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How to use SOLO Taxonomy in the classroom

It may be baby steps at first, but soon it will be strides. First Steps with SOLO Taxonomy shows primary and secondary school teachers how to implement this powerful model of learning.
SOLO Taxonomy

When schools and teachers first nudge up against SOLO Taxonomy, they have many questions. How can you use SOLO? Where and when do you start?

These are the questions Pam Hook addresses in her (fittingly named) SOLO Taxonomy resource, First Steps with SOLO Taxonomy.

“This book is one of the best first-start places to not only learn about SOLO but also implement the ways of thinking using SOLO in classes. Pam Hook outlines what SOLO is, where it came from and how it works,” says Professor John Hattie in the Foreword.

“The section on applying SOLO in classrooms goes beyond the tips and tricks to emphasise the power of SOLO as a way of thinking about planning, teaching, learning and assessing.”

Schools and teachers must purchase First Steps with SOLO Taxonomy to get the full story from the “best implementer of SOLO.” However, Essential Resources gives some starting points to allow you to take your first steps here.

How can SOLO Taxonomy be used in the classroom?

“SOLO is a model that focuses on the learning outcome. Given that everything we do in schools is focused on the learner and the learning outcome, SOLO is useful in everything we do.” (Hook, p. 36)

Pam Hook is right, but hold the applause.

Before unleashing SOLO Taxonomy, teachers should first discuss why they wish to introduce it. Otherwise, it risks being “yet another “good idea” that detracts from effective practice.”

Which is where teachers’ first steps with SOLO should begin, by identifying a need or reason for using SOLO Taxonomy.

What are the advantages of using SOLO Taxonomy?

  • SOLO emphasises students have achieved a particular learning outcome because of the effort they put in and the strategies they used.
  • It repositions “knowing nothing” to “needing help to start”.
  • The gap between what students know and the desired learning outcome is visible.
  • SOLO helps to identify effective teaching and learning approaches to reach a learning goal.
  • Both declarative knowledge (learning about things) and functioning knowledge (learning to do things) can be measured and assessed.
  • It is a generic measure of learning outcomes across subjects and levels.

These are six out of the 16 reasons, outlined by Hook, for applying SOLO in the classroom ­– whether at primary school or secondary school.

As Professor Hattie says, though, Hook goes beyond just saying why teachers should implement SOLO – she says how it works.

Take using SOLO Taxonomy as a generic measure of learning outcomes across subjects. She illustrates how a SOLO self-assessment rubric can be used when working mathematically or for the visual arts.

Examples of thinking strategies and e-learning differentiated against SOLO Taxonomy levels
Examples of thinking strategies and e-learning differentiated against SOLO Taxonomy levels

How can you introduce SOLO Taxonomy in the classroom?

The first way is by labelling learning intentions.

It is common practice for teachers to put up either a learning objective, learning intention or WALT at the start of their lesson. These can be labelled using SOLO Taxonomy symbols and hand signs. This makes the desired learning outcome clear to students.

For example, laminated SOLO symbols with a moveable arrow on the whiteboard can be used to code learning intentions.

Labelling SOLO learning intentions on the whiteboard
Labelling SOLO learning intentions on the whiteboard

The follow on from this is to label success criteria and identify the next steps.

SOLO allows the complexity of the task and the outcome to be different. For example, a multistructural task (eg, describe) can be achieved at unistructural through to extended abstract levels.

Consequently, you can use SOLO levels to show the range the success criteria and next steps.

  • Learning intention: [SOLO Taxonomy verb] [content] [context] – SOLO level of task
  • Success criteria: outlined separately for each SOLO Taxonomy level

Doing so helps to create a common language of learning and supports students to see what learning is occurring.

Additionally, SOLO hexagons provide an interactive way to introduce and implement SOLO.

If teachers and students use these to introduce SOLO Taxonomy as a model, it is best to use a topic they are all familiar with.

Teachers can prepare the content on the hexagons before the session, or students can generate ideas during the lesson by:

  1. brainstorming everything they know about a given topic
  2. recording each idea on a separate blank hexagon
  3. making links between ideas by tessellating the hexagons
  4. annotating the reasons for linking the hexagons
  5. generalising a tessellation.

Start using SOLO in the classroom

Starting can be the hardest part. Except Pam Hook makes it easy by answering teachers’ SOLO questions, queries and hesitations.

As Professor Hattie eludes. SOLO Taxonomy brings back the thrill and the chase of making connections and the pleasure of being in the pit of not knowing, working with others to make links and test ideas.

You may now applaud.

References

Hook, Pam. (2023). First Steps with SOLO Taxonomy: Applying the model in your classroom. Invercargill, New Zealand: Essential Resources Educational Publishers Limited

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