SOLO in action

SOLO has been part of my vocabulary of teaching since being introduced to it as the way to structure learning by the amazing Dr. Ngaire Hoben at the University of Auckland in 2002. I must admit my naievity that I never really realised that not all teachers used it.

SOLO taxonomy, devised by Biggs and Collis (1982), allows for clear progression of thinking and understanding in any context (John Bigg’s website). The progressions are based on cognitive connections and provides a common language to measure and discuss those abstract connections. The simplicity of SOLO works well for all learners and educators. SOLO works for my way of thinking – it allows for differentiation of quantity of understanding and provides scope to move to more qualitative levels of understanding.

In the classroom

For me, SOLO was always about the structured overview of learning outcomes – S.O.L.O. – this is how I have always approached my planning as a teacher. Questions arise during planning such as:

  • What do the students need to be able to show?
  • What does complex thinking look like?
  • How can I help students to move in their thinking?
  • What are the intended objectives? What do I need to do as a teacher to support students to meet these?

What it looked like in my traditional classroom at Northcote College:

  • Learning objectives were clearly linked to SOLO levels – either through explicit linking or through unpacking the LOs through the language of the SOLO levels.
  • My workbooks / learning activities were structured using the SOLO levels. Students could identify where they were at in their understanding and self-assess. Then, discussions were held to move them forward to be able to display progression in the quality of their understanding.
  • The SOLO visual cues and verbs were on display all the time – we used them in discussion, in unpacking NCEA criteria and assessment tasks
  • Feedback was targeted to SOLO levels – explaining where they were and where to next.

As my SOLO journey evolved, I realised that this was still very teacher centred. During my study as part of my Masters degree in Education, I made the natural connection between SOLO and Assessment for Learning.

Links to AfL

  • SOLO unpacks the levels of quality – it either stood as the success criteria for a learning activity, series of activities or an assessment, or it allowed for a clear co-construction tool to understand what quality of learning looks like.
  • SOLO allowed for a framework for peer and self assessment – by co-constructing the learning activities  (and assessment activities) against the rubrics
  • Use of HOT tools (from Pam Hook) to scaffold the learning (  and to show how to demonstrate understanding at the different levels
  • As an assessment tool – marrying up the thinking levels which underpin the achievement criteria of standards (i.e. is Excellence at is not always at extended abstract, it may be at relational, but what skills are needed in order to demonstrate the highest levels of thinking and, hopefully, bag an Excellence. In Classical Studies, NCEA Level 3 criteria at Merit and Excellence but draw on extended abstract, so what is the qualitative difference between them)

My next steps at Hobsonville Point Secondary School:

  • Build student capacity using SOLO taxonomy – reflecting on learning
  • I ran some workshops for all of the students in the school this week to build on their understanding of SOLO. Links to my workshop presentation here.  These link to my professional learning goals of integrating SOLO taxonomy more purposefully to empower students, and building student capacity for reflection and action (in hubs).
  • Using SOLO taxonomy to assess our dispositional curriculum – rubrics for our ‘Hobsonville Habits” here
  • Using SOLO taxonomy as a vehicle to measure student progression and learning in all aspects of our curriculum

I truly believe in the power of SOLO taxonomy as a means for empowerment. I feel that I will be blogging about it over the next few weeks and months as my thinking and professional inquiry come into fruition. Students need to be inducted into the ‘guild of the assessor’ this is so powerful for them and makes the talking about learning more meaningful. SOLO is the bombdiggity! It empowers learners to talk about their learning, can separate product from process, or combine them if necessary.

SOLO Taxonomy broken down into levels, with appropriate verbs and symbols.


Some other links which have helped me….

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