Category Archives: Observation

SOLO Research: Conclusions

What have I learnt from my research into the SOLO taxonomy?

Researching and Note Taking

At a personal level, this research has been very useful. I have found out that I really enjoy research and reading academic articles and texts. In particular, writing the literature review was an interesting, challenging and enjoyable part – far more than I had expected it to be. It was like a giant jigsaw which needed to be put together before it would make sense.

notesI tried out a variety of note taking methods for the review, the most effective one turned out to be writing key quotations onto post its which I then sorted into linked areas on large pieces of paper with lines and comments added to show the relationship. This helped organise each part of the review into paragraphs and made the links clearer to see. It was while I was doing this that I realised that this was also a SOLO task – I was moving my knowledge of the literature from the multistructural to the relational level and beyond. Thinking about the process in this way was quite useful as it mitigated some of the frustration I felt at having to go off on tangents in order to understand the bigger picture – it was simply that I didn’t have the knowledge at the multistructural level.

Twitter, the Internet and The Khan Academy

As someone who completed their undergraduate degree in the early 1990s, studying at Masters level was a very different beast. Beyond the level of complexity that obviously exists in the step up, the key difference I noticed was the availability of resources. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love an academic library – the smell of the books, the chance finds in the stacks, the quiet you only get in the obscure corner of the Old English section on floor 10 – but, as a distance learner, the internet has been invaluable to me.

Twitter has been a fantastic source of ideas, suggestions for academic reports and texts as well as a source of data. Without this community of educators, I think my study would have been a sad shadow, and I would have been a very lonely researcher.

One of the challenges I faced was gaining an understanding of descriptive and comparative statistics. As far as I can remember (and it was a very long time ago, so I may be wrong), this was not covered in much detail in my GCSE Maths course. Although I have used maths on a day to day basis in work and as a teacher, this was something I needed to brush up on – that is where The Khan Academy came in. One weekend watching their statistics videos and trying out a few problems, and I had a good understanding of what I needed.

Is the SOLO Taxonomy Effective?

Based on my limited research, it does appear that the SOLO taxonomy can be a useful tool in a teacher’s arsenal. The use of rubrics to identify the knowledge (both declarative and functioning) and stages of learning were particularly useful for making this explicit both for me and the students. The emphasis on looping back through the multistructural-relational-extended abstract levels in order to develop a more detailed and sophisticated understanding helped scaffold the most able and encouraged them to view learning as open-ended.

Knowledge is vital – without relevant knowledge, students cannot progress through the SOLO levels. Direct instruction, whether it is through teacher talk, rubrics or any other direct method, help to provide the  knowledge needed by the student. The rubric can keep this instruction at the forefront while students complete independent tasks – the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.

A key benefit of the SOLO taxonomy is creating a common language for discussion of knowledge and feedback – used by the teacher and in self and peer assessment it can help to ensure the quality and focus of feedback.

Of the SOLO techniques I trialled with my classes, I felt that the use of rubrics, hexagons and SOLO stations were the most useful. The weaker students found the hexagons helpful to pull together their knowledge of a text and bridge the gap between knowing the text and being able to write a clear paragraph about it. SOLO Stations allowed for differentiation, student choice and teacher guidance while giving me the time to work individually with students. The HOT maps were rather hit or miss depending on which type was used – the Part/Whole Analysis was a useful structure for discussing and revising a text in detail.

Given the recent reports from Sir Michael Wilshaw, regarding the brightest students in schools failing to achieve the highest grades, it is certainly interesting that in this small scale study Level 5 students and males taught using SOLO methods did considerably better than their non-SOLO counterparts. Ev ex 2Although it is impossible to know whether SOLO was the key factor in this difference, it suggests that this may be a possibility and would warrant further investigation.Ev ex 4

 

Taken as a whole, based on my personal observations, surveys of teachers and students, a lesson observation and exam data analysis, it appears that the SOLO taxonomy may be effective. As with any teaching technique, it is not a panacea – however, it is certainly worth trying.

SOLO Research Project – Findings Part 1

Overview of the Project

As the project was to investigate an aspect of my teaching practice, I chose to use an action research approach. Alongside this, and the literature review, I also carried out a small scale survey of students involved and a slightly larger scale survey of teachers. The final part of the project was an analysis of exam results (I will go through the findings of the exam analysis in another post).

Throughout the action research I completed a series of blog posts outlining my experiments with three separate SOLO techniques: use of hexagons, use of HOT maps and the use of rubrics and SOLO stations. Within each entry I tried to outline the techniques used and comment on my perception of their effectiveness. Newbury (2001:3) describes the ‘research diary’ as:

A form through which the interaction of subjective and objective aspects of doing research can be openly acknowledged and brought into a productive relationship.

I felt that, as one of the criticisms of the action research model was that results were often restricted to the teacher carrying out the research, it would be helpful if I shared my experiences with other teachers via a blog. As Weston (2012) states in his blog post:

Researchers need to develop a culture where findings are not simply broadcast to schools, but where they engage with increasing numbers of schools to find out how to successfully adapt the approach in different contexts, how to overcome different challenges, and how to successfully combine the idea with other priorities in the classroom.

My observations focused mostly on Year 10 classes, although I also trialled SOLO based activities with Year 11 and Year 12. Classes were chosen using convenience sampling.

Any personal commentary, especially reflecting on one’s own teaching, is subject to bias, as Gavron (1996:159, cited in Biggam, 2011) notes:

It is difficult to see how this can be avoided completely, but awareness of the problem plus constant self-control can help.

 I have endeavoured to keep this in mind through my analysis, and chosen to use data from a range of different sources to mitigate any unconscious bias. In addition, although convenience sampling is not ideal, as the sample size is relatively small and the groups were not chosen at random, this is acceptable for action research.

My Observations

The blog posts on each of the techniques can be found here:
Hexagons – 1, 2, 3, 4
HOT Maps – 1, 2,

SOLO Stations – 1, 2, 3,4

Overall, I felt that the techniques had been useful in conjunction with existing teaching methods. The use of the rubric to specify key elements of the knowledge being taught was particularly helpful for structuring feedback with clear next steps. I will expand on this in my final post (Conclusions).

Student and Teacher Surveys

Unfortunately, the number of students who took part in the survey was small (partly as my time ended up being rather cut short due to my relocation). However, on the whole, the students found the SOLO lessons useful and felt that they had helped them develop their knowledge of the text and how to present their responses more clearly.

In March, I asked for volunteers to complete a short questionnaire about using the SOLO taxonomy in lessons as part of my MA. I was overwhelmed that so many readers took the time to complete the survey – 60 of you in total! Thank you so much for your help.

Evidence 1aThe majority of teachers who responded felt that SOLO techniques were effective and based this belief on a range of indicators, not simply personal observation.

Evidence 1The most popular techniques were, perhaps unsurprisingly, those which have had the most coverage in blogs and are the most straightforward to implement.

Evidence 2My final questions asked which subject the teachers taught and how long they had been teaching. Teachers from a wide range of subjects took part, from science to history, from PE to English – suggesting that SOLO techniques have the potential to be used effectively across the curriculum.

Evidence 3 The findings of this survey certainly suggest that teachers with 6 or more years teaching experience are using social networking and experimenting with new techniques. Now I am not saying that those who have been teaching longer are ‘better’ than those just entering the profession. This is more to do with – the difference between ‘experienced’ and ‘expert’ teachers. Effective, expert teachers are prepared to experiment, and adapt their teaching, not because Ofsted or SMT want it, but because they have decided that it would be beneficial to their students.

More SOLO Stations

I haven’t blogged for a while as I have been working on the reading for my final MA module on the use of SOLO in English, which I will write a post about soon. However, the use of SOLO in lessons has continued.

We have now moved on from Wilfred Owen’s poetry to Shakespeare, Macbeth to be specific. I really want to build more independence and self-motivation in my students and wanted to see whether the impact of the SOLO stations lesson (see posts here and here), last half term, in encouraging this was just a fluke.

Planning

This time, as I already had a bank of tasks that I had used with the Owen lesson, it was much easier, and quicker to plan. I came up with two more tasks, one of which I had originally planned to use with the whole class, the others I tweaked from the Owen tasks. I allowed 3 tasks per level (Multistructural through to Extended Abstract) and had 10 copies of each task (printed onto A4, 2 tasks to a page). I think I will get these tasks copied onto coloured card and then laminated so they can easily be reused – possibly taking out specific text references on some so they can be used across the subject.

Although the lesson had worked very well last time, I wasn’t happy with the visual impact of the stations. So, this time, I covered the display board with plain (red) backing paper and pinned the tasks onto that in three vertical columns. This made it much more visually appealing and far easier for the students to see.

This time, I planned to use the lesson twice, lesson 1 for my PM observation and again, with a different group, for lesson 3. The observed group had done SOLO Stations before but it would be new to the second group.

The Lesson

I decided to have two questions on the board for the start as our key focus, for bell work. This meant the group had something to read and think about as they came in and settled. My questions were: ‘In a play about killing a king, why is the character of Banquo so important?’ and ‘What message do you think Shakespeare is trying to present to the audience?’

First, the groups evaluated their starting point for two areas  – being able to comment on character and explaining Shakespeare’s use of language – using a rubric. As we have already spent a few lessons studying the play, these focused on the Multistructural, Relational and Extended Abstract levels. There are  3 coloured pages in the student planners – red, yellow and green, so I decided to colour code the levels and ask the students to open their planner at the page or pages that indicated their starting level. This allowed me to glance around the room to see where students had placed themselves.

I recapped/introduced the protocol for SOLO Stations and asked that, as they went through the tasks, they updated their coloured planner page to indicate their progress.

The groups selected their tasks and got down to work. In both classes, students chose a variety of tasks at a variety of levels. Again, I noticed that despite having some computer based tasks, only a few students chose to use the laptops.

The lessons went well with students working alone or in small groups, as they chose, working at their own pace and moving onto new tasks as they felt ready. I was able to circulate, give 1-2-1 support and question the G&T students to draw out higher responses. It felt calm and purposeful, which I had not been entirely sure about as it was Children in Need day.

At the end of the lesson I allowed 10 minutes for the plenary. Firstly, I asked them to use the rubric to re-evaluate their SOLO level. Then, to write their level and why they thought they had achieved it onto a post-it, which was stuck onto the SOLO display. Finally, we had a brief discussion based on the two initial questions. Both groups commented on Banquo as Macbeth’s friend and that his killing was a bigger personal betrayal – I had expected this. However, they also mentioned that Banquo acted as a balance for Macbeth, a man who had been given a similar prophesy but had taken a different moral route. They linked this to religious beliefs about free-will. This discussion was very useful, but I suspect we needed to allow a little more time for it.

Student Comments

I reviewed the comments the students made about their learning on the post-its after the lesson. These are some of them:

  • I have reached Relational because I can now explain a deeper meaning to the language and the relationship between the characters
  • I think I am Multistructural because I can explain the meaning of sections of the play, but I am also Relational because I can also explain the relationship between the characters
  • After this lesson I am fully confident in completing Relational because I can easily explain why language is used and the relations bewteen characters
  • Helped me understand the language that Shakespeare uses.

The students’ comments showed that they were able to confidently reflect on and articulate their level of learning. This was a very useful task as it demonstrated the students’ confidence in using SOLO terminology to duscuss and evaluate their own learning.

The Observation

I was given a 1 (outstanding) for the lesson, which, obviously, I am really pleased with. Some of the key points from the feedback were:

“Learning is differentiated and students learning is independent. Progress is measured during the lesson…Questioning on 1-1 level is deep and provides opportunities for high level learning. Well behaved and keen. Generally self-motivated. Productive atmosphere / purposeful learning environment.”

The thing I liked the most about the lesson was that it didn’t feel rushed or like hard work. I had time to talk to students at much greater length than during a traditional lesson. It was also nice to see how quickly the group, who had not done this style of lesson before, got to grips with it. I will definitely be using SOLO Stations again.