The SOLO Taxonomy Revisited
6 September 2018

SOLO (Structured Observation of Learning Outcomes)

Helping students develop a deep and enduring understanding in all aspects of learning remains a core focus of everyday instruction at Westbourne. I recently attended a two-day conference where the virtues of using the SOLO Taxonomy as a learning framework were reinforced. I haven’t written about this for some time so I thought newer parents might like to gain an insight that can help them effectively discuss learning with their children at home. For ‘older’ parents, here is a recap:

The Taxonomy considers five progressive stages in learning:

Pre – structural – the student possibly knows nothing about the topic probably because it is new material, but possibly because they have missed the point of previous instruction. At this stage the student is at the point of learning new material and is a complete novice.

Uni – structural – the student has identified one aspect or fact about the learning task and is unable to connect or apply their knowledge. They have begun the learning journey and are hopefully engaged and curious to know much more.

Multi- structural – the student now can grasp several concepts of the topic and has the ability to discuss and identify. They should be able to answer straightforward questions that rely simply on their new basic understanding.

These latter two levels are regarded as surface understanding and represent the ‘yellow zone’ of thinking. At this stage of learning students should be able to define concepts, describe, make lists and perform a simple sequence of tasks. When parents discuss a topic at home they will find that using these ‘verbs’ will elicit the best responses. A student at this stage faced with a new worded problem in Mathematics will not be ready to progress.

Relational – the student moves into the green zone when they begin to see the connections between all elements of their learning from the yellow zone. Students begin to gain a deeper and more coherent understanding as they literally start ‘seeing the bigger picture.’ At this stage of learning students can formulate questions, compare and contrast, and classify and analyse aspects of the topic.

Extended abstract – the final level of learning occurs when students have a full understanding of all concepts related to the topic, can draw connections between them, but also go further and look at learning in a new deeper way. Students operating at the extended abstract level can successfully work through novel and unusual problems and challenges in an open-ended context. They will now be able to predict, generalise, hypothesise, prove, reflect and create new understanding. Students who have spent some time in this thinking mode will now be well equipped to tackle that atypical maths problem! It is interesting for parents to test their child’s depth of knowledge about a topic by probing them with some of the learning verbs above.

We want our students to be predominantly thinking in the green zone, and further in the extended abstract as much as practicable. It is here that the most valuable transfer of knowledge occurs. It is also challenging and enjoyable to think in this way! However, it is important to note that learners need to move through all learning stages for a given task or subject. Some educators have suggested a time balance of thirty percent in the yellow zone and seventy percent in the green zone for each learning area.

*The SOLO Taxonomy was devised by Biggs and Collis. An excellent website for further reading and resources centres around the work of Pam Hook from New Zealand.

Andrew McGregor – Associate Principal