SOLO makes self and peer assessment in English much more accessible to pupils. It provides them with a clear path to higher order thinking about their topics. Once they have been taught the features of each level and how each level leads to the next, they are quickly able to use it to move themselves forward.
To get pupils using SOLO effectively, it needs to be properly introduced. Introducing SOLO is likely to take at least one full lesson but trust me this is learning time well spent. Any topic can be used to introduce it; I have used Big Brother, Shakespeare and even works of art. What you use does not matter; what does matter is getting them to work through the stages, recognise the differences between them and how each stage needs to be in place before you can move to the next.
The Shakespeare Introduction
I began by posing a question “Did Shakespeare write every story ever written?” The typical response came back along the lines of: “No but he wrote lots of plays”. Pupils tend to answer introductory questions in this way, using one sentence or word answers. After grasping SOLO, pupils begin to think more carefully about the answers they are providing. The question needs to be accessible but also abstract to allow pupils to develop their answer to extended abstract as the lesson progresses.
Another way to do this would be to ask a series of questions on the topic, starting with questions that ask them to identify: Who is Shakespeare? Then describe: What did he do and why? Then analyse: Compare Shakespeare to a modern playwright. Finally allowing them to hypothesise: Did Shakespeare write every story ever written? I created a question square for this purpose. Each question builds upon the last.
Use question squares as a visual way of building towards extended abstract.
If you are not using question squares and are going for using the abstract question approach to developing their answers, you need to carefully structure the lesson to reveal each subsequent SOLO level as the next logical step. For the Shakespeare lesson, I demonstrated their existing knowledge of Shakespeare was multi structural at best. I got them to divulge all that they knew about Shakespeare and we then added to that knowledge to create a firm multi structural base.
Gathering multi structural knowledge about a topic is necessary if you are going to further analyse that topic. In order to become relational, you need to make links between the text that you are studying and its context. AQA English Literature AO4 states that pupils need to “relate texts to their social, cultural and historical background”. without the multi structural base, pupils cannot create their own links and ideas and are instead stuck with regurgitating the information that you tell them is right.
Once the contextual knowledge was secure, the class were given an extract from Shakespeare and an extract from a modern text with influences from Shakespeare. Pupils were asked to relate the context to the content and make links between the two. As they are living in modern society, they were able to use modern context as well as Shakespeare’s context to create well written comparisons between the two. They could, at this stage, see the necessity to have that detailed contextual knowledge before answering the question as it allowed them freedom to choose ideas from a range of sources making their answers rich.
The final stage is the holy grail of extended abstract. In the Shakespeare lesson, I got pupils to ask questions about their relational ideas in order to revisit the initial question: “Did Shakespeare write every story ever written?” Pupils came up with:” Are all writers influenced by Shakespeare? Do we merely see Shakespeare in everything that we read because he wrote with such a wealth of ideas?” Pupils used these questions to explore ideas about Shakespeare’s influence and therefore used their excellent knowledge and ability to relate to move to the next level – hypothesis.
It is important for pupils to note throughout that each stage cannot be reached without completing the stage before. Creation cannot just happen; extended abstract creation is as a result of becoming expert enough on a topic to hypothesise about it with proof and experience.
Since introducing SOLO, I have used it to help pupils develop creative writing, create more insightful reading question answers and even to create the complex character needed to gain an A* in their drama assessment. I love it!