Acronym Attack: AfL and ZPD through SOLO #PedagooGlasgow

I’ll let you into a little secret…come closer…promise not to tell anyone…before last week, I’d never actually done a workshop at a Pedagoo event! Having come up with the whole idea and organised the first ever one, that’s quite a shocking revelation to many – but there you have it. So, I was actually quite nervous on Saturday morning when I realised that I was actually going to practice what I’ve been preaching all these years!

And as if that wasn’t enough pressure, the night before this workshop on how we’ve been trying SOLO Taxonomy…there was a massive stooshie on twitter about this very subject! The main objection from those who are ‘against’ SOLO [since when did we become so either/or and argumentative on twitter 🙁 ] seems to be that there is no ‘evidence’ to support it. I have two problems with this view of the world…

  1. This assumes at all ‘evidence’ has to come from large-scale randomised controlled trials that results in an increase in attainment. I don’t particularly buy into this positivist view of educational research. At our school we have been engaging with SOLO Taxonomy as enquiring practitioners and evidencing impact (or otherwise) in our own context based on the outcomes we are interested in achieving and whilst our evidence is also surely flawed, I’m actually a lot happier about its validity than many of the ‘respected’ sources of evidence.
  2. And secondly. This view also assumes that SOLO is a ‘thing’ in its own right. Perhaps others see it that way, but we don’t. We’ve been using SOLO as a way of supporting metacognition and formative feedback. So if you’re really wanting to base everything you do on metaanalyses, then this would be my response. SOLO is just a language, it’s not the actual pedagogy.

Anyway. Thought I ought to get that out of the way first. So, SOLO then. How have we been using it? I’m not going to start by boring you with what SOLO is. If you don’t already know that there’s loads out there already which will do this much better than I can. Instead, I’m going to start by telling you what led us to try using SOLO. The diagram below summarises the learning and teaching model at our school, the important bit here being that we’re trying to introduce a six-part lesson cycle approach to planning most of our lessons – with thanks as always to Cramlington Learning Village.


One of the hardest issues presented by this approach is trying to properly reflect on learning, as well as reviewing it. Both students and teachers find this difficult, and part of the reason would appear to be a lack of a common language to discuss the learning process. It is for this reason that we first attempted to use SOLO in our Biology lessons. We added SOLO outcomes to our National 5 lesson cycles at the review and reflect stage of the cycle. Although this improved things a little, it wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped. In particular, I felt as though we are constantly ending lessons leaving students feeling as failures as they had inevitably not yet reached the top of the scale and we were having to move on with the course due to time pressures.

So, I had a brainwave. If the SOLO outcomes were introduced at the discuss learning outcomes stage of the cycle, this could support students to identify where they currently are in their learning of the topic and what their target would be. This I felt was in some way akin to setting a zone of proximal development for the lesson. We also began to try and write the SOLO scales in a consistent format, with unistructural being the expected prior knowledge, multisctructural being the ‘C’ level content, relational being a ‘B’ level understanding of the topic  and extended abstract being equivalent of an ‘A’ grade candidate’s ability to apply their understanding of the topic.

In addition, we also made a much greater effort to plan demonstrate tasks which would allow us and the students to assess their progress in the cycle against the SOLO outcomes [such as using the hexagons from Pam Hook’s fab website]. The hope was that this would more effectively support learning in our lessons, and also improve the level of reflection occurring throughout and at the end of cycles. Having observed each other’s lessons and interviewed the students we did indeed find this to be the case. We also found that the students were more able to articulate their progress and their next steps, and more likely to act independently to progress these next steps. They weren’t all positive though. They want printed versions of the SOLO grids and they want each one to last for longer than one cycle, both of which we’re going to take on board for next session.

So, that’s what we’ve been trying. We’re by no means experts in SOLO at all. We’ve just been giving it a go and are willing to share. Perhaps you’ve used SOLO too? Why not tell us how, why and what you found out as a comment below.

All the handouts we gave out on the day can be downloaded here.

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