Kia ora all. Here we are in week six, heading towards the end of term, alongside the end of winter.
This week I am delighted to share snapshots on SOLO Taxonomy. For many years now I have heard of, seen in classrooms, talked with teachers about this framework.
After talking with Pam Hook, I am delighted to share the following snapshots from educators around New Zealand.
How are you using SOLO in your literacy programme?
What questions do you still have about SOLO?
Mrs Virginia Kung is the Assistant Principal at Newmarket School and part of her responsibility includes overseeing curriculum.
She explains how SOLO Taxonomy underpins the school’s strategic plan. Virginia can often be found modelling lessons and is a critical friend for teachers using SOLO Taxonomy.
Visual references to SOLO Taxonomy can be seen around the school and these are found on the walls, on the tables, modelling books and in planning. Newmarket School emulates the SOLO Taxonomy Mantra 'What am I learning, How is it going and What do I do next? SOLO Taxonomy is seen and felt when you enter the school.
SOLO Taxonomy frames Newmarket School learners self-efficacy.
For further information you can visit
After establishing the HOT rubrics for defining "Culture" the children used "post it" notes to record their current knowledge of Culture on the define map.
From this each child went away and wrote what they understood Culture meant to them on a self-assessment rubric. Their definitions will be revisited at the end of the inquiry to measure changes in thinking and attitude about "Culture".
You can create your own Rubric using Pam Hook’s Visual Rubrics generator.
My SOLO journey – there’s nothing solo about it
My SOLO journey has been a long, challenging and fruitful journey as a learner, teacher and finally as a writer. It started in 2007, when, as a teacher at Lincoln High School in Canterbury, I was introduced to SOLO at a Teacher Only Day. This was an exciting time for me at Lincoln. We had experimented with a number of ‘thinking strategies’ in previous years and I was involved in cross-curriculum Learning Teams. Learning Teams were an integral part of teachers’ Professional Development: teachers working together to impact student learning. The conversations, and the time that we were given to have those conversations, were invaluable. I was involved as a Year 9 English teacher and later as the Professional Learning Facilitator - as part of my role as Specialist Classroom Teacher. While the various thinking strategies that we had tried had varying degrees of success they only impacted on a small group of students, not school wide. We were in need of a transferable model that would engage teachers and students. Pam Hook and Julie Mills presented their workshop to the whole staff at the TOD and basically it built from there. Linda Tame, then Principal at Lincoln, and Grant Saul, Director of Teaching and Learning were key motivators in this process. A Values and Vision model was developed and SOLO integrated into this.
Pam continued to visit school for several days at a time working with individual Learning Areas on their SOLO resources. As a classroom teacher and HOD of English, I was in the position to be able to use the SOLO maps and rubrics with my students, and to include newer staff members in PD. It became necessary to introduce new teachers to SOLO and upskill other staff by running sessions as part of English meetings. I would say that we had pretty good buy-in by our teachers on the whole and part of that comes down to Pam’s way of presenting and working with staff. She was able to make the links between SOLO and all LA’s, something that had been missing from our early attempts at thinking skills synthesis. She was always an enthusiastic sounding board and no question seemed too simple. In English, we focused on selecting the maps with best fit (compare-contrast, describe, define, parts-whole)and using them in a literary context We wrote up exemplars for students to use alongside the maps, to show them how to improve their writing. We coded our common assessment rubrics in line with SOLO, created differentiated novel studies with tasks at multistructural, relational and extended abstract levels. Classroom SOLO posters and whiteboards with SOLO symbols became the norm. It was an avenue to encourage our students to Aim High. It made meaning across ALL subjects and Learning Areas. It was a common language. It provided students with the graphic organisers to show their thinking in an explicit way. It provided clear opportunities for teachers to give feedback and guide students ‘where to next’.
It is four years since I left Lincoln High School to take up my biggest challenge yet – being a mum to two pre-schoolers. In between the two boys, Essential Resources approached me, with prompting from Pam, to write some educational texts. I asked Pam if she would be interested in co-writing the book with me, on Making Meaning in English. It was a fabulous project to be involved in and the single book turned into three! I joined Twitter and love the enthusiasm that teachers have for SOLO across the globe. The original ideas and meaningful classroom learning that is going on just astounds me. I feel proud of my own learning journey and how I have evolved as both teacher and importantly as learner.
SOLO Taxonomy and Teaching Early Literacy
SOLO (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) Taxonomy, developed by Biggs and Collis (1982), is a model of learning that makes the progression from shallow to deep, then contextual understanding visible. A growing number of New Zealand educators are using SOLO in their learning environments every day to empower learners of all ages and in all contexts, to notice how they are learning. I can't perceive a better way to develop sustainable, lifelong learners than by helping our children notice how to learn so they can apply the strategies to any imaginable learning goal. SOLO is simple enough for 3 year old learners to make meaning of, and can be made as complex as anyone needs it to be. Using SOLO Taxonomy affords respect to the learner by focusing on the practice of learning. Effort trumps luck every time!
Sharing SOLO Taxonomy with student learners so that they can make skilled and active decisions about their next steps in learning is an initiative of Pam Hook and Julie Mills (Hooked on Thinking Educational Consultancy). Their classroom based approach to using SOLO is evident in many New Zealand primary, intermediate and secondary schools and is rapidly gaining in popularity with educators in Australia and the United Kingdom. John Biggs has acted as a critical friend for the New Zealand work since it's introduction, describing the use of SOLO by Hook and Mills as "innovative work" that "clearly demonstrates how children can become participants in improving the quality of their own learning." (Hook and Mills 2011). New Zealand teachers have explored classroom use of SOLO with enthusiasm and passion because many of us genuinely believe in the potential of using it to empower our learners. We should be justifiably proud of this work! To explore the theory behind SOLO, to access innovative, free digital resources, and find out how to purchase invaluable educational texts to support the introduction of SOLO into your own practice, your first point of call must be http://pamhook.com/
My goal five years ago was to find out more about SOLO. I easily assessed my understanding of SOLO as Prestructural; I had heard of it, but that was about all! I knew I needed to learn more in order to work in a school (and lead a team) that used it, so I made it my mission! I had used other metacognitive tools with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but hearing SOLO explained by Pam during her Keynote presentation at Learning@Schools, 2009, it just made sense. I had that lightbulb moment, that moment when you just ‘get it’! I could see how I might use it to plan for personalising learning, to assess learning outcomes and for learners to assess their own, to scaffold learning throughout a lesson. I could use the maps, and now visual rubrics as tools for guiding discussions, processing and unpacking ideas in all curriculum areas, and for planning for shared writing with my New Entrant and Year One learners. I saw the potential for raising achievement with the use of SOLO. I couldn't think of a reason not to use it with my learners! So I did. I began exploring, failing forward and learning more. For the purpose of this piece, I limit my description to a snapshot of how I use SOLO within the parameters of teaching and learning in literacy.
I think our youngest learners are our most experienced and uninhibited wonderers - every experience is new! In my experience, they are not scared of the language of SOLO Taxonomy - an aspect that I know worries some educators. Those 'big words' we hear are just sounds to our younger learners. If we clarify their meaning together (as we do with all learning verbs), tap them out in a rhythm so they hear how it sounds, they are usually pretty keen to show off how they can use them! I have taught many English language learners since learning about SOLO and these learners have certainly also found success with using this taxonomy. I’m sure the frequent, purposeful links made between words, symbols and hand signals to create visual connections to the learning stages, and also the emphasis on 'oral language that occurs are both key factors. 'Learning Talk' is so important, especially considering when my learners enter school, many cannot read or write; they need to be able to communicate through talk and visual imagery!
My favourite response to a question is “I don't know...!". This becomes the perfect opportunity for me to help my learners see that not knowing is not a ‘fail’,but rather an exciting opportunity to learn something new, thus encouraging the development a growth mindset (Dweck, 2007); a mindset that sees that with effort, learning something new as exciting and attainable. We cannot move instantly from not knowing, to expertise. There are a few steps in between!
A large portion of every day is dedicated to developing early literacy skills. I am bound by outcomes and expectations that my learners must meet after a certain number of weeks at school, despite varying degrees of learner 'readiness' for this to happen. I do find it rewarding when a child enters my class with little knowledge of letter sounds and so quickly realises that they too are 'readers and writers' who can create and make meaning from texts! I find it is even more rewarding that I am able to help them learn the sustainable skill of 'learning how to learn', as I teach these early literacy skills. SOLO can be introduced in so many ways. I will illustrate one and suggest others;
Context: SOLO through shared reading.
We enjoy reading a 'big book' or a quality picture book over several days. We have a daily focus so we can develop our understanding of surface and deeper features. We respond to the text in different ways and all join in reading it. Recalling and retelling information from texts is important to check if we have understood what we have read. How might this look in a new entrant class if we use SOLO?
Learning Goal: Recall information from a story we read.
Prestructural - We read a story, I can't remember what it was about though.
Unistructural - We read a story, I can tell someone one idea about it (e.g. identify a character or one event). I need help to recall more ideas.
Multistructural - We read a story, I can tell someone more than one idea about it (e.g. Identify characters, describe some events in the story). I might get these mixed up though, I might need to check in the book or ask someone else for help.
Relational - We read a story, I can link/connect my ideas about this story. (e.g. Describe the story in sequence, explain a main event from the story).
Extended Abstract - We read a story, I wonder about this story in a new way, I connect my ideas about this story to something else (e.g. Imagine, if I was in the story I would..., What if..., This story/character reminds me of....)
SOLO can be used to make learning steps visible when constructing a sentence, introducing and using punctuation, learning to write in a legible way (handwriting) - what does that mean? What does it look like? What do I need to notice? How can I make that happen? Where else can I use this?
SOLO can be used to plan with learners how to use those squiggles we call letters to help us read, how to ensure we are using a range of decoding strategies, how to help structure development of comprehension of texts at any level…
If it's something you can learn, you can use this taxonomy, and if you aren't sure about creating an effective rubric, you don't have to. When you know the skill you wish your learners to develop and the context, head to the HookEd Learning Intention generator and let that create it for you.
Consistency and effort are worth it. The more I model ‘noticing’ by thinking aloud how we are learning, the more familiar my learners become with the steps. The more familiar they become, the more independent they become at noticing the steps for themselves - and feeding back to each other. Using SOLO Taxonomy to frame next learning steps simply becomes how we see learning; my learners and I can all aim to meet our different learning goals using the same model. I think that’s pretty powerful.
A HUGE thank you to Virginia, Liz and Bridget for sharing your stories.
Anne’s Literacy Links and Look ups…
NZLA conference Surfing the Literacy Wave
Tauranga, 28 September – 1 October 2014 www.nzla.org.nz
Ngā mihi nui
Literacy Online Facilitator
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