Starting out with Solo

My “Solo” journey began almost a year ago when I stumbled upon this blog post from Tait Coles (@totallywired77).   I don’t want to regurgitate what others have already said about solo, Tait’s blog has all the links you’ll need to get you started, I just wanted to describe how I am using it.

Firstly, I am not an expert so please forgive any misunderstanding of solo in this piece. I decided to start using solo this week because I needed to give constructive feedback to my Y11 History class on a 12 mark exam question. Giving feedback can be a chore in History. There are so may variables to consider and a lengthy comment can be crushing to a 15 year old’s confidence…even when the intention is to be supportive. In our department we have looked a a few AfL techniques  such as “Three Stars and a Wish” as well as various forms of peer and self assessment but I don’t think I have come across anything as elegant solo.



Solo (as I understand it) is a way of measuring how well a student has grasped a topic. It helps to signpost how “deep” their learning is but also points to how a student can improve. It has five levels

1. Prestructural

2. Unistructural

3. Multistructural

4. Relational

5. Extended Abstract

Granted…at first look it can seem a bit complex and the language can be a bit off putting but within 5 mins my class had the hang of it. I asked my students to re-read their work after a brief explanation of the solo levels using this poster from Pam Hook;s HookEd Wiki


Next I asked each student to self-assess their work to decide where they felt it fitted on the taxonomy. Most placed themselves at “multi-structural” stage…and I agreed. As with many students just starting out with GCSE History they are more concerned with getting the names of  people and the dates of events right whereas I am more concerned with how they link ideas to answer the question. They had all the right information but it wasn’t structured very well.


Next I asked “What then should be your focus for improvement?”.


Well that was easy. The next step in solo is “relational”.


“We need to link things together better” came the response.

So in the next class we took the “Relational” level as our focus and worked on how to make links with the information we have at our disposal. We drew mindmaps to record all the ideas we had then we began linking them together using coloured markers to colour code the ideas in groups. We talked about “transitiions” in paragraphs which link ideas together…just simple things like “therefore”, “furthermore”, “in addition to” and so on. (Only now as I’m writing this am I remembering this blog post from “The Learning Spy” on Hexagonal Learning – a missed opportunity in this lesson but I’ll do it next time)


Things were going great until one student asked, “How do I get to the ‘Extended Abstract’ level?”. So we talked about what “Extended Abstract” could mean.  I explained that to get to this level not only have you linked information effectively but you have looked at it from a new perspective or made a judgement call on it. For some reason this explanation clicked. The fluffy, nebulous, subjective thing that is History essay writing suddenly seemed very simple to them. They could see it. It’s early days but so far I am very optimistic. Solo not only helps students identify where they are at but it also helps them plot their way forward…something that grades alone cannot do.


I think I will extend this now by  assigning homeworks and assessments a solo level instead of a grade. The two don’t necessarily marry but I feel if solo can get my students to think about how they are using the information at their disposal then I am justified in using the solo symbols and ignoring grades…for now at least.

We’ll see how that goes and take it from there.


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