Going SOLO to Enhance Learning and Teaching

By Wall, Simon; Manger, Rob | Teaching Geography, Autumn 2015 | Go to article overview

Going SOLO to Enhance Learning and Teaching


Wall, Simon, Manger, Rob, Teaching Geography


... I like using SOLO because it makes you think about some of the easier ideas first and then gets you to think more about why I think the way I do ... (year 7 student).

'SOLO' stands for the 'Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome'. The SOLO taxonomy was devised by Biggs and Collis (1982) and developed by Hook and Mills (2011). It describes the stages through which a student comes to understand a subject, classified as levels of increasing complexity (Figure 1). We believe that SOLO provides an holistic approach to learning, teaching and assessment by giving teachers and students a common language for learning. This allows students to confidently self and peer-assess progress; and supports teachers in differentiating planning, questioning and resources in the short and medium-term. Through worked examples, this article explores how SOLO has enhanced learning, teaching and assessment in our geography department and shows how this simple, robust taxonomy has been applied to the 2014 National Curriculum.

Higher order thinking (HOT) SOLO hexagons

HOT SOLO hexagons, devised by Pam Hook (Hook and Mills, 2011) are a useful adaptation of the tried and tested 'mysteries' technique, as the hexagons do not restrict students to linear sequences: they change the emphasis from sequencing to the justification for the geographical links between a wide range of geographical concepts.

... I like it because there isn't always a 'right or wrong' answer and [it] gets you to think about why one card links to lots of others which means I get to relational [level] really quickly... (year 9 student).

What were the consequences of the Haiti earthquake for Mrs Antoine?

The example below outlines how SOLO taxonomy, applied to a mystery, can help students quickly scaffold their ideas and encourage them to 'think like a geographer. This example is part of an assessment for our 'Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tsunamis' scheme of work, the mystery investigates the plight of Mrs. Antoine, a victim of the earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010. A hexagon template can be downloaded from http://pamhook.com/solo-apps/hexagongenerator.

Following a brief introductory video to set the scene, students are given a pack of hexagons with prepared statements on them (these can be downloaded from the online resources accompanying this article). The pack also includes additional blank hexagons and sticky notes.

... Sometimes I use hexagon cards to solve mysteries. When you see all the cards you think - where do I start? ... Though what I now do is start with an idea and build it up with other hexagons ... (year 9 student).

Students at the prestructural stage will begin to read the statements on the hexagons but may have very little awareness of how they can be connected. We find that students at this stage begin to loosely categorise by name or geographical concept(s) but are not confident in explaining the relationships between them.

At the unistructural stage, students begin to make confident links through one geographical idea and are able to explain the connections. In this instance, they have understood that Mrs Antoine is trapped beneath the rubble and made the geographical link with cards which describe the vulnerability of squatter settlements to earth tremors (Figure 2). Other cards allow students to make inferences about population density and how long it took before Mrs Antoine was found.

At the multistructural stage, students have developed a sequence for two other concepts: the causes of the earthquake, and the challenges facing international aid agencies responding to the crisis. This stage of the process allows students to categorise their thoughts on the causes and effects of seismic activity and responses to it and gain confidence in their geographical thinking by focusing on developing one idea at a time.

A key aspect of SOLO is to encourage students to think more deeply about their learning and recognise how 'loose ideas' in the initial stages can lead to 'connected ideas' at the relational level, enabling them to confidently tell their geographical story. …

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