Tag Archives: Khan Academy

Looking back, looking forward

Over the past week on Twitter #nurture1314 has featured strongly in my timeline. It has been really interesting reading all the fantastic things people have accomplished over the past year and their plans for 2014.

I thought it would be a nice way to finish the year to write my own list of highlights and hopes, although I wasn’t quite able to come up with 13 highlights.

My Highlights.

  1. Graduating with my MA (Distinction) in Education from Edge Hill University. This is undoubtably one of the things that I am most proud of. It was very hard work, especially persevering over several years part time. Distance learning certainly has its benefits but it can leave you feeling quite isolated – Twitter was great for linking me to other teachers and academics. DSCF0381
  2. Learning differential and inferential statistics. One of the challenges I faced when completing my final assignment was the analysis of my data. I had a basic knowledge of statistics but needed to get to grips with chi square and statistical significance. The internet and my tutor came to the rescue, especially the Khan Academy videos. It also helped prove once and for all that I can ‘do’ maths, it is just a matter of learning how.
  3. Gaining a detailed understanding of the SOLO taxonomy, both as a teacher and as a learner. I had been teaching and experimenting with SOLO techniques for about a year and had found them useful, not a magic bullet but certainly something worth exploring in greater detail. However, it was when I applied SOLO to my own studies that it really came into its own. One of the sections of my assignment that I found particularly tricky was the literature review – the difficulty of bringing together all my reading into a coherent story. I had lots of ideas and quotations but it was only when I looked at this stage as being the SOLO multistructural level that it clicked – I needed to make detailed links between the texts and ideas (relational) before I could fully understand the topic. Once I had grouped my ideas it was much easier to identify a unifying thread. Sections which just wouldn’t fit often needed more information – reinforcing the idea of SOLO as a series of cycles rather than a linear or hierarchical model.
  4. Settling into a new country. Although Ireland isn’t exactly a million miles away from the UK, there are a number of differences between the two countries. The tax, medical and education systems are all slightly different and it can be tricky to get your head round everything.
  5. Taking lots of photos and, hopefully, improving my skills as a photographer. This summer I focused on taking landscapes and nature pictures, they are great to look back at, especially when the weather is awful. DSCF0299
  6. Learning to sew. This was something I had wanted to do for some time, partly because I had been shockingly awful at it when I was at school. I signed up for a course of lessons in Dublin city centre with ‘When Poppy Met Daisy’ and learnt the basics, making a skirt. For Christmas i made stockings to go under the tree. I am not particularly good yet, but hopefully I will improve over the next year.
  7. Improving my fitness – this is something I need to work on, but I was certainly more active this year.
  8. Continuing my blog – I have now had nearly 10k views and have had visitors from all over the world, something which never ceases to amaze me.
  9. Deciding to apply to study for a PhD. I have thought about further study for years, but it has only been a pipe dream up to now. Taking a break from secondary teaching has given me the chance to take steps towards making this a reality. I have now identified a topic and have been preparing my proposal.
  10. Getting a reading card for the National Library of Ireland and studying in its beautiful domed reading room.
  11. Ate out at some great restaurants – a little thing, but something that I hadn’t really done for years.

My Hopes

  1. Apply for my PhD in English. I am hoping to be able to study full time which will be a huge luxury. I also hope to be able to do some teaching at university level. It has been great fun exploring the initial literature and bouncing ideas around. However, I do need to finalise my proposal and submit it.
  2. Set up a new blog for my PhD studies to explore ideas and hopefully continue to use the internet to make academic links.
  3. Continue blogging on educational topics, although I am not teaching at the moment I see myself working in education at some level in the future.
  4. To read lots of books for pleasure – I have been rather disappointed with my reading in 2013 as most of it has been study related, so this year I want to make a real effort to read more for fun.
  5. To complete a course in Corpus Linguistics. I have signed up for a MOOC in Corpus Linguistics, from University of Lancaster, to help prepare me for my PhD. The 8 week course sounds really interesting and gives me a chance to  use some of the software as well as read more about the topic.
  6. To make an item of clothing from scratch that is actually wearable. This is going to be a big challenge and will take some practice, but I would love to be able to make the occasional item of clothing.
  7. To really work on my fitness. I have an existing gym membership but my visits have been rather sporadic, so I want to make much better use of it.
  8. I want to take more photos, but especially I want to try to take some star photos.
  9. I’d like to travel a little more and visit some new places.
  10. Eat more healthy food, especially more vegetables.
  11. To learn how to use Excel more effectively, especially the statistical packages.
  12. To be more selective over what I watch on TV.
  13. To go to the cinema more often. I love watching films and don’t go to the cinema nearly enough.
  14. To spend more time with those I love.

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.