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.