Monthly Archives: April 2012

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.

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.

Can SOLO and hexagons help students improve their grades?

I have been using SOLO with my top set Year 11 classes for about a month so far, obviously not in every lesson. We have experimented working in groups and individually, using the hexagons to explore specific exam questions in preparation for OCR A664 section A on ‘Animal Farm‘.  The question is, has using SOLO and hexagons helped the students improve their grades?

Targeting A/A*

I have had some success in the past moving students towards the A* grade, but at times this has felt a little hit or miss, one of the difficulties is often explaining the difference between the top grades and, more importantly, how to achieve this.

In my recent series of lessons, I used the SOLO grid (thanks to Tait Coles @Totallywired77) to explain that, while a strong relational answer may well hit the top of a B, or even an A grade, to hit the A* there needs to be more evidence of independent understanding and interpretation – an extended abstract response. I also tried to encourage students to experiment with their interpretations, using the hexagons  independently, explaining their choices to their partner. The aim was to foster independent understanding and enquiry, but also to encourage the thinking skills needed to express their ideas in writing.

Analysing the Outcome

I have selected 2 pupils, in this very unscientific study, and looked at their work before using hexagons:

Student 1 – extract from C grade essay

Student 2 – extract from B grade essay

and after a specific higher grade, A/A* focused lesson:

Student 1 – second essay extract – a high B grade

Student 2 – second essay – a high A

Now, I am not saying that this is a scientific exploration. The sample I am looking at is not statistically significant, nor can I exclude the possibility that the pupils would have made these improvements without using SOLO. However, both students managed to improve their work by at least a grade. The second essays showed more thorough understanding of the text and a better grasp of characterisation and Orwell’s purpose. This is the case across the group and throughout the ability range. Certainly interesting results!

Next Steps

Having experimented with the use of hexagons and SOLO taxonomy with my Year 11 classes, I have decided to try it with my Year 10 class as part of their preparation for their controlled assessment on ‘Of Mice and Men‘ – for previous pieces, they have been anxious about planning their work under exam conditions. I’m hoping that this will improve their confidence. I am also planning a SOLO intervention session with Y11s who need to redo a piece of controlled assessment.

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…