Definition and background
What is SOLO Taxonomy? SOLO is the Sustained Observation of Learning Outcomes. I was first introduced to this learning framework during my TESSOL diploma in 1997. I selected to present the work of Biggs and Collier during one of my earliest assignments. We had to present our learning in 5 minutes. A decade later I joined Newmarket School and the school was in the second year of an ICTPD contract with Pam Hook. I was incredibly lucky in my second year to oversee the contract therefore was able to have extra learning time with Pam. My understanding of SOLO was reactivated as we learnt how to use the HOT frames and rubrics.
I used the HookEd maps from Pam to identify where I was on my learning with using ICT with my students. Those who know me know that I am a technology geek and pride myself on getting fabulous work when I am working with children. When I used the frames to self asses where I was and what my next steps would be, I was shocked to learn that my outcomes were multistructural. In focusing on the product and what could be seen, I totally missed the process and reflection from my learners. So I made it a mission to plug this gap in my learning. Over the next year, I read around SOLO. I cyber stalked the work of Pam Hook. I reread the theory behind SOLO. I reread John Biggs and even talked to him via email. On twitter I started to identify teachers who were using SOLO and devouring everything I could. As I followed teachers particularly from overseas I could see the HookED SOLO Taxonomy maps and symbols in all that they were doing and all this led back to the work of Pam.
In gathering the overview for our school about SOLO I quickly identified who the strong teacher users were and one was Virginia Kung. I targeted Ginny for discussion and kept hounding her for feedback. Some of my best outcomes from children were framed using SOLO. Ginny would come in and observe and give me feedback. At the beginning of every session her first question was, ” Show me your rubric.” In my earlier teaching sessions I did not understand the importance of using the rubrics. Ginny still observes me and still has discussions with me and she still says at the beginning of every session, “Show me your rubric.” What the rubric does is clarify what you are looking for with your learners. It allows you to see the progression of your teaching. It highlights key words that jump out and if the children highlight these in their process and reflections and this helps drive identifying next steps and reflecting about what went went well. That learning has finally sunk in. I now always start with the rubric. In addition, if I am writing with the children, I have learnt to have a go first at writing out what I want to see from them. A good example of this is explaining what whānaungatanga is. First I would define whānaungatanga, then describe what it looks like at Newmarket School and make a list of school events that highlight the concept of whānaungatanga. Next I would explain what whānaungatanga means and then if we had an event that brought our school community together, I would evaluate if whānaungatanga was present and maybe identify what we needed to do next time to make the event even better at bringing people together to collaborate, share and celebrate.
HOT maps and rubrics
In the earlier days I was hooked on using the HookED Hot maps. I pulled them all out, and displayed them on one wall of my teaching space. I aligned all the rubrics underneath them, stood back and tried to make sense of it all. Often early users get stuck on the defining and even the describing maps and cannot see past this part of SOLO. But by targeting a new map each term and learning how it works with the rubric, this drove my learning. For example I targeted the compare and contrast HOT map and used this to frame speech writing, Then I targeted analogy maps for creating new monsters that visited our school. I targeted the sequence map to frame a unit on electricity. Each time I pushed for reflections using teacher generated Rubrics. I then carried out a writing session using paddle crabs and I used describe maps and sequencing together and this is when I began to highlight the key words.
Reflections and extended abstract thinking.
Each time I targeted a new map I kept up the dialogue with Ginny. Over time whenever I saw Pam, I would share with her what I was doing and she would also stretch my thinking by asking probing questions about what I was doing. I looked forward to her visits because it was like self talk. As I reflected more on the process and I clarified my thinking, I could motivate my learners to do the same. I used an explanation map to deepen my own understanding of Matariki. When I worked with the children I pushed for an overall statement. But at that time I still did not see the triangulation of a statement reflecting on the process and sharing where to next.
Last year I had Virginia as my appraiser. I deliberately asked for her for two reasons. Ginny can drive my thinking deeper and she always asks for visible evidence. That visible evidence is something I also drive with our teachers. This is my ongoing personal teacher inquiry. ‘If I cannot see what you do, it doesn’t exist.‘ I have been pushing our teachers in curating their own learning via presentations, blog reflections, photo curation via Instagram, google and and micro blogging via twitter. As their skills develop, I also aim to see more learning happening using video. Our teachers’ own learning must be visible for a shift in pedagogy to happen. It is no longer enough to just have learning visible on classroom walls or sitting inside an appraisal folder.
My student inquiry
My own student inquiry centred around SOLO taxonomy and my TESSOL training.
Ginny being who she is asked me to prove the following statement and of course by now I knew to begin with the rubric.
“I wonder if what I know using SOLO taxonomy and the prior knowledge and training I have been through the best best practice for second language learners?“
Some of what I have did was:
- gathered student data before and after each team,
- collated all that was happening in my students books,
- took heaps of photos and scanned countless pieces of student evidence,
- displayed the process on the wall with tags and allow the walls to be my think aloud,
- microblogged some of what I have did via twitter,
- wrote several blog posts reflecting on where I was up to and also to clarify some of my thinking,
- published a piece about SOLO Taxonomy and how SOLO frames learning,
- presented my inquiry to our Board of Trustees.
- kept up the dialogue with Ginny.
SOLO Taxonomy and English Language Learners
I planned and co-wrote a book with Pam Hook. The initial idea freaked me out because those of you who know me well know how incredibly challenging I find writing and I am the first one to admit that I cannot spell. However I am always up for a challenge. I have never let my spelling skills hold me back. I always find a person with an eye for detail to help me by proof reading what I write.
Pam framed up the book and I brought in our Newmarket School samples. Doing something on this scale allowed me to continually reflect on my pedagogy and to test ideas using research. Over the year I read what Pam framed up and I added statements, quotes and some references. We used Google Docs to work collaboratively. As I checked our Doc’s history I could see Pam beaver away continuously in the background. She did an amazing work on research and I am truly thankful at how special the writing has turned out. I can hear my voice as I continually stressed to her that everything I did with our children was not at the expense of their first language. We met once a term face to face over scrambled eggs and bacon and kind of debriefed. Those sessions helped motivate me to plan what I would do in the following term with our learners. During the final few months I gave Ginny and Wendy, our principal access to the doc and asked them for feedback. Even during the final edit we were all still making modifications.
During the process it was incredible exciting. Writing a book is like studying. Some of my best teaching happened when I was a TESSOL student. I liken this to research and practice all wrapped up together. So it is like addressing the why and the how of learning. I also knew the importance of gaining my principal Dr Wendy Kofoed and our Board of Trustees approval before undertaking something that involved our school, our teachers and our children. Wendy is so infectious when she says yes. Getting her approval helped spur me into action. As for our BoT, they asked me heaps of questions about my learning when I presented to them. Both gave approval. I especially knew the importance of copyright and gained written parent permission to use their children’s image and work in the book. I had the letter translated into the three main home languages of our school. I learned that something like this is not a one person wonder but involves so many people. Even the product itself had a team of proofreaders, editors, designers and our publisher, Essential Resources. Personally I adore the cover and wished I could have had all our languages on it. But I am quietly happy to see our Pacific greetings take pride of place amongst the other dominant languages that are ESOL funded by our Ministry of Education.
Finally the thanks
I am cautious to thank anyone publicly by name and the important ones are already in the book. But I cannot finish without again thanking the amazing children that I teach and who teach me everyday. However I do have to finish by mentioning my two sisters. Kathie Phipps and Astrid Grobben. You know why and you know what you do for me. Your blunt honesty keeps me on track. In this post I want to thank Pam Hook too for giving me this amazing opportunity to share my practice in such a public way.
Where to next
On Friday Pam and I have our book launch and this happens at our #NPSFab Newmarket School. We have not bought in any books to sell because the afternoon is really a celebration for us. However if you do want a copy, then here is the link on Essential Resources. You have the chance of purchasing both a print copy and an electronic copy. The electronic copy is totally in colour so looks especially amazing. The paper copy is in black and white and that smells and feels amazing. This year my inquiry centres more around my pedagogy and what exactly do I do that makes a difference. Of course SOLO Taxonomy is in there guiding me and of course Ginny is there prodding me. Pam is there too to hold a mirror to my practice.