspin and backspin. She then describes why you would want to use both types of shot. All of her explanations have been described using the forehand.

  • Class Y are "in-depth" evaluating Pupil X. One member of the class says that pupil X has shown a multistructural level of thinking as she has described 2 different types of shot. Another says pupil X has shown relational levels of thinking by relating them to the bigger picture, why would you use either shot? A third member then feedsforward, suggesting that in order to improve and reach an extended abstract level, pupil X should look at the shots in a new way, perhaps hypothesising how you would play these shots on the backhand. The class is able to contribute as a whole and the teacher can model good feedback along the way.

I often use peer and self-evaluation on the fly in alignment with my questioning to get more out of pupils verbally. I often will receive an answer from one student, and another student to mark where on the taxonomy the answer lies, then get that same student to add to the answer to move it up a level.Focusing on the self aspect, I find this extremely useful for approaching a child, asking them what level they are working at and what they need to do to reach the next level. They can tell me clearly and effectively what they plan to do to next, using the taxonomy. Since introducing this to my classes, I have noticed a marked decrease in the number of pupils with hands up asking "what do I do next sir?".

pros - differentiated feedback supplied by the pupils. Pupils are able to independently recognise what they need to do to improve. Cuts down on marking. Supplies an effective scaffold for feeding back and forward.

cons - pupils need to be trained in order to supply feedback, SOLO does make this much more straightforward though.


in a nutshell - I first saw this done by @tommegit in a first attempt at using solo. I hadn't thought of structuring lessons around the taxonomy in such an explicit way but I really like the way the lesson flows. The lesson takes the form of the taxonomy, beginning with a presumption of prestructural understanding and ending at an extended abstract level. I highly recommend this to practitioners just getting started in order to better acquaint themselves with the stages.

how to set up the lesson - take the progression of SOLO and plan an activity for each level. The class moves as a whole through the activities, building on prior knowledge and reaching an extended abstract level.

how the lesson runs - original lesson plan taken from @tommegit:


Prestructural: The verb "COMPRAR" (to buy) is written on the board when students enter the classroom. Students may wonder why? What is that word? Why is it on its own? Do I even know or remember what that word means?

Unistructural: Starter - In pairs, come up with at least one thing that you can tell me about this word.

Multistructural: Feedback by students from the starter activity. Feedback is written up on the board around the word "COMPRAR" to form a sort of mind-map. How do these ideas/observations/concepts link up with one another?

Relational: 3 sentences in Spanish written up on the board and on worksheet (students are already familiar with most of this vocabulary) -

  • Normalmente, compro pan en una panadería (Normally, I buy bread at a baker's)

  • Ayer, compré un CD de Michael Jackson (Yesterday, I bought a Michael Jackson CD)

  • Mañana, voy a comprar un nuevo móvil (Tomorrow, I'm going to buy a new mobile)

Questions for discussion - What has happened to the word "COMPRAR" in these 3 sentences? Why has this happened? (Also remind students in this discussion that using 3 time frames in their written and spoken Spanish demonstrates understanding at an NC Level 6)

Extended abstract: What if I wasn't doing the buying? What if my sister was doing the buying instead? How would the verb change in each of the 3 sentences? What resources and support materials could you use to help you make the appropriate changes to the verbs? Try changing them now.

Extension activity - Try writing 3 of your own sentences in Spanish using a DIFFERENT VERB from "COMPRAR". Each sentence should be in a different time frame (present, past & future). Can you write sentences which are NOT in the 1st person?

Discussion and plenary.

pros - a great way for you as the teacher to become acquainted with the levels of the taxonomy. Lesson has flow and shows progression of pupils.cons - whilst great in a lesson/subject where a prestructual knowledge can be guaranteed, in a lesson where some prior knowledge could be entering the room, you could be left with a few activities that are completed very quickly.

Written feedback

in a nutshell - oh marking, time-consuming, but so effective. Feedback has time and time again been show to be one of the most effective methods in teaching, and whilst it doesn't always have to be written, it certainly is an effective method of delivery.

As a PGCE student, effective marking was drilled into me from the get go. "Very neat", "use a ruler", "underline" are all comments I'm sure we have used. It's easy enough to say these comments are worthless, but what can you write that does have worth? I used to struggle to come up with good feedback but now that I am armed with SOLO and my pupils understand it, it is easy to write feedback and targets using the SOLO language. Just as our pupils can peer assess using it, you can mark work with it.

  • Well done, this piece of work shows you have a secure multistructural knowledge of the techniques you can employ as a SOLO teacher. I particularly liked the part where you talked about tennis. In order to progress, think about how these techniques could link together and how you could apply them to SEN students.

So that's it for now, when I try anything new I'll be sure to include it in a future update. Hope you found this useful.Joe



  1. Simply fabulous. Amazing work Joe. You are a superstar and a real guru for the whole school.

  2. A wonderful unpacking of different approaches to using SOLO as a model of learning in the classroom - it has the makings of a great SOLO practitioners hand book.

    I especially like how you have moved beyond description and explanation - and provide a critique of each (pros cons) -

    Means your post has an extended abstract structure with content at a similar level.

  3. Just discovered this after a Google search looking for ideas for SOLO activities for our school's Mocksted next week. Brilliant clear explanation of the SOLO stations, I'm thinking of giving it a go. Has to be better than the usual card sort and levelled writing activity!