My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Through a SOLO lens.

For me SOLO taxonomy is an integrated part of my Teaching and Learning repertoire. It serves many purposes, very well as I learn more. It HELPS in many ways, I 'm using the help here pejoratively as the content of the learning (whether it be factual, conceptual, procedural or metacognitive knowledge) will determine the appropriate pedagogy. SOLO gives this process more clarity.

It helps breakdown overarching Learning Intentions into manageable, progressive chunks. The quantitative sections (Uni and Multistructural) sections are the foundations on which the rest of the learning will be built, often but not exclusively "essential learnings". Progress between the Unistructural and Multistructural sections are relatively simple to plan for, providing information is "hit" between three and four different ways, ensuring retention and relevance of student responses. Relational learning often brings about those activities that allow students to see the information in different ways.

SOLO also helps focus on what kind of thinking is helpful given the knowledge being studied. Radically I don't believe we can teach people to think.It's something we do as we are human. It's natural. People think. However, we can teach the importance of thinking in different ways to gain different perspectives. SOLO  helps focus on what kind of thinking is currently useful.

SOLO taxonomy is not a start point for planning learning, no tool or activity is, who would wander the aisles of Homebase picking out the best high revolution precision cutter, and then decide what to make (although I'd love one). However, it does help ensure clarity and progression within the content knowledge.When planning lessons or schemes of learning I tend to write down all the big content and skill ideas that the students need to know, then group them by concept, and only then do I view them with a SOLO lens. 

Looking at the learning intentions through a SOLO lens helps first plot any progressions that have already arisen, but most important makes me consider what are the essential learnings that students need to have before they understand or do what I want them to learn. In a way I back fill the building blocks of a concept. Sometimes, this is not possible and therefore I get to see clearly where the "leaps of faith" are needed. I never worry about this I'm "Nuthallian". I witnessed a student learn something a French lesson today, brilliantly the teacher had posed a question that required the distilling of a grammar rule, as well as seeking multiple responses from students. He started his response with " I was thinking that the answers was...." and then used one of the best thinking words "but" and continued to ascribe his learning to the responses the other students he had just heard, He concluded beautifully with "So they were right and the rule is this....it makes sense" As I said a leap of faith, but one where SOLO could make me aware of where I might need to  scaffold more, or target my formative assessment. This example is probably the commonest "leap of faith" for SOLO and for me the most difficult to plan for, getting to Extended Abstract. Sometimes, this is solved by a single question. "Would the student learning of THIS content  benefit from spending time contemplating a Extended Abstract activity?" If the answer is NO, then I don't crowbar it in. The SOLO levels are a tool, not a destination.
Its not uncommon for my Learning intentions of gaps. Keep it relevant to the content

If the answer is YES, then SOLO provides a structure to visualise potential next steps. I really like the logical nature and it fits beautifully with Science .I know colleagues have found this to be true across all "subjects", but in all cases it content knowledge view with the SOLO lens. The simplified way it represents content knowledge and how increasing complexity can be achieved. This probably  explains why it's transferable.
For me the first appeal was the to assess the quality of student work and in doing so naturally fell in to using it  to provide feedback. It was not until much later that I understood its full potential in developing progression in Learning Intentions that can be tracked, and this for me turns the "leaps of faith" into manageable, "plan-able"  and visible learning steps.