Introduction to SOLO

A fitting finale to our first Workshops Of Wonder during Magic Monday was courtesy of our Head of Science Julie Ryder.  Julie treated our staff to an introduction to the SOLO taxonomy, which she has been experimenting with this year and is particularly relevant for us at the minute, considering our current focus on sharing challenging learning intentions.

This guest blog post was written by Julie, who outlines her own learning journey as well as providing us with an introduction to SOLO.  Over to Julie…

Introduction to SOLO title slide

What is SOLO?

SOLO is a model of learning developed in the 1970s and 80s by two Australian academics: John Biggs and Kevin Collis. It is based on their research of samples of many different student learning outcomes and was first developed 10 years ago for classroom based use in New Zealand schools.

Using SOLO as a framework for teaching

My own learning journey with SOLO began with this book about maximising achievement in science. Written by Steve Martin who, amongst other awards, is a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Science Teaching (2010). He received this award based on the  work he does with students, inspiring them to higher levels of achievement using SOLO to set challenging learning goals.

From this book I began to look into the work of Pam Hook (author of a range of excellent books on SOLO Taxonomy).  I have communicated with Pam since beginning with SOLO especially when I needed help getting started. Pam has always found the time to reply during which time she has offered much support and many ideas for which I am very grateful.

In her own words Pam describes one of the benefits of using SOLO as follows:

“One of the things I love about the classroom based use of SOLO Taxonomy is the way in which using the model helps students understand great questions. SOLO helps students understand how to construct great questions and how to answer them.”

I have seen evidence of this myself, especially in the quality of extended answers from all of my students – no matter what their target grades or ability are. My students very much enjoy being set challenging outcomes at extended abstract level and then ascertaining the learning journey they must take in order to achieve this.

SOLO makes the learning outcome visible as it focuses on the structure of a learning outcome. Thus we can ask ourselves when setting our outcomes:  is the structure of the learning outcome a single idea, a number of ideas, ideas that are in some way connected or are we applying our knowledge and understanding of these ideas in a new way?

These next  two slides are from a presentation by  David Didau on SOLO. David’s video clip from this link shows him explaining SOLO at a Teachmeet at Clevedon. It is a great introduction to SOLO levels for the beginner.

David writes excellent blogs that are always thought-provoking and I enjoy that he challenges my thinking regularly. His blogs always makes me reflect on and question my own practice and for that I am very grateful.

In one of his blogs on why the knowledge skills debate is worth having (linked here) David reminds us that the usefulness of SOLO is entirely dependent on the knowledge students possess and that it isn’t that skills are more important than knowledge: rather that both are necessary if students are to master a subject.

SOLO taxonomy

What is SOLO?

In my classroom I find currently that SOLO provides a great framework for students to progress, where students learning becomes deeper as they move through the levels.

SOLO hexagons are a great way to introduce students to SOLO as a model of learning outcomes. They demonstrate that single ideas are good and then that by connecting them in different ways this makes them more interesting and shows more complex understanding. Taking things further and considering a range of connections in clusters can lead to greater conceptual understanding.

Using SOLO hexagons is also an excellent way to determine a student’s prior knowledge and depth of understanding before starting a new topic or activity. Using ideas “stolen/borrowed/inspired” from those who blog about SOLO has allowed me to experiment using hexagons. I have used them to begin a new learning experience, to prompt students who are “stuck”, to challenge and deepen understanding and to create new understanding by introducing hexagons with additional content.

SOLO and deep learning

(Deep Learning image from a presentation by Tait Coles)

SOLO hexagons

When using hexagons the outcome will differ according to the SOLO level, put very simply: students who are able to describe the ideas/words on individual hexagons are said to be working at a multi structural level. Students who are able to make connections between hexagons and explain why they have linked the ideas together are working at a relational level.  Students who can explore a range of ideas where three hexagons share a corner or look at a cluster of hexagons and make a generalisation about the nature of the relationship between the ideas are working at extended abstract level. (Pam Hook)

SOLO hexagons 2

Why do I think you should use it?

It is excellent for both formative and summative assessment. It makes learning challenging but visible and provides a framework for progression. It great for finding out what students know before you start and then at any point there after progress can be checked. It is easy to use when planning lessons or a scheme of work as you can scaffold the learning experiences for the outcomes (constructive alignment) at unistructural, multistructural, relational and extended abstract levels.

It supports metacognition: what am I doing? – how well is it going? – what should I do next?

Challenge can then be provided through feedback and feed forward, which could be: teacher to student, student to teacher and student to student.

The slide below shows how I developed learning outcomes for photosynthesis which moved students from shallow to deep learning.

SOLO deep learning in science

There are a growing number of people out there who are or have tried SOLO. Many are writing or have written about SOLO and are using SOLO in their everyday teaching. I highly recommend the following who have helped and inspired me on my SOLO journey:

Pam Hook

Lisa Ashes (excellent blogs on a range of topics including SOLO) “SOLO teaches pupils to make relationships between ideas and then use these to question ideas further.”

David Didau (excellent blogs that are always thought provoking)

Tait Coles (great blogs and some nice videos of a year 8 class new to SOLO) (great article from “Creative teaching and learning” p57)

Finally in the words of Biggs and Collis

SOLO Biggs & Collis quote

If you are interested in learning more about how you might use the SOLO taxonomy or would like any more information or support please don’t hesitate to contact me.


3 thoughts on “Introduction to SOLO

  1. Artichoke

    Great overview Julie – will be helpful to many others trying to tease out how understanding the SOLO levels can be useful in raising achievement outcomes.

    One of the things I like about the taxonomy is the way it lets us look at declarative knowledge outcomes AND functioning knowledge (performance or doing stuff) outcomes … “two of the things” … and students can use SOLO as a model to self-assess their learning outcomes for different tasks and make smart choices on next steps … “three of the things” … and with SOLO the focus is on the complexity of the structure of the student response, rather than on a categorisation of the student themselves … arghh it is impossible to limit the list … as your post reveals it is a very likeable taxonomy.

    If your readers want to learn more I always recommend starting at the beginning with John Biggs Website and then read John and Catherine’s book – available on Amazon
    Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university. What the student does (3rd Ed.). Berkshire: Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.

  2. Pingback: Blog link: @Belmont Teach, Magic Monday 1: Introduction to Solo ( Julie Ryder) | globalsolo

  3. Pingback: Blog of the Fortnight | Teaching and Learning TGES

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