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CPD, Outstanding Lessons, Redesigning Classrooms

When #SOLO Met Bloom Taxonomy

If you are interested in the thinking (thinking might be too strong a term for what I was actually doing) that brought me to explore this relationship you might want to look at a previous post, “Posts Move, Goals Don’t.”

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Many of us are familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) – or at least we think we are!  The standard list that I was given during teacher training consisted of:

  • Knowledge
  • Comprehension
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation

Did you know it was revised in 2000 or that it consisted of a set of four knowledge dimensions?  In Bloom’s original work the knowledge dimensions consisted of factual, conceptual and procedural knowledge.  Later the metacognitive knowledge dimension was added and the nouns changed to verbs with the last two cognitive processes switched in the order.

  • Remember
  • Understand
  • Apply
  • Analyse
  • Evaluate
  • Create

Blooms Taxonomy - Revised

You can find a full summary of Bloom’s Taxonomy and the changes by Dr. Leslie Owen Wilson on her website from where this table is taken.

SOLO Taxonomy

SOLO Taxonomy with Verbs

Produced by Pam Hook (@arti_choke) http://pamhook.com/wiki/The_Learning_Process

The SOLO Taxonomy was devised by Collis & Biggs (1982) and looked at the Structure of the Observed Learning Outcomes produced by students in terms of their complexity.  The SOLO Taxonomy is divided into a number of levels.  The following is taken from Pam Hook’s wiki “The Learning Process – How Do You Know You are Learning?”

  • At the pre-structural level of understanding, the student response shows they have missed the point of the new learning.
  • At the uni-structural level, the learning outcome shows understanding of one aspect of the task, but this understanding is limited. For example, the student can label, name, define, identify or follow a simple procedure.
  • At the multi-structural level, several aspects of the task are understood but their relationship to each other, and the whole is missed. For example the student can list, define, describe, combine, match, or do algorithms.
  • At the relational level, the ideas are linked, and provide a coherent understanding of the whole. Student learning outcomes show evidence of comparison, causal thinking, classification, sequencing, analysis, part whole thinking, analogy, application and the formulation of questions.
  • At the extended abstract level, understanding at the relational level is re-thought at a higher level of abstraction, it is transferred to another context. Student learning outcomes at the extended abstract level show prediction, generalisation, evaluation, theorising, hypothesising, creation, and or reflection.

There are lots of great blogs available about the SOLO Taxonomy, my own contributions are:

Redesigning Classrooms: Using SOLO to Increase Challenge

Redesigning Classrooms: Spreading & Embedding the SOLO Taxonomy

SOLO versus Bloom Taxonomy

Bloom vs SOLO Matrix

A copy of this table for you to download and use is at the bottom of this post.

I don’t tend to look at theories in terms of good and bad but rather useful and not so useful.  Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy is based on a theory about knowledge and I find the four different knowledge dimensions very useful.  Please note in the table above I have combined the factual and conceptual dimensions into one row.  A great education should include and have an appropriate balance between each of these knowledge dimensions; it’s why I find the “knowledge versus skills” debate in absolute terms a waste of time and effort, it’s whether we have the right balance.  I also worry that we simply don’t develop the learner enough in our classrooms.  However the nouns and verbs used by Bloom to describe the cognitive processes I find less helpful in developing deep understanding.

This is where I feel the SOLO Taxonomy has a real advantage in moving students from the foundations provided by factual knowledge to the deeper conceptual understanding required.  This forms the theoretical underpinning required by teachers to construct knowledge first of all in their own minds – in a way that is explicit to them before helping students to learn within their subject.  Remember if you want it in the classroom you need it in the staffroom first.

“It is critical to note that the claim is not that surface knowledge is necessarily bad and that deep knowledge is essentially good.  Instead, the claim is that it is important to have the right balance: you need to have surface to have deep; and you need to have surface and deep knowledge and understanding in a context or set of domain knowledge  The process of learning is a journey from ideas to understanding to constructing and onwards … When students can move from idea to ideas and then relate and elaborate on them we have learning – and when they can regulate and monitor (read “metacognition” here) this journey then they are teachers of their own learning.”

(Hattie, 2009, p. 29)

Here’s an example of using SOLO with one of Bloom’s Knowledge dimensions, I’ve deliberately chosen to focus on the metacognitive dimension as this is the one found least often in most lessons:

Developing a Learning Protocol for Analysing Texts

Imagine if we could “up-skill and drill” (acknowledgement to Tom Sherrington and Alex Quigley from whom I’ve borrowed the phrase) every student in the analysis of texts using a learning protocol, across a school, like the example above.

This issue of Teacher Clarity will be increasingly important for us as we looked to come to terms with the new National Curriculum at Key Stage 3 and new programmes of study for the revised GCSEs for English & English Literature and Mathematics with others to be released at some point in the future.

“There are four critical parts in planning that we need to consider up front: the levels of performance of the students at the start (prior achievement), the desired levels at the end of the series of lessons, or term, or year (targeted learning), and the rate of progress from the start to the end of the series of lessons (progression).  The fourth component is teacher collaboration and critique in planning.”

Hattie (2012), Visible Learning for Teachers, p. 37

 The World’s Not Flat!  Teacher Clarity (d=0.75, 8th) 

These Statistics Means Teacher Clarity is One of the Most Effective Ways to Improve Achievement

One of the main themes in Professor John Hattie’s (2009) book is the importance attached to teachers clearly communicating the intentions of the lesson (learning intentions) and the notions of what success means for these intentions (success criteria).  Put simply students achieve more when they know where they are supposed to be going and what it looks like when the get there!

Teacher Clarity @ St. Mary's

“There are two parts in targeted learning: the first is being clear about what is to be learned from the lesson(s) (the learning intention); the second is having a way of knowing that the desired learning has been achieved (the success criteria).  Targeted learning involves the teacher knowing where he or she is going with the lesson and ensuring that the students know where they are going.  These pathways must be transparent for the students.”

Hattie (2012), Visible Learning for Teachers, p. 47

Give Success Criteria a SEC

I was chatting to a member of staff who was keen to really get to grips with teacher clarity by focussing on success criteria.  He was a Maths teacher and wrote down a pretty good learning intention and success criteria.  I fancy myself as a bit of a mathematician so I rattled off a couple of alternative answers, sat back proudly and smiled only to hear that I needed to produce the “perfect solution” – I felt like shouting “but it’s not fair, you never told me that!” That was a key bit of information that simply hadn’t been included in the success criteria but I needed to know it to produce a great answer – the students would as well.  This is what makes writing success criteria and in turn gaining clarity such a challenge:

  • First, you have to be clear in your own mind what excellence looks like
  • Secondly, you have to communicate this with absolute clarity

When recently implementing our pilot #OutstandingIn10Plus10 CPD programme, we were looking at honing our skills with respect to teacher clarity.  One very honest member of staff admitted to not being very clear about success criteria or the writing of them so we started looking at his success criteria as a group.  It was related to learning about the different types of religious orders and why people choose one over the other.  The starting success criteria was:

“State the type of religious order joined e.g. apostolic or contemplative”

My question is very simple, “If I do that do I get an A*?”  Success criteria must be challenging and direct students towards excellence.  I just keep asking the same question and adding to the success criteria until made clear to students what excellence looks like in their learning.  We ended up with:

“Compare and contrast apostolic and contemplative orders explaining why people join one based on personal preference, scriptural quotes, chosen purpose and challenges of life.”

Now I know what I need to do to get an A* – success as defined by the initial and revised criteria are very different.  In summary, success criteria need to be:

  • Specific – it’s important to be clear about the elements that are required for excellence – the “perfect solution” or inclusion of “personal preference, scriptural quotes, chosen purpose and challenges of life.”  Clarity comes in part through specificity.
  • Extensive – this is linked to specificity but requires all the main elements of the excellent answer to be included.  The issue of balance is raised here as students won’t necessarily be helped by a long tick list, what are the main elements that are key to excellence?
  • Challenging – keep asking yourself, “Would this produce an A* answer?”  There is a real danger that we do not ask enough of our students.  I primary schools teachers’ expectations in Y3 & 4 can be very different to those of Y6.  Secondary schools can spend time faffing about in Key Stage 3 only to have to put the warp factor drivers on in Key Stage 4 for students to make expected or better than expected progress.  In Sixth Form, students bedding in during Y12 just enjoying themselves, only to underachieve as they can’t make up the ground in Y13 can be an issue.

We must not be complicit in this with low level undemanding success criteria.  If you want to read more about expectations have a look at Tom Sherrington’s recent post, Defining the Butterfly: Knowing the Standards to Set the Standards

Versions of the tables with Bloom versus #SOLO Taxonomies are here:

When #SOLO Met Bloom – Table (Word)

When #SOLO Met Bloom – Table (PDF)

If you would like to read about some other “When Harry Met Sally” type posts there are:

When Strategic Met Operational

When Didactic Met Co-operative

When Feedback Met Bloom

Essential Resources: (there are Australia, New Zealand and Rest of the World websites for Essential Resources as well) publishes some fantastic resources – “SOLO Taxonomy & Making Meaning” are a set of three literacy based books, two books that introduce “SOLO Taxonomy: A Guide for Schools” are two books that give you a great introduction to SOLO and finally one titled “Using SOLO as a Framework for Teaching” are all worthwhile.



18 thoughts on “When #SOLO Met Bloom Taxonomy

  1. Thank you for a thought provoking and enjoyable read. I am delivering an hour and a half inset to most staff in our school on teaching and learning and while I really like the concept of solo, I know that in such a short session (where I want to discuss other aspects of learning) it perhaps will not be so well understood or received. However, one aspect I want to look at in detail is setting appropriate yet challenging success criteria for lessons. This is where I can demonstrate (with the help of your posts) how valuable solo can be in setting and sharing success criteria.
    I am still debating whether to introduce solo to the pupils in my teaching groups and to evaluate the impact they have or whether I just use them to set success criteria for lessons. If I introduce them to pupils and I feel it has a positive impact and the time taken to “coach” them through their use is not too large I would then look to launch whole school.
    Thanks again for an excellent post.

    Posted by mrbenney | November 24, 2013, 8:37 am
  2. Thank you for a thought provoking and enjoyable read. I have recently been introduced to solo taxonomy via blogs from yourself, learningspy et al. I like the concept. I am taking an hour and a half inset to staff in December on teaching and learning. I was not going to discuss solo because in the time frame (and because I want to discuss other things) I wouldn’t do it justice and staff would not be as receptive to it. Having read your blog I am now going to cover solo as a guide to designing and sharing high quality success criteria with pupils. I am sure that by using examples from your blog that this will be “successful.”
    I’m still debating whether to introduce solo to the pupils in my teaching groups. I am still concerned that I will lose to much time “coaching” them through how they can be used. If I do introduce them to pupils and I feel they have been beneficial then I my look to push it whole school.
    In the meantime I’m hoping staff will use solo to set appropriate yet challenging success criteria for lessons. I can already see that too many of my lessons have success criteria that finish at the multistructural level and I am not communicating to my pupils that I have higher expectations and want them to make stronger links between the chunks of knowledge and perhaps previously learned knowledge.
    Thanks again for an excellent blog,

    Posted by mrbenney | November 24, 2013, 8:55 am
  3. Apologies for the double (now triple) reply. I thought he first reply hadn’t worked.

    Posted by mrbenney | November 24, 2013, 8:58 am
  4. Hi Stephen,
    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts on a possible connection between Bloom’s Taxonomy and SOLO. It may seem provocative but I think you will get to a stronger place by dropping Blooms from the conversation.
    When SOLO stood up Bloom follows –
    Your argument for including Bloom’s rests on the Knowledge dimensions distinction it provides – factual/conceptual/procedural/ and then the addition of metacognitive. Types of knowledge are not uniquely referenced to Bloom – e.g. TOK refers to personal, procedural and propositional knowledge. So if these distinctions are important we do not need Bloom to get there. John Biggs refers to declarative and functioning knowledge outcomes (Biggs and Tang 2007 p. 88) (metacognitive reflection can sit inside functioning/performance). His writing stresses (much like you have done – the importance of identifying the type of knowledge involved when you design and write course ILOs. You can see an example of this kind of thinking on the HookED wiki here
    I think the argument for SOLO over Bloom’s as a model for use in schools is compelling – I have started teasing it out for you here I will admit to spending a number of years involved in gifted education and in providing and designing thinking skills programmes – so I *was* heavily invested in Blooms in the past – now I see it as an unnecessary complication and in this case an unnecessary distraction from the good thinking you are doing around making learning intentions visible and challenging – and one without any evidence base. The haphazard allocation of verbs to levels is one good reason to steer well clear – I list many other more compelling reasons for you here A wiki page for a magpie 😉
    Regards Pam

    Posted by Pam Hook | November 25, 2013, 5:16 am
  5. I have gone through your comments in favor of SOLO instead of Bloom’s. I did my comparative experimental research on these both taxonomies. You are right to say that SOLO is easier than Bloom’s. SOLO is a cognitive based taxonomy. If we keep in mind that the cognitive domain of Bloom’s and SOLO alongside its Models and levels of understanding, then we will be able to find out their inclusive and exclusive areas. thanks

    Posted by hayat khan | February 22, 2015, 6:16 pm


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