Category Archives: Facilitating a SOLO Learning Team

Session 3: Facilitating a SOLO Learning Team

Quick re-cap: Our School has a culture of staff learning where everyone is part of a learning team that meets 6-8 times per year in meeting slots or on teacher only days. The Learning Teams are facilitated by staff that step up to do so and all have a requirement to be focused on a reflective teaching cycle (Teaching as Inquiry). Our school has SOLO as a shared framework for learning, and as a deliberate act, any new staff to the school are put into the SOLO learning team.

Our School uses the SCT(Specialist Classroom Teacher) roles for two of these learning teams (plus other jobs the teaching and learning committee thinks up). Anyway, I am on leave and there was a new person in the “SOLO” role this year. However, I was lucky enough to be able to run the first SOLO learning team at the start of the year (I have reflected upon that somewhere on this blog already). I was not required for the second Learning Team meeting but with some internal movements, I was back to facilitate the third team meeting yesterday and am tasked with the remainder as the new SCT grows into the role. I am quite likely mentoring myself out of a job for next year but it’s too soon to worry about that.

Anyway, I thought I would capture my thinking on yesterdays session.

As I have mentioned before, we have known of SOLO for several years now and while different departments are at different places with SOLO, there is now a large body of templates and exemplars in use. What has become apparent to me is that some have forgotten the “why” of SOLO and how it can be applied to anything if we are mindful of it. Or, they are picking up  and using templates that have no real meaning to them beyond it being a learning activity attached to a lesson plan within a unit of work. When I first blogged about this, it was a frustration/concern shared by other schools too. So, one of my goals yesterday was to enable our team to reconnect with the Why of SOLO and how we can see SOLO in whatever we do.

To start, we spent the first 8 or so minutes reflecting upon terms 1 & 2 and completing an “improving teaching cycle” diagram. For those that may not see the value of “Teaching as Inquiry”, the saleable rationale is that this is needed for your attestation. I was time conscious so we did not share these but maybe next time. (Idea to remember, these could be used for a staffroom notice board display – celebrate the learning?????)

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Then I Launched in to making links between John Hattie’s research and the why of SOLO. (I acquired these slides back in 2008 at a presentation he gave in CHCH but they essentially come from his book “Visible Learning”)

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We went through his ranked order list of the influence that different strategies have on raising achievement. My goal was to show that SOLO can attend to many of the top influences as can be seen below.

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Then a couple of quotes that also come from his book.

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That was the knowledge input bit and rationale for the why of SOLO. Next I wanted to start connecting with what this looks like for us. The slide below is it in it’s simplest form.

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Before moving on, I wanted to debunk the myth that SOLO is just filling in boxes so I told the story I blogged about here

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To further add to this we did the following activity in groups.

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This is what a couple of groups came up with. What is missing is the conversations that the staff had to justify their thinking so some of the coding might seem wrong but it got them being self critical which was the goal.

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I followed this up with a worked example I had from a relief lesson where the students were tasked to “make notes” (multistructural). I added that for the notes under each heading (it was about sub cultures – very interesting) they were to annotated the most significant thing and say why (relational). For the high flyers, they might imagine if something was changed and how that might influence the sub-culture (extended abstract). Anyway, the moral of the story is that we can SOLOise anything. I then gave them something to try which I thought up and then thought it might be a naff idea but thought I would share it anyway. (explained below)

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I don’t have my own class to try this with so if anyone has a go I would be keen to hear about it. Then I re-caped some ideas and with 30min left in the session, it was their time to plan or explore a SOLO idea for a lesson that is coming up while I made myself available to help. We finished by reflecting on what we had done, setting expectations for trialling something and identifying possible areas of need for the next meeting.

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For the next session I think we will link back to the HOT maps. In particular, the ones that attend to Explain, Analyse and Evaluate. The reason being, that I think we often ask this of our students but fail to scaffold or make visible strategies for success.


Reflections on Mark Osborne Presentation

Not being in the staff room everyday, I thought I would use this blog as a way of having a conversation with myself (and anyone else out there).

I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on a Presentation from Mark Osborne @mosborne01 this morning after I had done my bit with our in school SOLO Learning Team (I will blog on that later). Anyway, Mark mentioned a few things that reinforced or enlightened me that I thought I should record. Note that the particular lens I often look through is that of someone helping enact the vision of SOLO as a whole school framework for learning.

So, in no particular order:

Keep reminding and engaging staff in the WHY of it

Mark used the “golden Circle” to show this. As a school we had worked with this idea with Julia Atkin in the early 2000’s where her message was start from what you value and believe and then make sure your practices actually align with it. Either way, it reminded me that over time, people forget the why or, with staff turnover, new people have not been part of the conversations and it can be assumed they know the why when they don’t. That is one of the deliberate acts LHS has done regarding SOLO. Anyone new to the school defaults to the SOLO learning team (about 16-17 staff this year). I wonder if more needs to be done to re-remind other staff.

Helping kids help each other be bright

I really liked this notion. I have forgotten the exact wording but something like Not helping the bright kids but helping the kids know how they are bright (I should have written that one down cos I am sure I messed it up). Anyway, SOLO as a framework for learning is all about that. Success = Effort + Effective strategies and SOLO is all about effective strategies just as ICT’s can be.

Groups around one machine

Our journey with BOYD is reasonably new but I have seen it in my sons yr1 classroom last year and I wish I was teaching this year so I could play around with groups of students around one tablet learning from and with each other.

Teaching as inquiry

We are pretty switched on to this but it is another one of those things that you need to keep coming back to the why of it. Our learning teams are directed to engage in using a reflective teaching cycle flow diagram for their professional learning logs. I cannot speak for all learning teams but we had just done one ourselves this morning and then to have an external consultant further validate it is so useful.

The power of John Hattie’s research

One of the challenges of facilitating a group of teachers is to identify their mental models of learning and challenge them if they are incorrect. John Hattie’s meta analysis stuff is brilliant. Mark used it to confront our mental models and then challenge us to think how a BYOD structure could attend to some of the winners in terms of raising student achievement. You can use the same research to help show the why of SOLO as a framework for learning. SOLO can attend to at least 5 of the top ten in Hattie’s list.

BYOD to share notes

One of my takeaway ideas from Marks presentation is that next time I have a class in front of me, I would like to get them collaborating using Google docs on revision notes or something like that. I usually pick out some great notes that students have made and (with their permission) share them with the class but I would like to explore the potential of a shared doc where they can critique and contribute outside of class time (even if it means learning from each other because I didn’t do a good enough job to grab them on that day or that week)

Reciprocal teaching from students to other students to show extended abstract thinking/knowledge

There is room here somewhere to really empower student to demonstrate extended abstract knowledge by testing how well they can teach others. I am not sure yet how I would facilitate this but if it was made visible to the students, I think it could be a really motivating and empowering process.

Right, just some quick notes. I have to blast to go pick up my son from school.

Intoducing SOLO to New Staff

At the start of the year, I was invited back to facilitate the first SOLO learning team meeting for staff that were new to our school. This is one of the strategies that the school uses to enact the vision of having SOLO as a whole school framework for learning. Anyway, in the past, I have usually launched into the HOT maps straight away but this time I thought I would start by trying to help teachers connect SOLO to a strategy they already may use and give one strategy that might be new but very cool. What follows is really just me documenting my thinking but it may be useful???

So………. I started with a bit of a timeline to show the culture and history of learning teams at our school. Then it was on to the rational of “Why SOLO” referring to the one given in “SOLO Taxonomy: A guide for School” by Pam hook and Julie Mills. Capture 1

I also aligned it with our school values and the New Zealand Curriculum to help cement the value of it as a framework.




Then we did some “what is SOLO” activities but simplified it down to the slide below.


Then we explored the expectations of the learning team. Essentially it is about “action research” or “inquiry learning” (identify something you might work on, plan an intervention or trial something and then reflect upon the results).

To finish, we had time to look at two take away ideas. The first was about trying to make the link between SOLO and a really common strategy that teachers use – that being a brainstorm. The following slides show the process we went through. My aim was to highlight that this can be more than just a strategy to bring in ideas or start thinking in a lesson.


I am also a huge fan of Art Costa’s work and in the slide above, I have used a positive presupposition (as you think about…) and invited multiple ideas (as many as you can). It can get a bit wordy but I think the language we use can really influence the effectiveness of the thinking. On that, I am really particular with how I bring in ideas/brainstorm with a class. The golden rule is “value all thinking in a neutral way” i.e. just say “thank you” to student responses. It took me a while to see how important this is but I was lucky enough to see an experienced teacher really shut down a classes thinking within just a few seconds. It’s a story worth telling so I will….. The teacher had asked for ideas on a certain topic, 30 hands went up, their owners keen to share their thinking. First response the teacher praised with a “Good idea”. Immediately a third of the hands went down. The next idea the teacher praised with “fantastic idea!”. At this point all hands went down and the teacher could not get any more ideas out of the class. What Art Costa had found was that as soon as the teacher placed a value like “fantastic” on a students thinking, all the other students begin filtering their ideas and anything that they do not deem as equal to or that can beat “fantastic” they choose not to share. Moral of the story, if you want to encourage thinking, manage your responses – you can be critical of the ideas after.

Anyway, any brainstorm can be elevated to relational thinking by doing the following:



This example also shows how you can use SOLO to allow for differentiation within a lesson. The last slide below uses one of the define map visual rubrics that comes from Pam and Julie’s work.


The next example we used was SOLO Hexagons as shown below: (I need to get on with planning the next session so I will just do a cut and paste – Sorry, a bit rushed and brief)

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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)