Monthly Archives: April 2013

Wise words from the SOLO guru – Pam Hook that is

I was out running this morning (30kms in the hills) and I was reflecting upon something a student said to me the other day and where it had come from. Immediately I made the link and it was a nice affirmation of the use of SOLO and some wise words from the guru herself, Pam Hook. I thought I would blog it to keep a record of my thinking.

Anyway, my mantra for teaching and learning for the last couple of years comes from something Pam said while working with me and our school on SOLO stuff. She said;

SUCCESS = Effort + Effective Strategies

And as we all know, SOLO is all about making those strategies visible to the learner so that over time, they can identify their own next steps for learning. It is so simple and as this recent experience showed, so powerful. I now always share this equation with my students and it always comes up in the first session I run with new staff on SOLO. Even when I am being a Dad to our 6yr old it is always about “what strategies did you use, how much effort did you put in, would you use that strategy again etc. (I don’t think we’re messing him up too much).

Back to the story… So I had the joy of being able to take a yr12 Geography class the other week (their teacher was away on a yr10 camp). They were bringing in information about the geographic issue of using 1080 poison to manage Possums in our native bush (for anyone not from NZ, Possums are an introduced species that are decimating our native flora and bird life). I was lucky in that I have intimate knowledge with this topic and assessment as I had re-written it to align with the new standard over the years.

Because I had the knowledge to do it, I thought I would go off script and SOLOise the lesson a bit. Before playing the DVD I front loaded the lesson with the “Success = Effort + Effective Strategies” equation and I talked up how I knew some good strategies that meant they really would have no excuse not to get Merit or Excellence (top marks) unless they were super lazy.

So we had a quick look at the Geographic Issues standard and the success criteria for it. To pass/achieve, one of the things they have to do is describe and explain what different groups think about the issue of using 1080 poison. There is some explanation required, but it is really multistructual thinking as the links can be quite simple. eg. This group thinks this ______ because….

For Merit, there is the addition of detail and stronger linkages (definitely relational thinking). We talked about what this might look like and decided that detail meant specific facts and details and links really needed to be strong – identifying how different perspectives and values might influence peoples perception on the use of 1080.

Then we looked at what was required for excellence. The key words are comprehensive, using geographic terms and showing insight. I remember when this was first written and around the country there were Geography teachers (and some students) everywhere wondering what the hell insight might look like. SOLO makes sense of it nicely, it’s about extended abstract thinking. In this example, it is going beyond the detail and information and using it in a new way such as suggesting what might need to happen for a group to choose to change their mind or discussing the likelihood of them changing their position given their values and perceptions.

Anyway, we then watched the documentary and I stopped and started it so they had time to make notes, consider the biases of the presenters and note what was presented as fact or opinion.

It’s tough being a relief teacher, students often adopt a culture of “cool, no work today” as they see a stranger walking towards the classroom. However, on this occasion, I felt we had a productive lesson thanks to a little SOLO.

Finally, on the second to last day of term, I was in relieving again and I found myself having a not so flash lesson with a Yr12 math class that had the instructions to “do algebra practice from the text book”. Some did, but I was on a hiding to nothing as I had no idea how to do it myself and most of them had just had a chemistry test and they all new it was fill in work. So, towards the end of the lesson, I was chatting to some of the students and one of them very kindly said that he was in the geography lesson I had taken and that he had learned more in that lesson than he had all year. Now this was nice to hear but I am sure it is not true. Instead, what I think he was saying was that he really valued someone helping him to see a pathway to success and from that, he was motivated to apply himself and strive for success. Thanks SOLO and the mantra that “Success = effort + effective strategies”.

Functional Rubric for “Coping with the Learning”

My wife works at a school for kids who are unable to attend regular school due to health reasons. They may be undergoing something like cancer treatment or they may be working through anxiety issues. Anxiety disorders are through the roof in Christchurch at the moment in the aftermath of the Christchurch Earthquakes – there is an interesting temporal geographic study there…hmm masters thesis?? nah.

Anyway, my wife had a student who was really fearful starting the year as she was anxious about how she would cope with the pressure of NCEA assessments and getting sick again. It sounded to me like this student was struggling to figure out what to do if things go wrong. Enter the functional rubric.

With my wife, I quickly whipped up the rubric below. I was really conscious that the student needed to be involved with it and have some ownership of the rubric.

Coping Rubric 1

So my wife worked with her student to re-word and co-create an appropriate rubric. What they came up with is below. I like how they changed the words and strategies to suit.

Coping Rubric

It’s not perfect but I think this is an example of the potential of SOLO rubrics to be extended beyond just measuring learning in a classroom setting.

Fortunately/unfortunately, this student has now transitioned back into “normal school” and my wife didn’t really get a conclusive feel about the impact of the rubric. At the very least it allowed them to have a metacognitive conversation and focus on success and she has added it to her list of effective strategies for learning.

SOLO lessons from the staff room – Everything is SOLO if we are mindful of it

Recently while doing a days supply/relief teaching at the school I am on leave from, I was having lunch with some colleagues when one of them commented that they used SOLO but sometimes they felt it was dumbing things down.

The context of the conversation was around essay writing in English and this teacher felt that the students were “filling in boxes” and they needed to be able to write essays. What he was referring to was the use of HOT maps and graphic organisers.

As the “SOLO guy” on staff for the last couple of years, this was important for me to hear. There were two things  I learned from this conversation.

Firstly, this teacher was not seeing the HOT maps as an effective strategy to organise and/or make deep thinking visible to the learner who could then write to an excellence standard from. It also suggested to me that having worked with SOLO for several years, our school has generated a raft of resources that are shared within departments but over time, teachers may be using them without being cognisant of the why and how of the learning strategy. Perhaps a reminder is required

The other thing I learned and might be a little to blame for, is that some teachers are only seeing SOLO as being the use of graphic organisers and the HOT maps. This I found super frustrating as SOLO, in my view,  needs to be seen as a framework, a way of thinking about learning and teaching. I do not want to detract from the HOT maps that we have learned about and personalised with the help of Pam Hook but my mission this year is to also help teachers to see that everything we do is SOLO if we are mindful of it. I think if have blogged about SOLO being a control tower for thinking. Anyway, in the example of the “good old English Essay”, this is SOLO if we empower students or ourselves as teachers to critique it based on identifying where ideas have been brought in (multistructural), where links have been made (relational) and where insight or extended abstract thinking has been shown.

As it happens, I am now back facilitating the in school SOLO learning team and I have some ideas I will try to make time to blog about (between housework, running, fishing and remembering to pick my son up from school)

Marathon Training SOLO Styles – Functional rubric

While out running the other week my mind started wandering and some SOLO ideas popped into my head. The result was the rubric below. I made it for a bit of fun really (yes I seem to find thinking about this stuff fun) but I thought it might be of use to the odd PE teacher out there or as a simple example of a functional rubric.

Anyway, quick back story. I do a lot of running (usually on minimal training). The focus is usually to do a couple of ultra runs with friends over the year (we have been knocking off great NZ walks as day runs). The one event that I have been particularly goal orientated for is the Christchurch Marathon which I have run every year since 2006. Last year I was having a slight mid life crisis (being 40) and I did more training than I have ever done before and was determined to smash my PB time. It turned out I had a Nick Willis moment and could only run 3hr 34min which was still a PB by 10 minutes but I had built myself up to go under 3hr 20min. I was devastated.

Well this year, with my main job being “house husband” I have so much more time for training and have realised that I need to learn more about training. To get my head around my next steps and also  communicate with my coach how and what I want to learn, I whipped up this rubric:

Marathon training rubric

Lessons from relief teaching

In NZ, Term one has now finished and during that time, I couldn’t help but do some relief teaching at my normal school (I am on leave for a year, basically to be a house husband and get on top of repairing our earthquake damaged house). Doing relief teaching I have discovered two things. Firstly, how much I enjoy teaching and secondly how simple it could be for everyone to engage in using a SOLO framework for learning.

On the latter, what I have found is that often teachers when writing relief must be too busy or sick or rushed to write thoughtful learning intentions for relief lessons. Rather, often a list of instructions is what is provided. As a relief teacher coming in cold, I now know what it must be like for students when the purpose of the lesson is not clear. It makes the learning unclear and unvalued – the first thought is – What’s the point? I guess it must be “busy work” so I won’t engage. That was one insight that came to me. Another is just how easy it is to value the learning using SOLO. While specific learning intentions using SOLO verbs are of course better, doing it on the fly, I have been simplifying them after a quick scan of the lesson instructions and then linking back to them during the lesson. I guess it is like naming the essence of the lesson. Is it about bringing in information (multistructural), making links (relational) or using the information in a new way (Extended Abstract). Watching and DVD or Documentary is now “bringing in information from a DVD” – much more engaging for a class than “hey students, I am just going to press play”

I have had some fun with lessons that were “note taking”. I have reframed these as “bringing in new information using note taking” and then while the instructions didn’t say it, usually a class is over that after about 30min. Then you switch to some relational thinking by asking students to “make links (relational thinking) by annotating the three most significant pieces of information they have found and how they help inform you about the topic (or something like that). E.g. this is significant because…   Then if you have some high flyers, they can easily be extend to think with the information in a new way. What if statements, Overall,,,because…because….. conclusions and things like that (extended abstract).

I have a new vision from these experiences and that is: next year when I have my own classes again, I want to be able to ask them at any moment during a lesson, what the purpose of what they are doing is. If I have done my job well, they will be able to say, bringing information, making links or using information in a new way. This will then help students be more metacognitive about their learning and identify effective learning strategies coded against SOLO. This will then help thm for future learning – ah, life long learning.