Welcome to my attempt to archive and share some experiences at making learning more visible in my classroom

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

SOLO Enquiry

After spending over a year thinking about SOLO taxonomy and its application in my students learning I have finally had the push I needed to get going with a proper enquiry into its effectiveness in my classroom.

Our school has given us time to meet as part of Professional Enquiry Groups - small groups of teachers with a common interest in a particular pedagogical theme. I belong to the group on 'developing thinking' (led by @dkmead) and in the last week we were encouraged to map out an enquiry into our chosen area of interest. This was a really rewarding experience - facilitated using a structure for critiquing projects used in High Tech High.  More of this in another post.

In essence this is what my enquiry is about - can student's improve their performance by (self) referring to the SOLO taxonomy?  In particular I wanted to (a) make a display for my classroom which I could introduce the SOLO taxonomy to my students and (b) encourage students to use the display as a place for them to refer to to see how they can make improvements to their thinking and (c) where they can find copies of thinking maps / graphic organisers to use in learning activities.  

I have today enlisted some help in creating my display and it will hopefully take shape so that it eventually communicates the message contained within this slideshare (from Pam Hook)

For me the first step has been to design some learning activities using the SOLO taxonomy. That way I could get to grips with my own understanding of how it works.  I created the learning outcomes for a GCSE Humanities lesson with year 10 students looking at the contentious issue of building a large dam in the Amazonian rainforest basin.  Here's a link to the outcomes.  Using the SOLO taxonomy had reminded me of the need to plan lessons and activities with a clear, explicit link between the learning intentions and the learning outcome.  

Thinking in shapes:

I decided that the main activity would be a hexagonal card sort which would allow students to classify the effects of the dam being built and compare the positive and negative effects.  The following slideshow shows the student's arrangements in response to the question: "Are we right to stop the Belo Monte Dam project?"

The shape of the hexagonal cards along with an invitation to be creative in their arrangements allowed students to create patterns and arrangements which not only showed classification (groups of effects) but some also sequenced the relationship between effects (how some minor effects of building the dam could create other effects). There was only one group of students who teetered at 'multistructural' for the most part of the activity while they tried to work out the relationship between the cards.


I found that all groups reached "relational" stage during the lesson.  Every group was proficient at explaining their thinking ie why they had arranged their cards the way they had and the meaning behind them.  I also asked every group "How did the cards help you to think about this topic?" and every group was unusually expressive at describing how the shape of the cards had allowed them to make creative links and bring in evidence that they might have otherwise disregarded.  I was really pleased that all groups had been capable of this type of reflection.

There were a number of benefits to using SOLO to plan this lesson - (a) it refocused my mind on planning activities which encouraged higher order thinking (b) it allowed students to demonstrate their thinking in a visible way (c) the card sort enabled students to express through talk their response to the investigation.  It also highlighted how certain groups worked at solving this type of problem and how certain groups were capable of readily demonstrating relational thinking of a complex nature.

Next steps

My mission is now to build in a number of opportunities to allow students to actively use the SOLO taxonomy as a rubric for their learning.  After that I will need to spend time exploring with students how the HOT thinking maps can be used to organise effective thinking - hopefully in preparation for written work which demonstrates the same level of thinking.

ps here's the lesson powerpoint I used...