Along came SOLO

I had an epiphany in the Christmas holidays. All of sudden everything I have learnt about learning from university teacher education, academic readings, personal experiences as a student and my day-to-day experiences as a teacher gelled together into a completed puzzle.

I have always been a teacher who likes to try new things. That’s because I always want to improve my students’ learning and achievements. However everything I have done seems to be in pieces and it felt like I was moving from one fad to another. The list below briefly lists all the learning strategies I have implemented in my past 5 years of teaching:

  • Project based learning
  • Games based learning
  • Gamification
  • Social networking
  • Assessment for learning
  • Habits of mind
  • Goals, medals and missions model of feedback

This list doesn’t include all the whacky science experiments that attempt to increase student engagement and students’ understanding of abstract concepts. The list doesn’t include the large array of online tools I use with students. The list also doesn’t include the large number of classroom management strategies I have tried.

Not only did it feel like I was moving from one new fad to another, I have always questioned the effectiveness of these strategies. My students were engaged and achieving. I knew this from their work samples and survey responses. However, how do I know each and every one of my students were having their achievement and learning maximised by whichever strategy I was using. All of the strategies I used require intensive effort from the teacher. How did I know the pay-off was balanced by the effort put in?

And along came SOLO …

SOLO isn’t new to me. I have always had a good understanding of SOLO from working on ESSA and NAPSL. SOLO is a framework for classifying different levels of understanding. In some ways it is similar to Bloom’s taxonomy.

But before the Christmas holidays, SOLO was one of the things on the long list of strategies. However during the holidays, I read two books that finally pieced everything together – Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning and Using SOLO as a framework for Teaching.

The key messages I got from Hattie’s books are:

  1. Teachers are activators and evaluators of learning
  2. Goal setting, self monitoring, concentration and deliberate practice are among the most effective strategies

This really spoke to me because it felt like someone finally have said to me I was on the right track for having my students complete all those surveys, exit passes, regular quizzes, etc so that I knew how they were going and change my teaching accordingly. Also it was always my gut feeling from my first year of teaching that this mind set was what set brilliant teachers apart from the others.

But then I asked myself how am I going to do this? How am I going to evaluate learning effectively? How am I going to develop my students’ skills in self regulation? How will I lead my faculty in doing this?

This is where SOLO comes in. SOLO can be used to develop learning intentions and success criteria for units of work. Learning intentions are the aims of a lesson (or series of lessons) while success criteria are what students have to do to be successful in that lesson. The success criteria are classified by the SOLO taxonomy, which lets both the student and the teacher know how the student is progressing and adjust the teaching and learning process accordingly. The book Using SOLO as a framework for Teaching has a process for teachers to develop units of work, including learning attentions and success criteria.  I have created some draft learning intentions and success criteria for the first units I’ll be teaching this year using the process from the book.

One star = uni/multistructural

Two stars = relational

Three stars = extended abstract

The success criteria let students know where they are now and where they are to go next. It lets students know what they need to do or know to demonstrate a surface level and deep level of understanding. It actually fits very nicely with the goals, medals and missions model of feedback.

What I have done is also use the SOLO-based learning intentions and success criteria to design PBL units of work. The success criteria shown above is part of a PBL unit based on the driving question “Sharks: Friends or Foes” where students have to make a critical judgement on the roles of sharks in an ecosystem and the impacts of sharks on humans. I have also created pre-tests and post-tests (some of these are short quizzes and some use the ‘letter-to-a-friend’ strategy) so that my students and I know whether learning has been effective. I will also be attempting to measure effect sizes.

For me SOLO ties together all those strategies I have tried before. They are no longer bits and pieces that I pluck out for different years for different classes. SOLO provides an anchor for me. For example, I can now say I am using games based learning/project based learning/etc for this because it will help my students move from uni/multistructural to extended abstract for these learning intentions. SOLO provides me (and hopefully my faculty in the near future) with a learning framework to base our discussions of learning and evaluation on.

I am also going to use SOLO-based learning intentions and success criteria to design programs for the Australian Curriculum.

So this year will be a journey into SOLO. Watch this space for updates 🙂

4 thoughts on “Along came SOLO

  1. Sounds interesting…I look forward to seeing how it pans out in the classroom, but as you say, it seems to tie in all the good stuff, so there’s no reason for it not to work!

    What do you feel makes it different/better than Bloom’s?

    I quite like the idea of SOLO from a special ed perspective as it really fits with how we work with our kids – from understanding a basic concept through to generalisation. With Bloom’s, I feel that the language isn’t particularly inclusive. SOLO seems to overcome this though. I might take a closer look at it 🙂

    Thanks for once again providing brainfood, Alice 🙂

    • I think SOLO is easier for students to understand. I like how it can be used for students to assess their level of understanding for a learning intention. SOLO can also be used for improving students’ writing.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thinking Alice. I haven’t read either of the books – I’ll put them on my list! My challenge is to use the SOLO taxonomy with students more this year. Although I already use this model to guide my teaching, I think involving the students from the start transfers more power to them, and really puts the student in the “driving seat” of learning. Like your rubric shows, it makes the pathway so much clearer. I like the way you point out that many of the good teaching practices you already use fit in with this model anyway. I will look forward to learning more with you.

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