Tag Archives: SOLO

Engaging the Whole Class with Large SOLO Hexagons

Yesterday my Year 9 class were finishing up our Ecosystems unit in anticipation of quickly moving onto our next unit, Splitting the Atom. We have our half yearly exam coming up very soon so I wanted us to do a revision activity but without spending a whole slab of precious class time on it. Enter the SOLO hexagons!

Now I’ve talked before about using the SOLO hexagon activity in class, with some examples of how I’ve used them. But when I’ve done these activities, I’ve used the small hexagon template and had the students write on the hexagons and cut them out with scissors. The good and bad thing about this, though, is that it can be time consuming to get the students to build solid connections between ideas.

So what I’ve done this time around (with the gracious help of our lab assistant) is to use the large hexagon template (which has 2 per page), cut them out and laminated them. I also had a brainwave and stuck some magnetic tape on the back. The lamination means that you can write on them with whiteboard markers and erase them. The magnetic tape allows you to stick them up onto the whiteboard and make a whole-class tessellation!

I asked the students to write one idea, word, concept relating to our Ecosystems unit and then take turns to put them up on the board, connecting their idea to the ideas already up there. Here’s a photo of their efforts:

20140522-071838-26318864.jpgAt the end we had a few clusters of ideas that I wanted us to recognise, so I wrote those subheadings based on the students’ suggestions.

All up, this activity took 10 minutes tops! Now admittedly we have done the hexagon activity a few times now, so they have some experience and know the format by now, but it was a productive and efficient way to summarise our ideas. There were a lot of ideas not represented (can you tell that we’ve covered the water cycle most recently?) but it was a helpful way to cap things off.

A word to the wise, though – it can be a lot harder to clean marker off laminate than an actual whiteboard!

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SOLO Learning Intentions and Success Criteria

Today I moved to the next level in my implementation of SOLO (see what I did there?). In my Year 9 class we were revising the concept of food chains and webs, which they covered in Year 8 but now with the Australian Curriculum has become a topic for Stage 5.

We’ve recently introduced SOLO, developing a familiarity with the five levels and completed a survey on attitudes to learning and intelligence and the growth mindset. It was now time to start to introduce the concepts of learning intentions and success criteria.

Learning intentions are a way of articulating to students the purpose and goals of the lesson. I realise that having goals for a lesson isn’t a new concept, but it is an important part of using SOLO in the classroom. They allow students a clear point of comparison at the end of the lesson when they reflect on their learning. If the students know at the start what they are setting out to accomplish, then they can more effectively gauge where their understanding is at at the end.

Success criteria are a way of outlining to the students what success looks like at each of the levels of SOLO, i.e. what does a relational understanding of a particular learning intention look like? Alice puts it really well when she describes them as follows:

…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.

Here are my success criteria for this lesson:

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The students really seemed to respond to the clearly articulated learning intentions and success criteria. They had a clearer idea of what was expected and what level of understanding they were working at. They were still a bit unsure of what to do – it’s all still very new and there were a number of new factors today – but overall it was very positive.

I definitely need to improve on articulating the strategies that the students can use to achieve success and I think I assumed that they had too much knowledge already. Many of the questions and problems that arose related to knowledge that I had assumed the students had and so I had to backpedal a few times to address this. Nevertheless, the students had a much clearer idea of how to improve and make progress and we’re definitely making positive moves towards adopting the growth mindset. Here’s a sample of one group’s effort that is working at the relational level for this lesson:

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Definitely lots to celebrate here!

Introducing SOLO and the Growth Mindset

The new school term started back today, and so I’ve decided to start implementing SOLO into my everyday practice. At the moment I feel rather unprepared for it all, so I suspect that I’ll just have to feel my way through for a time.

Over the next few days I will be introducing SOLO to my students in a more explicit sense, discussing the levels in the taxonomy and what each one represents with some scientific examples. I have an introductory PowerPoint based on one that Alice posted that I showed to my Year 10 class today and will roll out to the others over the next little while (I’ll endeavour to put it up if I get the chance).

Tomorrow I’m also going to start giving my students a survey to find out their attitudes about intelligence, effort and scientific ability. I plan on using this as a way to introduce the concept of the growth mindset, which I see is crucial to success using SOLO.

Watch this space!

Getting into the SOLO way of thinking

20140413-224143.jpgI know it’s probably getting a bit repetitive all of these posts on about SOLO, but I’ve really been impacted by a lot of the ideas from that workshop and it’s really gotten me thinking.

I’ve wanted to find out more about how to develop a growth mindset in my students, as this is something I see to be a key idea to help make SOLO work. I found some great resources that I want to take the time to explore.

Alongside these thoughts, I’ve also been developing a new skill of my own – riding a motorcycle. Or a scooter, to be more precise. I’ve been wanting to take up the hobby for some time now and I finally acted on it a few weeks ago, booking into the pre-learners riding course that the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS – the new RTA) makes novice riders complete before they can get their L’s. I’ve been completing this course yesterday and today, and it’s been a whole lot of fun, as well as a steep-ish learning curve.

Interestingly, I’ve found that my developing ideas around SOLO helped me a lot in my attitude to learning this skill. In the past, when learning new things I’ve tended to have very high expectations of myself and assume that I should be awesome at it from minute one. Clearly these expectations are unrealistic (duh!) but I’ve always found that I put that sort of pressure on myself, even if it’s subconscious.

But I found myself using the levels of SOLO when analysing my own developing skills.

  • At the start of yesterday, I knew nothing about riding a bike beyond what I’d seen in movies and watching others ride (prestructural).
  • After learning some fundamentals (how to mount and dismount, learning the controls etc) I knew how to do some things but only with specific guidance and instruction one-on-one (unistructural).
  • As I practiced manoeuvres over and over again, I found myself getting it right more often than I got it wrong, but I still made mistakes. I was improving but still with a way to go yet (multistructural).

Now I certainly haven’t reached anywhere near relational or extended abstract (not without a whole lot more practice and experience), but using these SOLO concepts and terms I could definitely see how my skills were progressing. Most interestingly, I found that my attitude towards my rough skills was far more positive than I might have felt in the past. I was able to give myself permission to be rubbish at it much more easily than I would have. I saw where my skill was at, and rather than feeling frustrated at not being an expert from the start, I felt more satisfaction at my progress from one level to the next. I could also see strategies that were helping me to move up through the levels – repetition, visualisation, modelling the expert (I.e. the instructor), positive self-talk, and so on.

I really feel like I myself moved more towards a growth mindset in this totally un-school related activity, and I was really happy with that. I felt excited, positive and could readily accept that I’m still a novice, knowing that I’m simply not there yet.

Using the SOLO Hexagons – Some Classroom Examples

Today was the last day of our first term, so for some strange reason I decided today would be the day that I would road-test the use of the SOLO hexagons that I learnt about the other day.

Despite the admittedly tricky timing, I wanted to use them today as a way for my Year 10 students to finish off their unit on Chemical Reactions. I had hoped that they would use the exercise to build connections between ideas that we had met and refresh their memories.

Unfortunately, the reality was a fair bit more lacklustre than that. I had pre-prepared the hexagons for them but i wasn’t around for the start of the lesson, so they were rather lost. They were clearly also in last day mode, but some of them got something useful out of it. Here’s some samples:

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As a spur of the moment thing, I also decided to do it with my Year 9 class. With them I just got them to write ideas down on blank hexagons and then piece them together – much like we did when at the workshop. This class seemed to get into the activity a bit more, and with some direct guidance came up with some useful connections. Here are some more examples:

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20140412-170738.jpgLots of quality work here, with great potential for using it in future. I think that I need to work on how much explanation and elaboration I do to help them understand how the activity works. Hopefully this will save some of the blank looks in future!

Exploring the SOLO Taxonomy

Today I had the fantastic opportunity to explore the use of the SOLO taxonomy with Pam Hook. This is something I’ve been really interested in learning more about, ever since seeing it on Alice Leung’s blog.

For those (like me) who haven’t had much experience with SOLO, it stands for Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes. I would sum it up as a way of looking at student learning that is accounting for where their understanding at in terms of connecting ideas.

In a superficially similar way to Bloom’s taxonomy, SOLO is a sequence of five levels:

Prestructural – I don’t know anything about (X).
Unistructural – I have one idea about (X).
Multistructural – I have many ideas about (X) but they are unconnected.
Relational – I have many ideas about (X) and can make the connections between them.
Extended Abstract – I have many ideas about (X), can make detailed connections between them and extend it somewhere new or apply it to novel situations.

(I say superficially because there are fundamental differences between the underlying ideas behind and application of these two approaches, something which became increasingly apparent throughout the day.)

We can also think about it in terms of functioning knowledge (about how to do something), in which case it looks slightly different:

Prestructural – I need help to (X).
Unistructural – I can do (X) if I have lots of guidance and specific help.
Multistructural – I can do (X) by myself, but I don’t know the reasons why and I do make mistakes.
Relational – I can do (X) very well. I know the why and when of the steps. I can analyse the reason for my mistakes and self correct.
Extended Abstract – I can do (X) really, really well. I can take it in new directions. I seek critique and feedback to improve. Others can learn from me and I can teach others how to do it (act as a role model).

The idea behind this taxonomy is that you see the student’s work and rather than assessing it purely for correctness, you see how well the student can state and connect ideas about a topic. Can they only mention one thing about the topic? Can they state multiple facts but without understanding the links between them? Or do they have a deep, conceptual understanding of the topic, to the point of being able to effectively teach someone else? SOLO can help identify these levels.

Here are some of the things that really excite me about SOLO:

  • It’s a system that students can (and should) own. It doesn’t have to be purely a teacher-driven lens to examine students’ work. It will have its greatest power as an assessment-as-learning tool to help students identify a) where their learning is at and b) how to move their understanding to the next level.
  • It assesses where their understanding is at on that particular topic, rather than of the subject or semester as a whole. I see a lot of potential for it to help the students identify their specific strengths and weaknesses, allowing them (especially seniors) to target their revision and practice accordingly.
  • Everyone is prestructural about something at some point- regardless of our life experience or expertise. I may have two university degrees under my belt and have achieved the University Medal, but I’m certainly prestructural about how to hang a door! Everyone has to start out there, but the only way is up!

One fantastic SOLO strategy that I’m itching to try is the SOLO hexagons. A great way for students to bring in ideas about a topic, make connections and then explicitly articulate those connections.

So, I realise this is a lot of detail but I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to learn directly from someone who is apparently quite the guru – especially in a regional area. I really look forward to implementing some of these in my classroom and faculty.