Thursday, 26 September 2013

Morgan Ngata: Solo Taxonomy in an Area School

Karyn’s Introduction:

This year we really anted to embed some language around learning that we could keep the same throughout the school. We have been experimenting with using SOLO taxonomy and we are finding some tremendous applications for it throughout the school from Year 1 through to Year 13. Morgan shares a small part of our journey with SOLO taxonomy.

SOLO & Concept maps
Kia ora koutou

This year we have been implementing SOLO taxonomy into our teaching practices. I have been continuously impressed with this teaching resource and have found that the resources available are both extensive and easy to use (see the HookED website.) I have also begun to introduce concept mapping into our classroom lessons. I have found that learners really enjoyed the combination of these two practices therefore I have chosen the combination of these tools for my first blog post here. 

SOLO taxonomy (as explained on Pam Hooks website HookED ) stands for  structure of observed learning outcomes. It provides a simple, reliable and robust model for three levels of understanding – surface, deep and conceptual (Biggs and Collis 1982). SOLO is an effective tool for providing a clear pathway for learning for both students and teachers alike. It recognizes that conceptual knowledge is built upon a progressive pathway of learning. This pathway begins  with;
  1. Having no knowledge about a topic & requiring help to begin the learning process, (Non-structural)
  2. Then learning progresses to having a single idea but it is disconnected or an isolated idea. (Unistructural)
  3. This is followed by having several ideas but relationships are still missing, (Multi-structural)
  4. Then the learner begins making connections and identifying the dynamic relationships between these ideas . (Relational)
  5. Finally learning progresses into a level where these relationships can be reapplied in a new context, evaluations and generalisations and predictions are applied. (Extended abstract)

During last term I facilitated a learning unit for our senior students (yr 11-13) that focused on Kaitiakitanga (which is guardianship of our natural treasures.) We were investigating native fauna, what their ecological needs are and how humans have had an impact on these needs. This was an ideal opportunity to apply what i’ve been learning about with SOLO in a context that our learners are passionate about. 

To further support the use of SOLO in the learning process I introduced the use of concept maps to help display the SOLO levels of learning as we progress though our discussions and learning activities. Concept mapping provides an effective tool for mapping out our thinking about a concept.  The best information/research I have found about concept mapping is available from . Based on this information I was convinced that Concept maps were going to compliment SOLO effectively. I found that the concept map design with the use of prepositions were really helpful for establishing clear links between ideas (relational level) and how relationships between the ideas can be direct or indirect. Interestingly the indirect relationships truly emphasized the dynamic relationships between our ideas and demonstrated the complexity of the issues we were studying.

I introduced concept mapping using a method I found online through Stanford 
We as a class selected a topic that we knew well, (funny enough it was about food.) We then used post it notes on the white board to brainstorm our current knowledge, identifying what SOLO level we are beginning at and then begun to sort the information (reason for post it notes,) and draw the links and prepositions to emphasise the relationships (both direct and dynamic).  This was an effective introduction into using SOLO and concept mapping for documenting and directing our learning. Due to the learners being very familiar with this topic we were capable of moving through the taxonomic levels relatively quickly. Perhaps most importantly we were able to review our information (self & peer assessment,) and explore less obvious ideas quickly. The responses received from these senior students about using SOLO with concept maps were really positive and indicated a genuine enjoyment in carrying out this session. 

As I mentioned earlier the focus of our learning was about guardianship of our native flora and fauna. We initially worked as a group and explored the Kiwi bird. We developed our key points eventually establishing a multi-structural level of knowledge. We then progressed in exploring relationships between these key points. The key learning really occurred when we were able to pinpoint on the concept map how relationships between 2 separate concepts can be affected through a third component. For example the opportunity for a kiwi to collect food is affected through both biotic (presence of a predator or the species life cycle) and abiotic factors (temperature). The diagram really seemed to help our learners grasp the dynamics we were focusing on as a group and provided an effective visual representation for them to construct and explore their own indirect relationships for further discussions (relational). I found that constructing concept maps with a SOLO perspective allows learners to develop a conceptually based frame work from which we could apply new species to.  We explored ideas like “How does the conceptual framework we have identified in the one ecosystem relate to another ecosystem?” This enabled the learners to explore the concepts in a new context (extended abstract.) We explored questions like “How does temperature affect land based animals like Tuatara? Or how might this understanding of ecosystems apply in the marine environment? 

Overall I found this mix of methods worked really well and helped the learners to effectively direct their own learning through the 5 levels of SOLO taxonomy. This is only the first time I’ve used this method but felt so encouraged by the learning that occurred that it is a method of delivery and knowledge construction that I will continue to apply in my teaching.


  1. I have really enjoyed using the HookEd sites SOLO Coded Self Assessment Rubrics. They really unpack the key competencies and make the learning steps easy to understand for our younger students.

  2. Yeah Im HookED! Im thinking about personal learning portfolios that are structured by SOLO. I see learners expanding on their own areas of knowledge (kind of domains of knowledge..or kete) and then identifying when they draw upon different areas of their knowledge to solve problems as a great demonstration of relational thinking... Asking questions like "What types of knowledge did you use to get to this point in the solution?"

    This could also link to perseverance as well...are the learners with greater perseverance utelising a broader range of personal knowledge domains?
    neat stuff to consider and try out i think..