Tag Archives: Hexagons

Summary of SOLO Posts

As one of the searches that seems to bring people to my site is for SOLO taxonomy, here is a post which provides links to each of the posts I have written about SOLO. I am not saying that SOLO is a magic bullet or universal panacea, however, my research suggests that it may have a positive impact.

My advice, for what it’s worth, is: read about it, try it for yourself if you want to and make up your own mind whether it is useful for you and your students.

MA Research Project

All of these posts are based on my final MA dissertation, as a result they tend to be more theoretical.

Teaching with SOLO

These posts are about my own experiences using SOLO in lessons.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to answer.

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.

Why Research SOLO Taxonomy?

This is the first in a series of blog posts based on my MA research into the use of the SOLO (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) taxonomy in English. I hope that  what I write proves useful and not just for English teachers.

A reasonably obvious starting point is: why did I choose to research the SOLO taxonomy?

A quick glance at the TES or Twitter will reveal that teachers are under pressure. The need to achieve year on year improvements in results, as well as a dearth of time available, means that it is not surprising that many teachers are looking for a ‘magic bullet’– something that is effective and involves little additional work. The danger is that schools and teachers are not appropriately critical when selecting and promoting techniques in the rush to achieve the desired results.

Over the past few years a range of different ideas (e.g. Brain Gym, VAK, de Bono’s Thinking Hats) have been promoted in schools, often supported by ‘a thriving commercial industry’ (Coffield et al., 2004:118). While some of these offer useful techniques which can easily be incorporated into the teachers’ everyday lesson, others can become overly burdensome without empirical evidence that the technique actually works (Harrison et al., 2003; Krätzig & Arbuthnott, 2006). Key here is the fact that, while scientific research may indicate a result as suggestive, all too often the results are distorted or overstated (Swaffield, 2009).

How many of us have sat through a CPD session run by an expensive expert, or an enthusiastic member of SLT, and questioned whether it is actually worthwhile? How many have spoken up to challenge ideas that we know are not proven, or (often more likely) sat squirming and wishing that we had the nerve to speak up? In budget conscious and results-driven schools, staff buying into ineffective techniques and strategies (physically and metaphorically) can drain money from where it is most needed.

It is, however, important that teachers are proactive in trialling and using techniques which they believe may be of benefit. Levin (2010:90) explains:

If data from students could be linked to changes known to be effective – for example, improved assessment practices or greater student choice in assignments – we might start to see some lasting and worthwhile changes in the way students experience our high schools.

It was with this in mind that I became cautiously interested when discussions  on Twitter mentioned something called the SOLO (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) Taxonomy. Initially, it was mentioned by a small number of UK based teachers who provided more detailed examples on their blogs (Tait Coles, David Didau, Lisa Ashes).

While willing to try new teaching ideas, the key question for me is: what evidence is there that this works? A brief search of academic journals (via the wonderful Google Scholar) identified a number of articles, mostly focusing on the use of the SOLO taxonomy in geography, science or at university level (Munowenyu, 2007; Biggs & Tang, 2009; Brabrand & Dahl, 2009; Prakash et al., 2010).

I was also aware that the use of the SOLO taxonomy was widespread in New Zealand (Hattie & Brown, 2004), being linked to assessment and curriculum models, and through a number of New Zealand Tweachers’ contributions to Twitter discussions. However, it became clear that there was very little research on its use in the UK education system, and little available on its use in teaching English literature beyond blog posts and anecdotes. I therefore decided to try a relatively simple technique – the use of hexagons to link ideas. The results from this initial foray were genuinely surprising, however, could easily have been a fortuitous coincidence. Therefore, I decided to base my study on the effectiveness of the SOLO taxonomy in GCSE English Literature. I hoped to be able to demonstrate whether or not the SOLO taxonomy was effective in improving student results and clarify whether this technique was worth adopting at departmental level and beyond.


Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2009) ‘Applying constructive alignment to outcomes-based teaching and learning.’ Training Material. “Quality Teaching for Learning in Higher Education” Workshop for Master Trainers.  Ministry of Higher Education. Kuala Lumpur. 2010. http://drjj.uitm.edu.my/DRJJ/MQAGGPAS-Apr2011/What-is-CA-biggs-tang.pdf [accessed 19 August 2012]

Brabrand, C. & Dahl, B., (2009) ‘Using the SOLO taxonomy to analyze competence progression of university science curricula.’ Higher Education, 58 (4) pp. 531–549.

Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004) ‘Learning  styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review.’ Learning and Skills Research Centre. Report No. 041543.

Harrison, G., Andrews, J., & Saklofske, D. (2003) ‘Current perspectives on cognitive learning styles.’ Education Canada. 43 (2) pp. 44-47

Hattie, J. & Brown, G. (2004) ‘Cognitive processes in asTTle: The SOLO taxonomy.’ University of Auckland/Ministry of Education. asTTle Technical Report 43. http://e-asttle.tki.org.nz/content/download/1499/6030/version/1/file/43.+The+SOLO+taxonomy+2004.pdf [accessed 6 March 2013]

Krätzig, G. & Arbuthnott, K. (2006) ‘Perceptual learning style and learning proficiency: a test of the hypothesis.’  Journal of Educational Psychology. 98 (1) pp. 238-246.

Levin, B. (2010) ‘What did you do at school today?’ Kappan. 91 (5) pp. 89-90. http://www.education.auckland.ac.nz/webdav/site/education/shared/about/centres/uacel/docs/InCanadaWDYDIST1002lev.pdf [accessed 8 April 2012]

Munowenyu, E. (2007) ‘Assessing the Quality of Essays Using the SOLO Taxonomy: Effects of Field and Classroom-based Experiences by “A” Level Geography Students.’ International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education. 16 (1) pp. 21–43.

Prakash, E. S., Narayan, K. A., & Sethuraman, K. R. (2010) ‘Student perceptions regarding the usefulness of explicit discussion of “Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome” taxonomy.’ Advances in physiology education. 34 (3) pp.145–9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20826769 [accessed 6 March 2013]

Swaffield, S. (2009) ‘The misrepresentation of Assessment for Learning – and the woeful waste of a wonderful opportunity.’ Work in progress paper. AAIA National Conference. Bournemouth. 16-18 September. http://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/centres/lfl/current/papers/swaffield_aaia09.pdf [accessed 30 March 2013]

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:


  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.


  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.


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.

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’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?’.


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.


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.


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.

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).


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.