Going SOLO

What is deep learning?

What does it mean to have a deep level of understanding?  How can children demonstrate mastery within their learning?  These are questions that we have grappled with at Woodchester Endowed Primary School.  We believe that the most effective learning involves a concept being understood fully, rather than a surface level of understanding being acquired before moving on to the next concept.  But what does this really mean?

We agreed, early on, that deep learning cannot involve knowing everything about a concept.  If this were the case, our children would not get beyond the concept of 1 + 1 = 2, as there is an entire PhD thesis contained within this statement!  We explored different ways in which learning is given depth in ways that can work practically with children.  The approach that we felt was the most effective was SOLO taxonomy.  This is a research rich approach to tiering understanding, developed by Briggs & Collis.  We were attracted by the way that it aligned with our beliefs about learning especially in the way it can be used across subjects, providing a focus on what effective learning really means.  In other words, we do not want to support the misconception that how we learn in maths is different from how we learn in PE.  SOLO strengthens the commonalities of learning.

SOLO taxonomy details 5 stages of understanding: pre-structural, uni-structural, multi-structural, relational and extended abstract.  Lets take the example of Henry VIII.  At a pre-structural level a learner wouldn't even know who he was.  At the uni-structural level, a learner would know a single fact about him, such as that he is a king.  At the multi-structural level, they would know multiple facts, such as he is a King, a member of the Tudor family and that he had 6 wives.  This has, traditionally been where we might have stopped.  We have learnt the facts and we can recall them.  SOLO provides two further steps which involve a deeper level of understanding.  At the relational level, the learner is required to make links between their understanding within this subject.  They might be asked to explain how Henry's multiple wives had an impact on his relationship with the church, or to compare Henry's reign to his father or his daughters.  The highest level of understanding is the extended abstract.  At this point the learner is required to make links with other subjects.  They might be asked to apply their understanding of Henry VIII.

For a further explanation, watch a great video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDXXV-mCLPg

A Learning Journey

Traditionally,  we provide the journey through learning by sharing what we are going to be learning.  This can seem a little odd, explaining to children at the pre-structural level what they are going to be learning at a later point (TEACHER "You will be learning about hyphenated adjectives." LEARNER "What are hyphenated adjectives?" TEACHER "We will tell you in 3 days time!"). 

At Woodchester, we use a different approach. We look at how we deepen our understanding over a learning journey.  Sharing objectives helps learners to see what they need to learn in order to have a multi-structural understanding but it doesn't help them to deepen it.  Our learning journey is simply set out as:

  • I know nothing (pre-structural)
  • I know a few things (uni-structural)
  • I know lots of things (multi-structural)
  • I know it so well I can teach other people (relational)
  • I can apply what I know (extended abstract)

This journey is not a linear, step by step approach.  Even when first introduced to a concept, we can challenge learners to explain or apply.  We aim to empower our learners, to use this model to challenge themselves, for example a child may choose to write an explanation of how place value helps them to understand how to multiply fractions.  In this way, we engage the learner in taking responsibility for accelerating their own progress.


In a truly connectionist way, SOLO taxonomy is intrinsically linked to all aspects of teaching, learning and assessment.  Often, assessment is based on "ticking off" when children have achieved an assessment criteria (remember APP?).   We believe that this only tells us that a child has achieved a surface level of understanding.  We assess the depth of a learner's understanding.  Are they working at a uni-structural level, whereby understanding is often limited in the amount of assessment criteria recalled?  Or are they showing us that they can regularly apply their learning to solve complex problems in a range of circumstances and are therefore working at an extended abstract level.  Through assessing in this way, we are able to gain much richer information about the learners, their next steps in this subject and even their next steps as a learner in all subjects.

The evidence that we use to inform our judgements are rich and wide ranging.  It can come in the form of verbal explanations within lessons, in the achievement of SOLO specific Success Criteria within written outcomes, in the responses to SOLO related feedback marking prompts as well as through the completion of SOLO hot mats, which ask children to evidence their understanding against each level of SOLO at the end of a topic.  

The attached document, SOLO Assessment Exemplification, provides more detail into how teachers make these assessment judgements. If you wish to learn more please read our Approaches to ensure a depth of Understanding at WES, in our Policies section.

File icon: docx SOLO assessment exemplification [docx 22KB] Click to download