Back in November, I blogged about my first experiences using SOLO taxonomy in the classroom. Since then, I have introduced the idea to the rest of my colleagues – and many of them have now adopted the technique in their own classrooms. At the last staff training session I wanted to take them one step further, so I demonstrated the use of SOLO stations in the classroom.
Many teachers already had experience of organising learning using a carousel system, and we shared an idea for exam preparation called ‘Teach, Do, Review’ illustrated below.
However, I wanted to show them that SOLO stations are much more than this. By building on the SOLO language for learning that we explored in the last session, I wanted to demonstrate how SOLO stations allowed a classroom to be organised to allow students to progress from one activity or exercise to another as their understanding improves:
This methodology is a great way to provide a differentiated and self-regulated learning experience for students, by allowing them the independence to choose their own starting point. When I first started using this technique, I was worried that students would see it as a competition to finish first. But I underestimated them, and although some (over) confident individuals enter themselves immediately for the extended abstract task, most choose to begin work at the uni-structural or multi-structural level, and work methodically through to the extended abstract stage. Perhaps this displays a sub-conscious understanding that deeper learning can only be based on a solid foundation of fact and knowledge? For those students who attempt the extended abstract task first, it is easy to show them that the extended abstract stage is not an end in itself – and they can soon be guided back to the multi-structural stage to gather more information to help improve their work results.
I illustrated a practical application of a SOLO stations lesson from one of my year eight geography units. Here, students were asked the question “Are all volcanoes the same?”, and the different stations were organised like this:
Station 1 (Pre-structural): Lap tops, textbooks, VLE resources (photos and notes) – students recap or start their understanding of volcanoes; Station 2 (Uni-structural): Students annotate a set of simple diagrams of different volcanoes; Station 3 (Multi-structural); Students work n a more complex set of diagrams looking at different lava flows; Station 4 (Relational): Students connect previous learning by classifying photos of different volcanoes. They then make simple play-dough models to compare and contrast volcanoes; Station 5 (Extended abstract): Students given a challenging task where they answer the initial question through either a rap, a song, a poem, or a piece of drama. They could also evaluate potential dangers of each volcano type.
One other big advantage this set up has over the ‘Teach, Do, Review’ example mentioned earlier, is that it totally frees up the teacher to move between stations and offer guidance, suggestions, and monitor successes in the tasks attempted. In the first example, the teacher was tied to the ‘Teach’ activity, and would be unable to ate any contact with the other tasks.
Following a lesson using SOLO stations, it is always interesting to gain feedback from the customers. Comments like ‘enjoyed greater independence’, ‘liked being more active’ and ‘felt good being left alone to learn’ are commonly made.
I wanted to build on the common language of learning that SOLO activities had brought to lessons, so I introduced the idea of the learning mansion called ‘Solo Towers’ to be used across subject areas in different parts of the school. Using Google Sketch Up, I designed a building with rooms that represented the different levels of learning in the SOLO taxonomy. Hopefully, this would help students relate to the SOLO terminology in user-friendly way, and show that it is a great learning tool that crosses subject boundaries. The rooms match up to the stages in SOLO like this – ‘Helpful Hallway’ is Pre-structural, ‘One Stop Library’ is Uni-structural, ‘Kitchen Combo’ is Multi-structural, ‘Ideas Gym’ is Relational, and ‘Balloon Room’ is Extended Abstract – where ideas can really fly and reach for the sky.
The image above is rather less-exciting than the one straight from Sketch Up, which can be turned and tilted and shown in full 3D – great fun on an interactive whiteboard! I want to take this further, and improve the design so that the student can actually enter each room, and see tasks and support materials inside – my next challenge!