Sunday, 26 February 2012

Experimenting with SOLO and creative writing #solotaxonomy

I've used Bloom's Taxonomy for years to structure my learning objectives. I've always liked the way I rarely have to change them: understand / analyse / evaluate the poem / play / novel we happen to be studying. It helps students to transfer the skills they are using in one area across the subject and corresponds nicely with C/D to A* marking criteria at GCSE.
The problem is that a lot of students (and it seems teachers) struggle to grasp what analysis and evaluation actually are. On a learning walk at the start of the year, I went around all the Y10 English classrooms and asked students what they were doing, in every classroom the objectives were clearly on the board and used the word 'analysis'.
The conversation generally went:

'Can you tell me what you are doing?'
'We're analysing poetry.'
'Great. Can you tell me what analysis means?'
(Blank look) (Pause) 'It's when you annotate a poem.'

Only it's not, is it? I actually did find one student who gave the response:

'It's when you say 'how' the poem is written, or 'why' the poet wrote it.'

A much more helpful response, but how a student goes about showing that is still unclear. With that understanding, you could argue that saying, 'It was written using a metaphor' and, 'They wrote it to make a point' are both analytical answers!
Evaluation is even more straightforward: 'I give this text 9 out of 10' - job done!
So, my response has always been to train students to use key words and phrases that SHOW the the target skill.

The writer does this because...
This implies / suggests / represents...
A pattern can be seen...
The effect of this on a reader is...
Could / might / may mean...
Adjectives to describe the writer's craft such as impressive / original / thought-provoking / etc (and, of course, their antonyms).

This has proven very successful over recent years, especially moving Ds to Cs and Bs to As, but it still doesn't quite explain what you have to do to get a top grade.
So I'm trying SOLO. Again, the lazy side of me likes the idea that the structure rarely needs to change, and Lesson Objectives can be structured around the different levels of understanding.
I started on Friday with Y13. They are doing text transformation coursework - trying to shed new light on Macbeth along the way. They have all done a first draft, but a lot of them had failed to grasp that simply filling a textual gap by writing from a chosen character's perspective does not quite cut the mustard. Enter SOLO.
I went through the 5 stages and then we applied them to transformation coursework skills. This is what we came up with:

Creative writing that does not shed new light on the original text (therefore does not meet the criteria).
Takes one aspect of the original text, e.g. character or plot, but doesn't do much more than tell the same story from a different perspective.
Takes several aspects of the text, including themes, symbols, but although these ideas may be interesting and relevant, there is no interplay with the original text and the ideas are not linked or developed.
Has interplay with several aspects of the original text. Themes and symbols are developed, connected and integrated skilfully.
Extended Abstract:
The text goes beyond a transformation of the original text and becomes a comment on the writer's craft, literary theories and movements, or changes in contexts and values over time.

We then analysed a piece of work that got maximum marks last year and mind-mapped the Relational and Extended Abstract thinking behind it. They then had to discuss and map their own work using the SOLO framework.

Too soon to tell if it works after one lesson, but you could almost hear their minds ticking away, and I'm fairly sure that the room brightened as a couple of lightbulbs switched on. The verbal feedback certainly suggests that they have gone away thinking in a different way about their learning.
Finally, I realised that it also fits well with a metaphor I've been using for years - that of the juggler. Students seems to get this idea really easily and some have even started drawing it on their Controlled Assessment planning sheets!

Prestructural is having a pile of balls (see, it's appropriate in more ways than one!)
Unistructural is throwing one ball up in the air and catching it.
Multistructural is throwing lots of balls up in the air, but one at a time.
Relational is juggling (and the more balls you can juggle, the more skill you are showing).
Extended abstract is when someone else throws in a club, a hoop, or a chainsaw and you still don't drop a thing!

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