SOLO Taxonomy – a Learner’s Perspective

Some of my most read blog posts have been on the SOLO taxonomy – as a teacher I found it an interesting and useful tool. My small scale research suggested that SOLO was something worth investigating further. This post aims to look at SOLO from a slightly different perspective – that of the learner.

Since September, I have been embarking on a very different educational experience – that of a PhD student. This has been a very different, and at times rather unsettling, experience. As a teacher (I don’t say ‘former teacher’ as I hope to teach again at some time in the future), part of me has been evaluating the process, thinking about the structure of my learning.

One of the most difficult parts of my PhD (so far) is the realisation that there is so much I don’t know. As a student at this level, you like to think that you have some expertise in your subject, that you know ‘stuff’. My topic is 19th Century literature – I have read and taught many of my chosen texts and am pretty confident discussing and writing about them – however, the more I read, the more unsure I become. But, this is normal, it is a key part of the learning process, and this is where I have found the SOLO taxonomy useful.

In my post ‘What is the SOLO taxonomy?’ I highlighted the following:

 An additional criticism, in particular when the taxonomy is compared with that of Bloom (1956), is the SOLO taxonomy’s structure. Biggs & Collis (1991) refers to the structure as a hierarchy, as does Moseley et al. (2005); naturally, there are concerns when complex processes, such as human thought, are categorized in this manner. However, Campbell et al. (1992) explained the structure of the SOLO taxonomy as consisting as a series of cycles (especially between the Unistructural, Multistructural and Relational levels), which would allow for a development of breadth of knowledge as well as depth.

The structure suggested by Campbell et al. is key for learners; learning is not finite, there isn’t a point at which you know ‘everything’. The key to the Extended Abstract level is that, as you look at the topic from different perspectives and consider ‘what if?’, you need to return to the Multistructural and Relational levels in order to make sense of new learning.

For example:

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It is easy, especially in your first year of a PhD to feel that you are somewhat lost, that there are so many things that you don’t know. But that is the point, you need to develop your understanding in a wide range of areas, and spend a large proportion of your time with your head in a book, or journal article.

Rather than being despondent about the amount I have yet to learn, I have tried to think about it using SOLO. In this case I am the observer of my own learning. I need to evaluate my existing position and identify areas for further development.

As with learners at any level, there are some things I have a more detailed knowledge of than others. My knowledge of my chosen literary texts is strong (generally Extended Abstract), my knowledge of R programming is still in its early stages (Multistructural/Relational), my understanding of statistical measures slightly lower again (Multistructural).

This way of viewing my learning has had two main effects: firstly, it has encouraged me to be far more open in my attitude to what I can learn (a growth mindset). Five or ten years ago I would never have believed that I would be taking Computer Science and Statistics modules at university level – nor that I would be enjoying them. I used to say that I was not very good at maths, something of an English teacher cliché, although I didn’t really have any evidence that this was actually the case; now I know that I can learn what I need to.

Secondly, I am far more comfortable with the seemingly disjointed nature of PhD research. It is only disjointed at the moment, as my understanding and knowledge develops links will gradually become apparent – this is a core part of the process, accepting and acknowledging this makes it far less stressful.

I believe that SOLO can be used with students of all levels to self-assess, as well as to enable their teachers to assess and provide feedback. In particular, I feel that it can address two very different problems, how to extend and challenge the most able, and how to encourage and support the weakest. Encouraging pupils to be responsible for their own learning, to be active learners and have a growth mindset can only be a positive step.

 

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