How and Why I got into SOLO taxonomy.

Solo

In 2010 I was given the opportunity to complete a part-funded Masters in Education through my current school. Despite being in my first year as a Director of Student Development (Head of Year to anyone outside my school!) I jumped at the chance. In my first two years on the programme I chose to focus on tackling underachievement within my year group. I gained a greater insight into the causes of underachievement and a better understanding of some of the interventions used to try to tackle it.

It was only in my final year that I chose to move my focus to my classroom practise. From the experience of my previous two years on the course I had realised that the only way I was going to be able to complete my Masters and remain sane, was to tie it directly to my appraisal objectives. This post is the story of how my classroom research project came about.

I had always felt a little bewildered by setting learning objectives, outcomes, aims (or any other name you wish to give them!). For me the process of lesson planning was very hit and miss. I relied on the scheme of work to do the bulk of the planning for me. This, however, lead to disasterous lessons on a number of occasions. Either the objectives were too numerous to possibly cover in one lesson or the objectives were not matched by the activities students were expected to complete. They also did not adequatly provide for less able or more able students. It lead to a planning headache that a teacher of 13 years should not be suffering from!

In addition to this I had experienced a shift in my mindset over marking. For years I had struggled to adhere to the school’s marking policy (once every 2 weeks with comment only marking). I didn’t understand the importance of marking nor the benefit to my students. I had fallen foul of book scrutinies on a couple of occasions. My head of department, knowing the pressures of my changing role, sat down with me and showed me how she was able to keep on top of her marking. Once every two weeks she would set a task in lesson. She would provide clear success criteria to the students, showing how to succeed. When she collected the books in she would focus her marking on this task and how closely the students had met the success criteria. Targets were then set based on how the student could improve the task further. The rest of the lessons would be covered by peer or self assessment evidenced by the presence of green pen in their books. I came away from this meeting with an enthusiam for marking I had never felt before. Who knew I could actually look forward to marking books!

This presented me with a new problem; how to structure the success criteria to provide increasing challenge for all students and how to ensure they were peer and sef assessing their work in between my teacher feedback. I then realised that I had a bigger problem. If I wished for students to be able to assess themselves and each other in between my feedback, I would need to provide clear success criteria for every lesson.  I went on a search of the internet hoping I could find some insight into creating decent learning objectives and accidently stumbled upon Pam Hook and her site Hooked on Learning.

Before that day I had no idea what SOLO taxonomy was. After reading every inch of Pam’s site, I was hooked! It appeared to be an approach I could use for creating success criteria. After reading Steve Martin’s “Using SOLO as a Framework for Teaching” I wanted to start trying it out in class. It was from this initial research that my appraisal objectives were formed and my focus for my final year research project started to take shape.

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