There, we’ve done it. We’ve tried a few lessons on SOLO taxonomy. With variable success initially, but it is fast becoming indispensible. I find myself in the midst of a lesson working through a concept with a group I wasn’t going to initiate into the rites thinking “They’ve just gone ‘relational’ there…… wish they knew about ‘extended abstract’ so they could try and take it on to the higher level”. In fact that’s how I came to introduce it to the Year 13 geographers; I hadn’t intended to, but the compulsion was overwhelming as they worked through a mind-mapping summary of retail location issues. As they amassed their points, classified and categorized with different pens, drew linking arrows and developed hypotheses along the lines of ‘out-of-town retail parks could be permitted as long as…..’ I was checking off SOLO levels in my head. I discarded the planned supplementary and showed them the SOLO powerpoint I’d been using with Year 8, my focus group. They were distinctly underwhelmed as I reflected to them how their thinking had staged the processes. Mentally kicking myself I sensed that by introducing it prematurely we had lost the opportunity to engage with it any further. ‘Don’t like it,’ said Olivia ‘….it’s a bit childish’. Sales pitch crashes and burns.
But perseverance with Year 8 has grown over three lessons into moments that have been like a key finally turning in a belligerent lock. Plunging into the SOLO concept (on a ‘now or never’ basis) at the start of a unit comparing Japan and the UK students researched information on the two countries (global location, climate, vegetation, housing, rural and urban landscapes…) and looked for similarities and differences. They posted what they had discovered on SOLO stage sheets around the room with some locking in immediately whilst others wailed “but I don’t understand what I’m meant to be doing”. Undeterred we started the next lesson with a ‘thunk’ – posing the question of why Japan’s location could possibly link to the fact that many sleep on futons that are unrolled each night rather than permanent bedrooms. The plausible suggestions were fabulous – and from the whole range in this mixed-ability group.
The class then studied a connectives chart that I have used for the past few years but wondered if SOLO-ising it would generate less guesswork and more logical thinking. Groups of students selected one info. box from each line to trace the cause-effect relationships from starting to finishing point, writing their chosen statement on the hexagons that were introduced this lesson. This is where the real insight took place. While some groups argued about which statements to select, Stephen – who had been jumping at the chance the previous lesson to demonstrate an ‘extended abstract’ idea (not fully accurately but inspired to complete the stages) put his hand up and asked if he could start at the relational end point – and work backwards. Deconstruction rather than construction of cause-effect. He completed it in seconds and his fist-punch as I nodded he’d got it ‘right’ was pure joy. But then I discovered I wasn’t ‘right’. For group after group kept finding other ways of combining the information in connectives I hadn’t considered myself. Jay convinced me with sheer force of his logical argument that one of the distractors on the flow chart could actually be ‘correct’ as he traced the line of his thinking through his hexagons.
The exercise enabled weaker groups to gain progress from connecting 3-4 hexagons in a logical sequence, others to trace the whole sequence from start to finish, and the most rapid finishers to start adding new hexagon relationships from information they had researched the previous lesson. A lesson that had provided a useful 10 minute thinking exercise in previous years was evolving into a half hour exploration of relationships and captured imaginations in the quest for long chains of cause-and-effect and ‘relational’ thinking. It was Stephen, again – so desperate to get to an ‘extended abstract’ level – who, in a flash of insight – suggested that if the end of the hexagon line generated a further question in his head – then wouldn’t that start a new SOLO sequence of investigation? I would not, before I tried it, have given credence to a suggestion that an uncomplicated concept like SOLO could ignite such creative thinking in such an age-group.
And the Year 13? Ah – they were ensnared two lessons down the line. Giving back their essays which had been researched and written with honest endeavour, as is characteristic of this highly motivated group, none had achieved higher than a B grade. As we considered what they needed for the elusive A grade, I put up the SOLO taxonomy chart again. “Extended abstract”, I said, “it’s what your conclusions all lacked”. They had all produced great case-studies and used them to support their answer. But all the conclusions were simple summaries of what they had previously written. No-one had taken the objective view and distilled the essential elements of successful urban regeneration strategies. Next time I’m sure some of them will. Those SOLO symbols will trigger thought-processes that will see them thinking extensively in the abstract.
There are many posts out there that explain SOLO better than I have here. So why have I written up mine? It’s as a tribute to my first head of geography – the person who gave me my first job and for whom, at round about my age, in his mid 50’s, found teaching was too unbearable to continue. One morning he drove his car towards school; at some point stopped, turned round, returned home – and never came to school again. If those of us in the job, daily, can find – and share – some of its enervating joy, then maybe we can help some who are wobbling along the path to continue in the game until it feels better.
For some great SOLO taxonomy posts you really need to read the following:
Pam Hook – SOLO originator and special New Zealander http://www.pamhook.com follow @arti_choke
David Didau – SOLO exponent for English (and Volcanoes) http://learningspy.co.uk/solo-taxonomy/ follow @learningspy
Andy Knill – SOLO exponent for Geography http://mishmashlearning.wordpress.com/ follow @aknill
John Sayers – SOLO exponent for Geography http://sayersjohn.blogspot.co.uk/ follow @JOHNSAYERS
Wilmslow High School – SOLO purveyors of excellence http://lookoutforlearning.wordpress.com/
Helene O’Shea – expansive list of SOLO blog links http://monkeylearns.blogspot.co.uk/