SOLO in ICT: Episode I


Last week, in a classroom far, far away…

Of all the things I’ve read about on Twitter and in various blog posts over the last year SOLO was the one I kept coming back to and by the end of the year, it had become the “thing” I wanted to try most.

There are a lot of people out there using SOLO and it was difficult to know here to start but I stumbled upon and gently prodded towards a number of particularly helpful sources, namely Pam Hook as well as Learning Spy, Tait Coles, Andy Knill, Lisa Jane Ashes and latterly Data Fiend amongst many- I urge you to seek out the work of all these worthy people.

I had found little – if anything – about SOLO being used in ICT, other than a post in ICT Evangelist’s excellent blog. (If there is something out there that I’ve missed I’d be grateful if someone could point me in the right direction)

I actually wondered whether SOLO was an idea that would fit into ICT at all. As SOLO is primarily about thinking, most of the subjects in which it seemed to be being used seemed to involve students using it to investigate “big” questions or concepts.

I’m not saying that ICT doesn’t involve thinking – of course it does – but the principles SOLO didn’t seem to “sit right” with most of what I was teaching. (I am sure there are plenty of opportunities for SOLO within GCSE, or A Level ICT or Computing, which I don’t teach)  After thinking about it for a while, I wondered if it whether SOLO could be used to introduce spreadsheets.

Spreadsheet modelling always seems to be one of the most challenging topics in the KS3 curriculum (or perhaps I’m just not very good at teaching it!) and I felt that there were plenty of “abstract” questions in there, requiring thinking and conceptual understanding spreadsheets as well as a need to relate this thinking to practical contexts.SOLObook

A colleague then pointed me in the direction of some SOLO resources for a range of subjects, including – Maths – and, it was there that I saw some similarities with ICT.

For example, one of the SOLO maths examples was the topic of Area –

  • At a prestructural level, students didn’t know what area was
  • At extended abstract level, students were able to use their understanding to find the area of complex shapes

When looking at this and other examples I was able to see parallels with my topic – traditionally students have very little if any knowledge of spreadsheets at start of the Y7 project, but by the end, many can create spreadsheets of their own, choosing and applying formulae themselves. I spent some time taking the spreadseet modelling topic apart and identifying key tasks and questions.  I then used the resource below (from the SOLO Wiki) to support me in writing (what I hope) were appropriate success criteria for each one, ensuring that I used the correct verbs with each example.


I used the spreadsheet SOLO tasks that I had written to put a student booklet together  in order to support the students in assessing their progress each lesson and identifying the next steps to improve.

So here are my reflections of my first two lessons of SOLO with Year 7.

Disclaimer: I am finding my way with SOLO – it may well be that I’m not doing it right so if any advanced SOLO practitioners are reading this please be gentle with me!

Lesson 1

I started out with a video which introduced the concept of SOLO using Lego – which countless people have used – to introduce the students to the concept of SOLO. It’s a great idea, beautifully executed.

After a brief chat about what SOLO was and why we were using it, I introduced the topic of Spreadsheets.  In our initial Q&A session I asked students about what they thought spreadsheets were and encouraged them to use the SOLO levels to assess their understanding. They were hesitant but had a good stab at it. Even at this stage, it was evident that they had different levels of understanding.  I ran the lesson as normal, moving from a simple task involving identifying parts of a spreadsheet to practical exercises introducing simple formulae, which they accessed via the VLE. The two activities were linked since they needed to understand the terms in the first exercise, in order to complete the second exercise.The students progressed well with the task and as I supported them, I encouraged them to use the SOLO terms to assess how well they were doing.  At the end of the lesson I gave out student SOLO booklets and asked them to self-assess their progress (by drawing the SOLO symbol) and then giving a reason as to why they thought they were at that level. I felt that the last bit was important!  I set a homework about the use of spreadsheets, which required the students to apply the knowledge gained in the lesson, and told them that they would be marking it next lesson…using SOLO!

Lesson 2

The first activity of Lesson 2 involved the students peer marking the homework they did after lesson 1. I asked them to do this using SOLO symbols and to provide a comment explaining why their reasoning. To get them thinking a bit more I asked them to suggest how the student could develop the homework further to move to the next level. I supported the students in their peer assessment task by displaying a slide with the relevant success criteria, next to the appropriate SOLO level.IMG_20130114_112610

The students made a really good job of marking the work and I feel that the peer assessment they did with SOLO was an improvement over similar exercises done using different methods.

I was pleased to see students starting to recognise what they needed to do to move forward, as well as simply identifying where they were at.

The main part of the lesson involved students working towards producing a simple spreadsheet of their own based on a scenario I gave them. At the end of the lesson I asked students to use a post-it note to assess themselves and post it under the appropriate SOLO symbol on the whiteboard.SOLOself_assess

I know that there are more “techy” ways of doing self assessmentSocrative for example – but I was still more concerned about the students making the judgements correctly and considering their next steps. Since they have little experience of Socrative so far, I felt happy using an analogue method. Some students asked if they could place themselves between levels and were able to explain to me why they felt that they were only part of the way to the next stage.

The students then wrote about their progress in their SOLO books.

Next steps?

  • As the photo above shows, I have students at three different stages. Even though I currently have no students working at extended abstract, I am going to have a stab at using SOLO stations to support the students in making further progress
  • I am also going to look at using Infuse Learning to support self assessment. While this tool is very similar to Socrative, that fact that it supports drawn responses makes it an interesting possibility for using with SOLO
  • I am looking at use of hexagons and hot maps

Does SOLO work in ICT? Still too early to tell, but at the very least, I have noticed after just two lessons, that students are really thinking about the progress they are making in their lessons and, more importantly, they are thinking about what they need to do to make further progress.

I would be interested to know if any of you are using SOLO in ICT and if so, what your experiences are.

And sorry about the Star Wars picture…


17 thoughts on “SOLO in ICT: Episode I

  1. I really like the reflective approach you have taken and I think that you are right. There are subjects that very clearly lend themselves to SOLO and others where the application seems a little less clear. As you progress what about some flipping so that pupils arrive at the lesson already at the multi-structural stage.

    • Thank you Sam – I really appreciate the comments and feedback. I agree that I should try some flipped learning. I was going to try SOLO Stations next lesson so I will use the VLE to help me support students at each level.

  2. Great start. I have one yr 7 group for ICT and although I use SOLO extensively with geography classes I think I need to see if my line manager will let me experiment with SOLO.
    I have avoided the word level and refer to SOLO stages and link those comparably to NC levels.
    I use the symbols and when pupils marking they use;
    SA to show self assessment
    PA to show peer assessment
    FF for feed forward tips
    FB for feedback as a review

    Currently having lots of spoken presentations where we practice marking the content rather than the presentation style – link to ICT and the thorny issue of audience .

    Really enjoyed the post and thanks for mention .

    • Hi Andy. Thanks for the feedback – I have found your blog – with its detailed accounts of your SOLO experiences – very helpful, during these early stages of my own SOLO learning. I need to train myself to stop using the word “level” – force of habit I guess!

      I like the notation you have used and will try and incorporate that into future lessons. Guess my focus needs to be lesson on the use of symbols and more on the quality of the feedback given. I feel encouraged to keep going, so thanks again!

  3. Hi there Jon. I think this is great! I think the key to successful SOLO in the classroom when it comes to ICT is to focus on different skill levels rather than anything else. i.e. the theory behind what is needed to be successful at different skill levels using different bits of software related to different levels in SOLO. I think you are on the right track.

    • Thanks Mark much appreciated. I’ve had some useful feedback which I’m going to try and build into next lesson. Need to make sure the lesson focuses on students understanding how to make progress and less on the terms.

      • I think if you have statements and activities at SOLO stations such as: I have no idea what a spreadsheet is, I have an idea what a spreadsheet is, I know what cells, columns, rows and cell formats are, I can use different functions such as SUM, AVERAGE, IF and VLOOKUP etc as related to SOLO levels and then tie in activities related to those levels. That way students will self select and choose activities related to their skills & confidence. At the end of the lesson students will then be able to say, “Today I made progress towards SOLO level X and progress in learning and practicing how to do Y/Z etc”. In my experience, giving it the hook helps students understand what they’ve learned, why they’re at where they are and what they have left to learn. Making learning more visible in the process.

      • Think you’re right there. I’ve already started planning some activities for SOLO Stations, which will point the students towards further exercises on the VLE. Hoping to see some progress next lesson!

  4. Hi Jon,
    There is a lot of academic research using SOLO to look at learning outcomes in ICT – use and programming etc. In terms of classroom use I have been using SOLO to help teachers integrate ICTs into teaching and learning programmes in NZ since 2003 – you can see some of the ways we think about this here
    I have also developed a number of SOLO coded self assessment rubrics to help teachers who teach programming and web design – happy to email these to you if you make contact through my website.
    Pam Hook

    • Hi Pam

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – I will look at the links you have sent me and would be very interested in looking at the self assessment rubrics to which you refer. I will get in touch via your site.

      Many thanks again


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  6. Hi Jon I am also just starting to use solo in ICT… Would love to see what you had in your solo booklet and very interested in how your solo stations went. I am just trying to get my head around the hexagons and hotmaps but not quite their yet. Would really appreciate it if you have any examples to show me.
    Loved reading your blog post and very informative.

    • Hi Andrea

      Thanks for your kind comments. I am more than happy to share my stuff with you, with the disclaimer that I don’t claim to have got it right!

      I have also put together a SOLO Scratch scheme of work for this year, which is fully resourced. Andy Colley is already testing it for me. If you’d like access to it, just let me know and I’ll sort it.

      Kind regards


      • Hi Jon,

        I have just found the site and am really interested in using SOLO. I would really appreciate it if you would share the scratch resources. I’m due to have my first observation of the year next week and am thinking of using some of the ideas I’ve seen. I’m planning on introducing the pupils (yr7) to the idea of artificial intelligence using python to write an interactive program. Any suggestions or tips would be most welcome.
        many thanks

  7. HiJon
    Would really like to share/access your resources the booklet and scratch solo sow. That would be great if you dont mind. I have logged in email but if need me to send email just let me know. Much appreciated Andrea

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