Category Archives: Geography using a SOLO Framework

SOLO and the NZ Geography Curriculum

This is a very quick post in reply to a tweet that just so happened to appear top of the list when I was getting ready to do some house work and something I also wanted to get down on paper (in electrons). It is very abbreviated, written in a hurry and may have errors or not full info (a bit of a disclaimer)

Assessment In New Zealand senior high school is based around Standards. Student results fall into one of four categegaries: Not achieved, Achieved, Merit, Excellence. While some might say that the marking schedules for external exams are possibly tweaked so that results nationwide fit the old bell curve, if we look at the standards themselves (both internal and external) they are actually written  against SOLO Taxonomy as a way of differentiating levels of achievement. I may stand corrected but I believe Pam Hook may have had some influence either directly or indirectly during the formation of standards based assessment in NZ.

Anyway, for the teacher, if you apply a SOLO framework to how you think about course planning, delivery and how you are equipping your students for success, using a SOLO framework and SOLO aligned effective strategies is a no-brainer.

The standards in brief.

Our Senior qualifications begin in yr11 at Level 1 NCEA, yr12 is at Level 2 NCEA and yr13 (the year before university) is at level 3. Note this is an over simplification as the New Curriculum allows you to move beyond age discriminated course planning if you want.

If we look at the standard for examining a Geographic topic at a Global scale, you can see how SOLO fits through the levels. All of the following comes from here but if you don’t know what you are looking for you could spend ages trolling through stuff so I’ll use screen captures.

Level One NCEA
L1 1

At first glance, it looks like all the student has to do is describe which you might think will only allow them to show evidence up to a multistructural level. However if you look at explainatory note 2, you can see that they can describe up to an extended abstract level. If you are familiar with Pam Hooks Describe++ map you will see how perfectly this fits the standard.

L1 2 L1 3

As you can see, for achieved it is multistructural describing, For merit, you can see that it is more detailed description but it also has the phrase “significance of the topic to peoples lives” which clearly indicates that relational, or linking thinking (huh – it  rhymes – might use that) is required. Then when you get to the Excellence level, students have to show insight. I think this may still freak some NZ teachers out but if you and your students understand that insight is about linking to bigger concepts like culture, change, making predictions into the future and stuff like this, it is extended abstract thinking.

As you go up through the yr levels, a simple way of thinking about it is that the starting position for achieved gets shifted up. Below is the same standard but for level three. Just to confuse you, this standard is being fine tuned and next year the achievement criteria will be slimed down to one bullet point as for Level One and the explanatory notes will be clearer(ish). It will most probably be pretty much the same stuff though (last year of the re-alignment process – yippee)

L3 1 L3 2

As you can see, at level 3, the requirement for achieved has jumped up to relational thinking with the need to do simple analysis. From Memory, the wording at level two is Explain or Examine – a step down from Analysis in the taxonomy. The Explainatory notes then give the teacher/student the ability to code the required level to SOLO – next year, I am pretty confident that they will include the words “Analyse showing Insight” to the requirement for excellence.

That was it pretty quickly done. If you want to look at the level 2 standard, it is here standard 91246.

As a teacher, I like this because when I am planning, or working with students I can make the thinking visible to them so they are not simply doing their best, but purposefully applying strategies and specific thinking for excellence. If they have to explain, lets use the HOT parts whole map (I have blogged on that somewhere) If they have to evaluate, there are thinking maps for that, if they have to show insight, well that’s using a describe++ map and linking back to the work we (as a class) have done on concepts and big ideas and how they are linked to your thinking in this new context.

Hope this helps. Feel free anyone to correct me or ask questions


A Geography Lesson: Making the learning visible

I remember being new to teaching and asking students to do complex thinking (analyse this…. Explain that…..etc.) and not really knowing how to help them do it. I have seen teachers that simply assume that students should be able to do it and if they cannot, then it is simply because they are “not that smart”. Fortunately I have learned a lot since my beginning days as a teacher (in fact I learn better now than I ever did). Anyway, what follows is a lesson I gave to my year12 Geography class in preparation for their exams. The intention was to de-code the technical words in exam questions and show that success does not come from luck or being brainy but from having effective strategies and applying effort.

These first slides are from a SOLO Learning team meeting I am facilitating tomorrow Then I get on to the slides I used with my class.

CaptureCapture 2 Capture 3

I first learned about Parts/Whole analysis from a course I went to featuring Robert Schwarts and Art Costa. the work of Pam Hook and Julie Mills aligning it with SOLO Taxonomy is what has really made it powerful for me as a teacher. Anyway, these are the slides I used to introduce this to the class.

Capture 4

I then went through heaps of exam questions to give a meaningful rational to what I wanted them to do. And to show them how it fits with SOLO

Capture 5 Capture 6 Capture 7 Capture 8 Capture 9

As this was a revision lesson, we then used their notes and a text book to complete the Parts/Whole thinking map. I had them in groups (two groups doing each of the three parts) and at the end we collated it to create some super good revision notes.

Capture 10

The first box was just for the detail (I am always reminding them that specific facts and numbers equals merit or Excellence (another good strategy) This is Multistructural thinking or bringing in ideas.

Capture 11

The next box is about imagining if the part were missing or changed. What might that mean. Always good to use tentative language so the thinking is broadened and not limited. This is Relational thinking or making links

Capture 12

The last box is all about reaching a conclusion or making an overall claim about the function of the part given the thinking that has been done. This allows students to show extended abstract thinking.

Capture 13

For students to gain top marks (or Excellence as it is known in NZ) they need to show insight. Below is a visual rubric from Hooked on Thinking (Pam and Julie) that I think nicely shows that insight can be articulated by making some broader generalisations or insights about how the parts might influence each other or perhaps which part is the most significant and why.

Capture 14

This post was a bit rushed so if anyone has questions or comments, go for it.

Geographic Skills and SOLO (Functional Knowledge)

One of the realisations I had earlier in the year was that I could better help my students in their use of Geographic Skills to show their understandings. They were not seeing a pathway for improvement. Solution: Create visual rubrics. My experience with previous rubrics has been that the more words in them, the less they are read. I am a huge fan of Pam Hook’s visual rubrics and my creations are really adaptions of her work but specifically for a Geographic context.

The first was for drawing a Precis Sketch or Map. I was sick of students saying “I can’t draw” and thinking that was the end of it. What they were really saying I think was “I do not have any effective strategies for improving and I need your help Mr Perry). Enter, the Rubric:


My vision is that next year, I have these as Posters around our Geography rooms as visual reminders to students and staff of pathways for improving.

The second example came from marking yr13 student work and realising that they were not understanding how to apply a visual diagram to their written work. This was frustrating to me as I had spent heaps of time talking through the assessment  specifications which all say “your answer may be supported or enhanced by maps,diagrams or visual”. Again,  my failing, the skill of doing this hadn’t been made visible enough. Rubric time:Image

This one was really gratifying as when I talked it through with students they clicked and immediately saw how to improve for themselves. The quality of work in following assessments dramatically improved. Talking with one of my yr13 students who has just sat his Scholarship exam, this was super useful as there is always a modify or create your own diagram questions – extended abstract diagram skills.

Right, what i should really be doing is putting these ideas together for my ICOT presentation PowerPoint. More to come.

Feedback Welcome

Coming soon. Some ideas on how to help students develop and identify their next steps in applying geographic skills to their learning.