Tag Archives: Intervention

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 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.

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.

Creating Revision Resources Using Toondoo

As we are at the time of year that the focus shifts onto Y11 exam preparation, I have been looking for new ways to present the key information they need. I wanted to avoid dull presentation like printing out exam dates for display, as most of the time, students pay little attention. I decided that we needed something that is more visually appealing and that brought me  to one of @teamtaits tweets. The tweet mentioned using Toondoo as a free tool to produce cartoons of key ideas.

The site itself is easy to navigate and, although creating your own cartoon character does take a little time, it does save for future use, which wasn’t a possibility with some of the free sites I have used. I decided to create two cartoon characters, one very loosely representing me (Cartoon me has had a bit of a nip and tuck) and one for the Head of English. I created two posters, one as a teaser about key exam nuggets of information and one outlining the exam dates.

They were relatively quick to produce and easy to save onto my laptop, I also converted them to PDF so I could email them. We have printed them on A3 in colour for display. The future ‘nuggets’ will also include a QR code for the students to scan to upload further information.. So overall a very good set of resources.

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.

Intervention Tension

This is the intervention season, the time when teachers, especially of core, headline subjects, (and those with large proportions of coursework) wander around the school looking harried. Where after school sessions are the norm and middle managers seem glued to their laptops and spreadsheets checking up on the progress of little Jonny. It’s what we do at this time of year.

But should it be?

In an ideal world, surely we shouldn’t need to be all this dashing around at the last minute?

While analysing a large cohort for intervention I started thinking about this, prompted by a twitter discussion with @11three and their blog post on school data. Didn’t we have this wrong? Why were we doing this? I know that we want the best outcomes for our young people, but why were we doing it like this? It is not efficient and is reactionary rather than being proactive.

So, how can we be more proactive?

Firstly, we need to analyse who we target each year and why. It is easy to sit back and blame home life, poverty and so on but:

“recent research is consistently revealing academic factors – known as ‘early-warning data’, ‘risk factors’, or ‘on-track measures’ – that more accurately predict whether or not a student is likely to drop out than socioeconomic factors do.” (Pinkus, 2008)

Now although this is talking about the American system, groups of our youngsters have, to all intents and purposes,  dropped out – they merely turn up to school each day. Often we are not surprised by the groups needing intervention, so, if this is the case why are we not targeting them sooner? I’m sure that the list will change from school to school, but I would be willing to bet that those with low KS2 results, poor attendance and SEN make up a fair chunk of any intervention group. This echoes Pinkus’  findings:

“Early-warning signs…an attendance rate of under 80%…’unsatisfactory’ behavior…failing grade in math or English.”

So why wait until now? Why the knee-jerk reaction? The focus needs to be on the causes – but we expend so much energy with this last minute rigmarole that we don’t have the time to consider how it can be avoided, and, by the time the current year is over, we are just so relieved that there is a tendancy to want to  forget all about it until the next year.

We need to identify the pupils who are have the markers earlier in their school career for underachievement and do something about it early. Some strategies for intervention can, of course, be done in departments. But for it to be really effective, there needs to be action and motivation at a whole school level, from the top – and this needs to go beyond having meetings and monitoring staff. How precisely to do this? Well, that’s going to take some thought…