Category Archives: SOLO Taxonomy

SOLO Stations Task Details

Since I posted about my experiments with SOLO Stations, I have had several requests about the activities I used for each level. These are my take on SOLO type activities, based on my understanding of the taxonomy, enjoy!

My starting point for these lessons was to consider what knowledge and expertise the students needed to move towards demonstrating mastery of the topic and text – i.e. what they needed to do to hit the A*/A grade or beyond. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, here, here and here, I used the SOLO levels, the mark scheme and my own experience of what mastery of the subject area would look like at GCSE level. I also had a look at the type of activities teachers had used in other subjects, in science and PE.

As we had spent several lessons exploring the text, we were focusing on demonstrating the top 3 levels – Multistructural, Relational and Extended Abstract. I tried to come up with a range of activities across the abilities as well as to encourage more independence and effort on their part to understand the text and to create a personal interpetation.

So, here are some of the activities I used:

Multistructrual

  1. Thought Stems – taken from @LearningSpy’s (David Didau) really useful book ‘The Perfect Ofsted English Lesson’. This was good for helping those who needed more support when structuring their paragraphs.
  2. Improving Your Knowledge – focusing on language and analysis, I provided a list of websites for the students to revise and make notes on areas they felt they needed to develop.
  3. Depending on the text, I used some of the more guided activities from textbooks or, carefully selected, from Teachit for a third activity. I don’t believe in unnecessarily reinventing the wheel.

Relational

  1. Hexagonal Learning – using leftover hexagons from previous lessons (including some that had been written on) to focus on linking ideas and quotations. They needed to use these to write a PEE paragraph.
  2. Colourful Expressions – using colour to annotate a section of the text, identifying links between the characters and throughout the text.
  3. Iceberg Analysis – using a pyramid to analyse a key word or phrase, from the word to its literal meaning then its connotations/deeper meaning. The aim being to encourage detailed analysis of the text, rather than more general comments.
  4. Unpicking an Essay – the students are given a high grade exemplar essay and have to create a plan from the essay, to see how a strong essay is structured and the ideas linked.

Extended Abstract

  1.  Extended Abstract Hexagons – similar to the relational hexagon task,  however, where the relational task focused on the straight links between the hexgons, this task looks at the meeting point of 3 hexagons.
  2. Adding to Multistructural Knowledge – I included (and the next task) this to emphasise that, at the higher levels, you are constantly adding to your knowledge and re-evaluating your understanding as a result. I included a range of more complex websites, some of them geared towards A-Level and University level students.
  3. Wider Reading – a range of relevant books, from the library and my own collection, again including more complex analysis and commentary.

I hope this post is helpful, especially for those of you wanting to try SOLO Stations for yourself.

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.

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.

New School Year – More SOLO

Over the summer, I decided that one of my new school year resolutions was to embed SOLO into my teaching across all three key stages. I dabbled last year (see my previous posts here) and was very pleasantly surprised with how effective it appeared to be. However, being a sceptic at the best of times, I decided that a more detailed and consistent trial was needed.

Starting Points

With each of my classes I have introduced the concept of SOLO taxonomy using the excellent Youtube Lego video. I also stuck a simple SOLO level explanation sheet in the back of their English books. This is reinforced by a display I created:

Aim High SOLO Display

We are now three weeks into the new term and I have used SOLO the most with Year 10, although I have tried to embed it into the majority of lessons.

Youtube

My two Year 10 classes are roughly parallel in ability and are studying Wilfred Owen for their first controlled assessment. In my lesson planning I have been trying to be as specific as possible in identifying the skills the class will be working on and have tried to use SOLO to highlight the progression within the lesson – marking the SOLO level next to the objectives. I also created a Youtube video analysing a poem and including SOLO levels, using Video Scribe.

Marginal Gains

Watching the ‘Road To Glory’ programme on about the fantastically successful Sky cycling team, and seeing part of a Twitter conversation between @HuntingEnglish, @fullonlearning and @Pekabelo, made me start thinking about how marginal gains could be applied to English. I decided to start by breaking down the skills needed for the unit using SOLO, to try to make each element as clear as possible to the students:

SOLO Skills Poetry

Each student has a copy of the sheet in their book and we have been using it in lessons to identify their current position and track their improvement over the course of several lessons. We started off focusing on the use of poetry terminology, use of quotations and explaining language and I set a group task using hexgons to reinforce the skills needed to create effective PEE paragraphs.

Feedback

In a change from my previous trials, I decided to ask the groups explicitly for feedback on the lessons. Having outlined that I was looking for honest feedback, and that I would not mind if they didn’t respond positively, I asked 4 questions:

  1. Did you enjoy the lessons?
  2. Do you think your confidence with poetry has increased?
  3. Do you think your skills of identifying techniques, selecting quotations and explaining the language used have improved?
  4. Even better if?
Yes OK / A bit No
1 73% 23% 4%
2 86% 9% 4%
3 82% 9% 9%

“I felt the hexagon lessons were very constructive and good for collaborating with other people in the class. The hexagons made us move from multistructural to relational ideas in Wilfred Owen’s poem.”

“I enjoyed the lessons even though I’m not very strong with poems or PEE.”

“I did enjoy the lessons. Yes, I feel a lot more confident about poems now. Yes, I feel I have improved a lot.”

“I know the poem a lot more now and have gained knowledge about what techniques are used in poetry and why they are used.”

Some of the suggestions for improvements were:

  • More time
  • Make instructions more detailed
  • Allow us to choose our groups

So far, I have only asked one of the two groups, but their responses are certainly interesting.

Fishy Revision

Revision. Argh! Love it or hate it this seems to be mostly what we end up doing at this time of year (in between filling in reams of exam paperwork). The challenge is to try to make it effective and interesting – a challenge if ever there was one. The internet has been invaluable for trawling for great ideas, but I have also been digging through my old resources to see if there are any gems.

Today was revision for Of Mice and Men for OCR A663 next week. The group know the text well but planning is a bit of an issue, especially in the tight time frame (45 minutes). The exam requires the students to analyse language and techniques as well as making links to context. I wanted to create a task that developed planning but also encouraged the group to hit the assessment objectives in the exam.

I started off by borrowing the excellent Nominative Determination task from Miss Ryan’s GCSE English Blog . This was a really effective opening task as it got the group thinking the characters and analysing the language, and they really enjoyed it. As they thought through the significance of the names and their connotations I could hear mental lightbulbs going on around the room – love it!

In our mock exam, quite a few students failed to write about the context of the text or link it to the question. To combat this I came up with the mnemonic CRAFTI (using the helpful anagram solver on the Internet Anagram Server).

A Crafti Mnemonic

I tried to make this something memorable but that also covered each key point.

The next step was to think about planning, how could I make sure that the planning was quick and easy, but also encouraged relational thinking?

My collection of random USB pens came to the rescue. Every so often, since I started teaching, I have saved all the useful resources on my school user space onto a USB. Some of them stay there forever, but I have a peek every now and then to see if there is something worthwhile. Last night I found it.

As I have been experimenting with SOLO HOT maps, I wanted something visual and simple that could encourage deeper thinking. My solution was a fish-bone analysis, or at least my variation on one. I decided that the horizontal line should contain the Idea – i.e. the key point in the passage and key words from the question. This would encourage the group to focus on the question throughout their planning. Each pair of ‘bones’ would include brief points on Context, References, Audience, Feelings and Techniques. I used a series of powerpoint slides to show the process, using the example from the mock (Lennie and the ketchup in chapter 1).

Fish-Bone Planning

The final task, and one I have advised them to do for revision, was to choose a section of the text at randon, or to invent a non-extract based question, and to produce their own Fish-bone plan:

Fish-Bone Planning Task

The class really seemed to get to grips with this as a planning method, and I liked the fact that it could be loosely linked back to the text (‘flopping like a fish’). Overall, I was really pleased with this, having tried it with my Y10s during their lesson. It was also used by another teacher in an afterschool revision session, and it reportedly worked well. So the next step is to try it with one of my more challenging groups.

HOT Maps – A Real Eureka Moment

Having had several successful lessons using the SOLO structure and hexagons, I decided that it was time to branch out a bit and to try a wider range of SOLO techniques. Again, I decided to try these with a range of classes.

Compare/Contrast Map

The first HOT map I looked at was the Compare /Contrast  map. I used this initially with my Y12 Film Studies class to explore the similarities and differences between their comparative study films. They had been, generally, fairly good at identifying key features about the films separately, however, were struggling to make direct links between the films. I used Word It Out to create a word cloud based on a synopsis of each film from IMDB, I then showed the group some examples and got them to work in pairs. I linked this to group planning of an essay where I used Triptico to sort the class into groups – they produced bullet points for each paragraph. I sorted them again and they had to add or delete bullet points. I sorted them one last time to write the paragraph. This worked well for those students who had studied the films carefully, less well for those who had not revised carefully (this was perhaps a bit of a warning for them). It did help to highlight the links between the films but at a fairly simple level – the next step will be a part whole analysis to extend their understanding of the roles and development of the points they identified.

I used the same HOT map with my Y13 Film students to develop their ability to make and analyse specific textual references (AO2) to back up the more generalised comments made in their essays (AO1). For the students to achieve the highest grades both areas must be covered in detail.

This time, I adapted the Compare /Contrast map by including a series of screen shots for one of their films; we also focused on a specific exam question to fully explore the level of detail needed in each paragraph within their essay.

Compare Contrast Map

The focal point was Mise-en-scene and I had chosen four screen shots from ‘The Story of the Apartment’ in ‘City of God’. We discussed the significance of the shots and the students annotated the images. I then asked them which specific shots we could use to compare from ‘La Haine’ – the class identified the scene in Hubert’s boxing gym, the housing in the banlieue, the apartment or the art gallery in Paris and the view of the Eiffel Tower from the top of the tower block. I then asked the group to explore the similarities and the differences in the mise-en-scene and to start making links to why this was the case. This worked well, and as it was focused on developing a very specific skill, I felt it was successful in making the group fully aware of the interaction between the two assessment objectives as well as the two films.

Whole/Part Analysis Map

My next experiment was to try the whole/part analysis HOT map. I decided that I would do this with two very different classes to assess the impact – a top set Year 10 and a bottom set Year 11. Both groups are in the process of final revision for English Literature GCSE exams.

The Year 11 group were working on ‘An Inspector Calls’ for OCR A662 and the focus was to develop their understanding of the text so they could answer in more detail and move towards the C grade. I used a whole/part analysis map with 3 parts.

Whole/Part Analysis

They filled in the ‘whole’ segment with their overview of the play with little prompting and often suggested relevant bits of detail to each other. As a class we explored the role that Setting/Context played and then the group used the second box to explore character – and used copies of the text to look up relevant details and quotations. This brought us to the end of the first lesson. I was pleased with the progress made by the group and the fact that they had recalled some very useful points, however, I was not quite sure about how ‘considering the impact of a part being missing’ would work, nor of its impact.

The Year 10 first lesson was similar to the Y11, this time the focus was ‘Of Mice and Men‘ for  A663 and, as they are a top set I extended the parts to 5 which we discussed and labeled as a group. They then completed the key elements for each part.

Multistructural Stage

The second lesson provided the ‘Eureka’ moment. I introduced the question – ‘What would be the impact if this part were missing?. We went through an example as a group, using the character of Slim as an example. They came up with lots of ideas about what would happen if Slim were not in the novel, from fairly straightforward points about there being no one to stop Lennie and George being fired in section 3, to more complex ones about George having no one to confide in or to present the arguments for killing Lennie.

Relational and Extended Abstract

They were already starting to  move onto the next question – ‘Therefore, can you evaluate the role of this part?’ – and continued to do so when they were working in pairs. This will be something that I will scaffold a little more with the lower group. The level of discussion amongst the group was amazing, they moved from these points onto detailed consideration of why Steinbeck had used the character or the setting and linking to his purpose. There were some real cognitive leaps, like the group who discussed the theme of religion saying that: the natural setting at the beginning and end could represent God in nature; that Slim’s empathy and understanding, combined with the religious connotations of his description, made him almost like a religious leader and that the men are not presented as religious as church goers are part of a community and the men are outsiders. Totally A* personal analysis and interpretation. I was blown away. This is when I ‘got’ the missing part question. Try it!

Using SOLO for Intervention (part 2)

As I explored in my earlier post, I have had the fantastic task of running a group for our intervention. We had selected several students, 50 in total to carry out controlled assessments. I had a group of 21 students, from the C/D borderline mostly, and one or two below. We had decided to extend the group we were targeting to ensure that, while we focus on the C/D borderline to boost our headline figures, we also targeted a number of the weaker students to ensure they also made progress (and obviously, this is now reported in the league tables).

The group I had contained a number of challenging students and we had our work cut out for us as we had 5 hours to complete the intervention, from scratch a piece on the spoken language study.

Structure and Resources

I had prepared a Prezi as I like the fact that YouTube clips can be embedded into the presentation, and play without delay, I also liked the fact that it allows you to physically show the ‘big picture’. I included a timeline of the day to make sure that the whole group could see what we were going to do during each of the 5 lessons. I also planned to use SOLO as I have found it really helpful in scaffolding the cognitive leap from the D grade and up.

Lesson 1 I set out a connect and activate series of tasks. The connect tasks were pretty simple and aimed to target the knowledge that the group already had on political speeches. From there we built to explore a small section of the text, working in pairs to analyse and identify features of the political speech.

This meant the group had a variety of points they expected to find in a political speech and had a variety of quotations already identified. At this stage I introduced the SOLO sheet, many of the group (those I teach) had seen this before, others picked it up pretty quickly. We discussed each of the levels and I asked the students to identify where they felt they were. Most felt that they were on either unistructural or multistructural – some were very specific and insisted they were on the boundary between the two. Two of the less confident girls thought they were prestructural, but when we explored this a little further they decided that they were actually unistructural moving towards multistructural. We then discussed what they needed to do to move their understanding on and target the B and C grades.

This brought the first hour to a close. For the start of the second hour, I decided that the group could do with something more physically active. We did an IWB quiz on persuasive techniques. The quiz was from the @TESresources and was a flash quiz – it was a matching persuasive techniques to the definition against the clock. Although a little reluctant at first, we had several volunteers and the group seemed to enjoy the change in pace and task.

The focus for the second hour was to view and analyse the speech and to consider the purpose. We watched the speech via the YouTube clip and started to annotate the text. I had set up the text in the form of Cornell notes with a broad margin down the side for annotation and a section at the bottom of the page for summary. This worked very well and the group seemed to find the layout easy to use, and for once, there were no complaints about a lack of space to write notes. This section was the most content heavy, we analysed and made notes on the speech ‘Yes we can‘. With the group highlighting the text and annotating. We finished by making sure that the effects of the speech were written onto the triangles.

After break we needed to move onto the note making phase, but also needed to make sure that the group had got a good range of ideas about the text, understood the effect being created and could make those all important links. I had decided to use triangles, as a variation on the use of hexagons, for two reasons, firstly that they were much easier to cut out (!) and secondly because they could link into groups. I think this worked fairly well, but would have been more effective if we could have spent a little more time on the task – because of our time constraints this section was rather more rushed than I would have liked. I tried to boost morale at this stage by providing some sweets and water in the classroom. This went down well, and had the additional benefit of keeping some of the more chatty quiet during my instructions as they were eating the sweets! The group used their triangle patterns to make their notes for the assessment.

The final section was for the pupils to write up their assessment. They had two hours, with lunch in between, and could continue into the 25 minute PM registration if needed. The group were obviously fairly tired by this point but worked well. As each student finished they were given a small packet of haribo (highly sought-after sweets at my school).

Results

I was keen to see how the group had done, the work I had seen as I supervised looked good, but I wanted to get a better view, so for once was looking forward to marking the pieces.  The three weakest in the group improved their work from F/G to a D grade. The majority increased their grade to a C, many moving 2 grades higher. 4 students managed to improve their work to a low B. So overall this was a huge, albeit stressful and tiring, success. Again, it is not possible to scientifically identify whether SOLO helped the students make the cognitive leap, but the results certainly make it look worth a go.

Using SOLO for Intervention (part 1)

One of the biggest challenges facing Year 11 teachers at this time of year is intervention. Whether we like it or not, we are judged on how our classes do in exams, the school is judged in it’s effectiveness and if you are a Maths or English teacher the pressure can be huge. From the students perspective, despite the inevitable nagging from teachers, parents and even the media, for some, the realisation that these GCSEs are important comes pretty late in the day and we as teachers are there to pick up the pieces.

Although the introduction of controlled assessment in English has meant that we are rarely chasing missing coursework, the large amount of class time, and the need for supervision, means that if a student does badly in an assessment the only option is to pick up the pieces later. In my earlier blog post, I wrote about the ideal being to pick this up in Year 10, or to work on creating a situation where the students are working so well that all pieces are great (fantasy land I know). However, the reality, this year at least, is that we have a group of students who have underachieved by several grades in the Spoken Language Study. There are numerous reasons why these pieces are lower: it is a new task for teachers, some of the students were ill or absent during the initial teaching and failed to catch up, the student didn’t really try…but the bottom line is that, in the short term, this is not important, producing a strong piece is.

So I find myself with a motley crew of about 23 students of varying abilities who have one day to complete a new piece of controlled assessment. Luckily, I have been granted a day off timetable (with agreement from the other staff members) to complete this – the aim: for all 23 to produce a piece of controlled assessment that hits at least a C grade, no mean task.

I have decided to approach this a little differently than we would traditionally. The group has several members who have the potential to be challenging, so there will be a zero tolerance for misbehaviour, but that also means that I have to make the work as engaging as possible, as well as catering for a broad range of abilities.

Following the success of using SOLO taxonomy with several of my classes, I decided that this would be an excellent opportunity for me to use this and for the students to benefit from the deep learning SOLO can lead to. I have also decided to try a few others things to make this as positive a learning experience as possible – for example an accelerated learning cycle and to make the lesson a little more like a training session. I want the group to be active and have some fun, to value their opportunity, and ultimately to produce a strong piece of controlled assessment. We have 5 hours, split into 5 lessons, two 2 hour sessions and a final 1 hour session. The last 2 hours (split by the lunch break) is going to be used for producing the assessed piece. That leaves 3 hours to complete the necessary learning – no pressure then!

The task I have chosen is exploring a speech by Obama. I have chosen this for a number of reasons, firstly it is a relatively short and accessible speech, secondly, it is available on YouTube, which makes things easier for the group. Finally, the speech is a political one, as the groups have been studying Animal Farm for their exam and completing speaking and listening tasks focusing on giving a formal speech, they will have an initial level of expertise which I will be able to tap into during the Connect phase.

The initial task will be to identify features of a political speech and to match up some technical terms, hopefully some easy gains to build confidence and to get us off to a flying start. These technical terms will be written down.The students will then look at an extract of the speech, in pairs, highlighting some of the features.

I have decided to experiment with the hexagons from my initial SOLO trials – this time using triangles my thinking is that a single idea can be written onto each triangle and then six can be linked into a group allowing a technique, quotation or effect to be fully explored, not sure if this will work . I have provided 3 different colours of triangle, one for techniques, one for quotations and one for effects. What I want the groups to do is to explore the speech with the final essay in mind from the start. To move to the C grade or above, the students will need to think in at least a relational way, and hopefully, some will go beyond this.