Monthly Archives: October 2012

Nothing Ventured…

Today was my long awaited SOLO Stations lesson, although, unfortunately, the planned observation had to be cancelled. The group have completed 2 sessions on their controlled assessment; I have not looked at the work. The lesson was designed to encourage the students to reflect on the work completed so far and to know what they could do in the remaining sessions to  amend and redraft. However, in compliance with the controlled assessment guidelines, they were not offered any feedback on their work, or any indications of what needed to be included.

We focused, instead, on the skills needed to achieve the higher grades:

Lesson Objectives

Although there were 9 mini tasks, they did not take long to come up with (especially after looking through some teaching books and blogs for inspiration). I set up the back of the room with a sign for each of the 3 SOLO levels we were working through, and the tasks and resources were pinned underneath.

SOLO Stations Resources

I had a selection of relevant books at the front of the room and 5 laptops at the back of the room.

Starting Point

The starter was to review their checklist, write their name on a pink post-it and stick it to the display. Most of the group placed themselves between Multistructural and Relational, although one or two felt they were closer to Extended Abstract. It was somewhat chaotic due to the position of the board.

Our starting position

I explained the SOLO protocol, the lesson ‘mission’ and briefly went through the  resources.

Chaos

Total chaos ensued for a few minutes as they rushed to get their first activity – I felt a little panicked that this was all going to go horribly wrong.

Calm

As I moved round the class, it was clear that the students had chosen a range of starting points and a variety of tasks. The cynic in me had expected the computer tasks to be the most popular, but in reality only two students chose this option, with 2-3 others moving onto these later in the lesson. Some chose to work in pairs, while others worked independently, but all worked at their own pace and chose when they felt it was appropriate to move on. I could speak to individuals about their work, and provide help as needed, but actually I was barely needed!

The end of the lesson came very quickly, and I suspect that if we had had a two hour lesson they would have continued working like this, as several seemed surprised that the hour had gone.

There was a real buzz in the lesson and the conversations the students were having showed their grasp of SOLO: “It’s all about making links.” I was really surprised at how self motivated and focused the group was, despite the opportunity for wandering around the room.

Progress

The final task was to put their name on the display again, this time on a yellow post-it, and to identify 3 things they could do to improve their assessment. Most of the group felt they had moved closer to the Extended Abstract level.

Class progress

Overall, this was a real eye-opener – multiple tasks, flexible working groups, ICT and differentiation (by task selection, support and time allowed) – and yet the lesson felt calm and purposeful, and I didn’t feel I was juggling chainsaws. This was a risk well worth taking, and I will try it again with our next unit and with a wider range of groups.

Risking SOLO Stations

Taking risks and trying new teaching methods is an integral part of my teaching practice. It isn’t easy, it means that I read lots of books and blog posts and tweak and change what I do each time I teach a unit. It also means that I have to be prepared for things to go spectacularly wrong – and sometimes they do – but, when a risk pays off, there is no feeling like it.

OFSTED

Ofsted’s Michael Wilshaw said “For me a good lesson is about what works … OFSTED will judge the quality of teaching in relation to the quality of learning and whether children and young people across the age and ability range are making the progress they should be from the starting points” (from @oldandrewuk’s What OFSTED Say They Want) . Unfortunately, the impact of OFSTED on schools and teachers often has the opposite effect, the desire to play it safe, to stick to what we know, to hide behind tried and trusted lessons. As the pressure increases, so we become more risk adverse; but that is not what good teaching is about … to teach well we need to be brave, to take risks and to adapt to the many changes that face us each day. And, most importantly, we need to ask ourselves ‘will it help our students make progress?’, ‘will it allow all students to achieve their best?’.

SOLO

For me, the catalyst to experiment, recently at least, has been SOLO taxonomy. (For those of you who are new to SOLO, please see my previous posts on the topic. It is also worth exploring the blogs of the fantastic @learningspy, @dockers_hoops, @Totallywired77 and @lisajaneashes.). SOLO has encouraged me to be more reflective of my teaching and to consider different ways of explaining and developing tasks. In my experiments last year, students made good progress, understood complex concepts and did well in their final exams. Perhaps it is a flavour of the moment, perhaps it is hard to separate the effect of good teaching and good teachers from the specific effect of SOLO, but anything that makes it easier to engage in a learning conversation with a group of students is, surely, worth a try.

Where next?

So far this year, I have been trying to embed the use of SOLO taxonomy in my teaching. I have used hexagons and HOT maps, which I trialled last year,  to good effect. I have also started to tweak my learning objectives using the ‘learning continuum’ idea from @learningspy’s fantastic book ‘The Perfect OFSTED English Lesson’ (a must for all English teachers as it is bursting with good ideas) and @fullonlearning’s ‘So that…’ (blog). These tweaks have made my objective setting more focused. But I feel that the time has come for a bigger challenge.

SOLO Stations

During the course of my reading over the past year, I have investigated lots of aspects of SOLO taxonomy, and teaching in general. I feel that I now have a good understanding of the levels and the types of tasks that can be used to help students move between them. SOLO Stations have been mentioned several times in blog posts, but up to now, I haven’t felt confident enough to give it a go. However, I have an observation coming up for appraisal and I want to showcase what I can do – so (bolstered by @Learningspy‘s success) this seems the perfect opportunity to try it out.

Lesson Design and Structure

Using the SOLO assessment rubric I mentioned in my previous post, I asked the students to carry out a self evaluation of the skills they need to use in their controlled assessment. I then used the feedback from this to identify areas to cover – the three areas the group felt least confident in were PEE paragraphs, comparing poems and exploring language.

As most of the group felt they had reached, at least, the Multistructural level, I have decided to focus only on the top three levels for the lesson. At the start of the lesson I will ask the group to put a post-it onto the SOLO display at the level they feel they are and at the end of the lesson they will be given a second coloured post-it to show how far they feel they have progressed.

The students will be able to choose whether to start at Multistructural, Relational or Extended Abstract. For each level, I have created a variety of tasks which, I hope, will help the students consolidate their understanding and grasp of the skills they need to achieve a solid mark for their first controlled assessment. The tasks will be pinned to the display board, to avoid having to spend part of the lesson rearranging the tables, so students can pick a task and work at their own pace.

I’ll post how the lesson went at the weekend, along with the tasks that worked well (hopefully).

Further Experiments With HOT Maps

This year, I have decided to make it my mission to try to embed SOLO into my day-to-day lessons. I have written several times about using hexagons, and to be honest, they are an easy way into SOLO – if rather a pain to cut out! However, my intention this term is to use a wider range of strategies in a more coherent way.

Wilfred Owen

The unit I have chosen is (OCR A661) Wilfred Owen’s poetry. I have taught the unit twice before, so feel I have a good grip on the requirements of the specification as well as the areas the students tend to struggle with.

Starting point

I started by looking at the skills needed to complete the comparative essay, as well as the top end of the mark scheme (obviously where I would like all my students to be). This resulted in a grid of 6 key elements:

  • Poetry terminology
  • Use of quotation
  • Explaining language
  • Writing PEE paragraphs
  • Comparing poems
  • Planning and writing an essay

which were then mapped against the SOLO levels as a rubric grid.

I planned to focus on these elements, in turn, over the course of several lessons to build up the skill level and confidence of the students – the idea being that each marginal gain would build up to a bigger overall impact. Each pupil had a copy of the grid in their book. As the lessons progressed, we focused on different sections of the grid – and the students marked their progress on a simple chart.

Student Self-assessment

For example, explaining that before they could write an effective PEE paragraph they needed to know some terminology, use quotations and explain the effect of the language.

HOT Maps

I have used two HOT maps as part of the lesson series:

The Compare Contrast HOT Map – I have used this twice, firstly to gather some of the more straightforward links between the poems and then later to pull together the more detailed comparative points in preparation for making their notes.

Compare Contrast HOT Map

I like the fact that using this type of HOT map, rather than a  Venn diagram, encourages the students to think carefully about why things are similar or different, prompted by the ‘Because…’

The Part-Whole Analysis HOT Map – I trialled this one last year and was very impressed with the results, so I thought it would fit in very well here, especially when trying to move student explanation from relational to extended abstract.

As this map can be a little tricky to get to grips with at first, we used Harry Potter as an example:

Whole – Harry Potter is a series of books which focuses on good versus evil and the growth of its main character.

The Parts – Themes, Characters, Key Events, Setting etc. I then focused in on the character of Hermione.

What would be the impact if the part were missing? – This is the bit that the students find tricky at first. I asked the group what the books would be like without Hermione, their answers ranged from not appealing to girls, to not having the ‘brains’ to solve the problems.

Therefore what is the purpose of this element? – By this point, the purpose of the element is generally clear. For our example: to appeal to a wide audience, to provide a range of skills needed within the quest part of each novel, and to provide scope for further character development as the novels progressed.

Part Whole Analysis HOT Map

With this map it is not really the written work, although it does provide a useful format for note taking, it is the quality of the discussions it prompts. I love the look of concentration on the students’ faces when they are trying to consider the impact if the part was missing. We stretched the final question by repeatedly asking ‘So what…?’ or So why…?’ I hope that in future lessons we will be able to phase out the paper copy of the map and to use it as a speaking framework.

These activities really helped develop the students’ understanding of the poems and hopefully made them more confident in analysing the texts. My next step is for them to evaluate their progress against the whole rubric – and to identify areas for final development. Then they will be ready for the final stage, where they need to make notes and write the assessment – I’m looking forward to seeing the results.