Post-observation SOLO update

Yesterday I had a lesson observation with one of the groups with which I have been using SOLO taxonomy to inform planning. The group consists of about 18 boys and 2 girls most of whom have SEN statements for such diverse things as behaviour, literacy, autism and ADHD, and who have official targets of D and below. When I found I would be teaching this group in September I had mixed feelings. I was pleased in part because I have often taught these types of groups in the past and have had good relationships with them. Several years ago I picked up another teacher’s groups who traditionally taught such students and this has seemed to stick. There is never a dull moment and some of the ideas that these students come up with are utterly original and brilliant and way beyond anything that top set students would ever conceive of. However, it is also true that it takes a lot more hard work to ensure these types of students progress and I was very aware that under the new framework it would be very difficult to achieve an acceptable observation outcome. In all honesty, I was dreading being observed with the group. This was in fact the third time I’ve been seen with them this year, but the other times were not linked to CPD. The first time was a 20 minute drop in by two AHTs for which no feedback was given. The second was in January and was part of an SEN inspection. The Head came and observed with the SEN inspector and gave me informal verbal feedback. The conclusion was that the lesson would have received a 3 but it was still a good achievement with such a challenging group.

So the official observation which formed part of the CPD review took place yesterday and this lesson received a 2. I put this entirely down to the reading I’ve done since September and my working towards implementing “visible learning” methods in general and SOLO in particular. I also owe a massive debt to @LearningSpy (David Didau) for pinching so many of his ideas, and to @TeacherToolkit for making lesson planning such a painless activity with the 5 minute plan. Below is an outline of the lesson which was designed to allow students to learn how to make meaningful comparisons between texts, in this case two poems; “The Soldier” and “Dulce et Decorum Est”. It is the fourth week of lessons on this unit, which incorporates a Shakespeare play and compares it to two poems.

As students entered the room they had two tasks to complete. The first was to write their homework task into their planners (see previous post on setting homework. This week’s task is to write a letter to Michael Gove explaining how lessons in school could be improved), the second to decide who they would rather sit next to in the lesson between Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke (the class had done some biographical research on the poets at the start of the unit) and give reasons for this. Their photographs were displayed on the IWB to give students a visual focus. There were many latecomers to the lesson from break but this wasn’t a problem as they could enter the task at any time. Five minutes in we held a group discussion where students shared their conclusions and unanimously chose Wilfred Owen because he’d actually been in the trenches and his poem was “less boring” (meaning stuff actually happens). At this point students were challenged to write a definition in their books of the words “compare” and “contrast”, following the “Brain Buddy Book Boss” sequence courtesy of @LazyTeacher Jim Smith (I prefer this to Brain Book Buddy Boss as it’s more economical in terms of time and encourages collaboration). Once we had the distinction between the words firmly grasped I did a quick show of thumbs-up/down to check their own confidence in understanding the terms. We then moved onto the main task, a variation on “comparison alley” but with one half of the alley devoted to comparisons and the other half to contrasts. Students were given a tick list of things to compare and contrast between the poems which they had to work through. The list got progressively more difficult and I differentiated the task by telling each group where I expected them to get up to on the tick list as a minimum. I originnally planned to give them separate ticklists but felt this was in danger of capping the progress of some students. At this point  we paused to check the grade ladder on the window (coutesy of @LearningSpy) and decide which skill we were using and therefore what level we were working at. We decided that we were “exploring” and so were working at a grade B level. This is a real ego booster when working with students who have official targets of Ds and Es. At that point it was time for me to let them go and get on with the task while I milled around checking understanding and pointing to my “Brain Buddy Book Boss” posters when they asked me questions. Undoubtedly this was an extremely challenging task, especially for LAS, but they all got stuck in without exception. Many of them were unclear about exactly what was expected of them and I had to go around and clarify what the task entailed. Once some students were totally clear I was able to direct others to them with their questions, and this freed me up to talk to the observers about the group and explain our SOLO experiment (see previous post). At this point the observers left, but the group continued with the task. As some students finished early, they went to compare their findings with other early finishers or to support those who were struggling, and the whole thing was pulled together with a group plenary in which all students discussed what they’d found in a class discussion. I was incredibly pleased that the lesson went so well and can only attribute it to networking with other teachers and pinching ideas from practitioners with better ideas than me. There is no doubt that if I was the same teacher I was in September and had not modified my practice over the last few weeks and months, the best I could have hoped for with this group is a 3. So here’s to online professional networking and sharing of good ideas.



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About Andrew Warner

Mostly English teacher, AHT (T&L/literacy/CPD) & bibliophile. Irregular examiner, MTBer, armchair anthropologist & bassist. Fascinated by language & behaviour.

One response to “Post-observation SOLO update”

  1. rachel says :

    Thank you for this, really interesting

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