Hands up in Class

Always a debate about hands up or not in class when the teacher asks a question. I guess that it is actually variety that wins for learning – it usually is. So hands up is ok if it is not the only strategy used in response to the teacher’s question.

I like to start from somewhere else. Contrary old me…

Why do we ask questions? If you reply, “To get answers”, then give yourselves the sack and start again.

We ask questions for assessment and we also ask questions to support student’ learning. What does that mean? Do students learn from being asked questions? No, they don’t. “What?”, I hear you say. Perhaps, you say.

Students don’t learn from the answers that are given to questions either. “Extra what?”, you retort.

Students learn from the thinking that the questions stimulate.

That thinking process is not often allowed to mature given the average wait time is less than one second in classrooms across the UK, and probably elsewhere in the world.

A small digression. I loved English Literature. All that analysis of language and meaning suited my now science brain almost perfectly. So much easier than all that writing essays about stuff I had to invent! In my English Lit classes I sat by the windows and I wrapped my arm in the blind cord so that my hand was always raised. Whatever question my lovely teacher had for me would be welcomed and answered. So much simpler than raising and lowering my hand all the time! How does that fit with the no hands up stuff, I wonder?

Back from the digression. If we let students decide when they have an answer they expect that when they raise their hand we will attend to them in some way. Either to ask them the answer or to say put your hand down. Is that the best way to develop quality thinking in our students? The speedy ones may well have a good answer but we should be expecting great answers from them and great answers come from deeper reflection than a few moments – or we are asking low level questions that do not require any real depth of thinking.

But “hands down and wait for the teacher to ask you” is not the panacea; not the method that sorts it all. If we ask a single student for his/her answer how do we know if any of the others have done any thinking. We can keep a record of who has answered and ensure that all get a chance to be involved. But there are other ways.

Ask a question. Tell students it is a 5 second question, that means you will wait AT LEAST 5 seconds before asking for a response. (Use a method I call “ask around”.) Do that and get a response and put on your best poker face and ask another student for his/her answer, and so on. Students get really good at reading your body language so practise keeping cavey (think that is slang for not giving things away, staying low profile).

This method is super when used with the “ask around” process. What you do is group students, threes or fours and get them to discuss and decide the best answer for the group. Then ask each group.

Then, pat yourself on the back as you have a method for encouraging students to think deeper.

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Solo and learning things

Learning things is to be replaced with learning outcomes, learning objectives WALT or whatever you use.

I have gone in and out of wanting to have LOs written *and* shared with students. My problem is the sharing bit. The “O” needs to be written/presented in such a way that it is understandable by students. The “O” is originally the probably quite complex idea that the teacher has about what students will learn. If you are not clear what I am saying here then email me and I’ll explain further. Essentially presenting lOs to students may mean dumbing down the LO to make it accessible.

BUT solo gives us a way to write objectives that are useful to students. I think because solo verbs allow a more task-type orientation they are more likely to be helpful to students and because solo has a levelled outcome structure they are useful for assessment purposes. Double win!

An example off the top of my head. (It would be clever if I gave an example based on hairdressing here.)

Solo level        Topic is speed, distance and time in physics

Prestructural    –        I don’t really know anything about this topic other than general knowledge

Unistructural    –        I can define one factor from speed/distance/time OR I can describe
                                one or all factors

Multistructural  –       I  can define speed. I know what distance is. I know what time is measured in.


Relational 1      –       I know speed = distance / time


Relational 2      –       I know that if speed increases more distance is covered in the same time


Relational 3      –       I know that speed depends on time and distance. I know I can travel
                                at 60 mph without having to travel for one hour



Extended Abstract     I can use my understanding of speed, distance and time to realise what is
                                 happening in a distance time graph



I think that one probably has to have more than one relational stage before students can move to EA. I’d be very happy to hear what you think about that idea.


But this is quite a lot to write up on the board so it does lead on to think electronic presentation, or something…

I don’t want to do twitter

After reading a blog post, a good one, about why teachers don’t like Twitter I thought I would add a few of my ideas. I run a programme where we get teachers to sign up for a twitter account that we use to communicate and for them to communicate their evaluations after each session. The programme does more than just get them to sign up for Twitter – just in case you thought it was the simplest programme ever!

About half the participants sign up at the first request. A few, about 8%, are already on twitter. Being on Twitter as a teacher means being in a minority. Of those 8% hardly any use twitter for learning, other than learning about what their pals have had for breakfast.

The second half who do not sign up when they receive our first email asking them to get an account need a reminder and by the time the programme begins there are still a few who have not signed up. Almost none of them has Tweeted by the start of the programme.

On the first session part of the introduction is to explain Twitter, how we will use it and how they can be safe.

Even then we have some reluctant folk. Only once have we had direct refusals to join Twitter. One very valid reason to do with privacy and another just did not want to and would not be persuaded.

For those who do sign up to Twitter a fraction stay active and they are usually very active and form part of our personal learning network (PLN) and get out of Twitter what the rest of us learners, should we call ourselves TWearners(?),get from Twitter – access to a great group of educators and more from a more diverse group than we could ever engage with without Twitter. Once one “gets” Twitter it is quite difficult to realise why others do not see the benefits. Why do I think that might be and what reasons do folk give for not wanting to be on Twitter?

In no particular order they say:

1. “Don’t have the time”. These are teachers who work hard and want a life. This is really hard to argue against and they are often teachers who do things in their own way. They are sometimes quite resistant to change and often very resistant to changing themselves. Sometimes they are fearful that they might not cope with a new way of thinking about learning. They don’t want to give anything up to make space for Twitter.

2. “School policy”. This is one that says teachers should not be on social networking sites because there is something inherently dangerous about adults communicating with young people outside school in an apparently private way. Using computers for Tweeting is, usually, a private activity. Of course such systems will allow such dangerous activity. But it is a little far fetched to think that it would encourage such activity when no intention to behave inappropriately was present.

3. “School policy”. This reason for not joining Twitter is a many faceted beast. This element says that teachers might be using Twitter during school, teaching, time. And they would be chatting non professional things with their Twitter friends. I do think that might be happening in every staffroom across the country. But the fear is again the fact that this communication is private. It is a bit like chatting to another teacher in the same school using a mobile phone. Odd, but I have never seen that activity banned as part of school policy.

4. “I am not an IT expert”. This is part of the fear of not being able to do. We know that with most IT activities just doing lets one learn and the more we do the easier it becomes. But all IT things do have a steep learning curve and that is something that puts learners off. while Twitter is one of the easiest IT things to get onto and to use the learning curve is still steep, partly because it is not clear, to an new user, what Twitter is for! How can it possibly be of any use when I

  • can only type 140 letters (bear with me, I am being a new user)?
  • send that communication out (to who knows where – does “where” have any meaning?)?
  • might type something silly (look like a fool as I can’t retract the Tweet – can I?)?
  • and other, similar concerns.

5. “Whom would I Tweet to?”. This is a fundamental issue of understanding about Twitter. I tell teachers that Twitter is like being in a pub full of folk, some of whom are great people from whom one can learn loads. But in the pub, I say, you chat away and sometimes some of the others in the pub will respond. Everyone can, if they wish, listen in to your conversation. You can also, if you wish, listen on to their musings. This, taking a negative stance , is eavesdropping. Not a professional activity, surely? So there is an apparently moral objection and a fear that anyone might be listening.

Essentially we know the spuriousness of these objections, but we are the consenting adults already on, using, and benefiting greatly from twitter. We could not envisage not being on Twitter. But it has taken me a year to get properly enthusiastic and to really get strong value from Twitter we should not be surprised that yet-to-be users find it difficult.

About half our folk get real and lasting benefits from being introduced to Twitter so we are helping the cause, a little.

get on Twitter, teachers. It really is good for you and gets to the parts other social networking sites can’t get to.

Question: More teachers are on facebook than are on Twitter. What negative impact does that have on their view of Twitter?

When I get a gap in my busy life, Tweeting etc, I’ll see what happens if I write a blog called “Why teachers should be Tweeting”.

Solo Taxonomy – Extended Abstract

I’ve had some thoughts. Had some thoughts about an issue with solo that was concerning me. Solo has a structure that moves from minimal knowledge and understanding to generalised, conceptual cognition. I have no difficulties with the first four levels; prestructural, unistructural, multistructural and relational. These take the learned from knowing nothing to understanding some ideas that are linked, related, in some way.

The difficulty I have been struggling with is the move from relational to Extended Abstract, (EA). It seemed to be just too simple to reach EA by going through the solo stages. It’s not that I want to make learning difficult, per se; far from it. I want students to do as well as possible, as quickly as possible, so we can do even more learning. But I do want the learning to be valid, powerful and valuable.

Depth is what I am aiming for and depth requires the learner to explore around the current knowledge, to link it in as many ways as possible to create a brain map of the learning. It is the “as many ways as possible” which was blocking my attempts to being able to be work further with solo. I knew I did not understand solo in some fundamental way. As a learner I need to be sure I have a good understanding of ideas to be able to start to confidently then use that idea. I recognised that solo was a potentially very powerful learning tool and I was willing to keep thinking.

In my educational consultant role I do tend to do a lot of driving from my home in beautiful, but remote, North Wales to almost anywhere in the UK to work with schools and teachers. So I have a lot of time to think. I’ve done the journey from Llangollen to anywhere on the M5 so many times I can almost drive on autopilot. And at 5:00am there are not a lot of other road users about.

My thinking started at the relational level. Hexagons allow links to be made easily and that was part of the issue I had. If links were easy to make would students do enough thinking about those links? Was it hexagons that were the problem or could I cause students to think harder about the links that they had created or were going to create? Links would appear just by placing hexagons that touch. How might I make that extra, overt and, hopefully, deep thinking more likely to happen? How could I get students to have an appropriate focus on the links as well as having enough thought about the content on each hexagon?

That led me to thinking about whether producing one set of linked hexagons was enough to have met the relational level and to then be able to move, successfully, onto work on the EA level.

Then, a word from the verbs list rang in my ears. Generalisation. Clarity rose as a Kraken … no, don’t go getting all metaphorical… Clarity appeared. To generalise one needs *several* examples, several sets of hexagons or several links that formed a set. Did a concept such as liked links exist?

So the answer, or at least an answer, is that when making links between the pieces of knowledge on each hexagon the nature, number, variety and other features of the links would decide whether or not the student could truly go onto EA. If their links did not, themselves, lead to the ability to generalise, or they did not include some knowledge that could provide that move to a new domain then more relational work was required. Could students recognise this or did it need more teacher input? Any thoughts?

Happy guy… The issue now is what structures, questions, provocations etc will be useful in prompting the move from the new, greater exploration of the relational stage to the Exploring Abstract stage. What kind of learning outcome would students use that would allow them to see that they had to do more work on the relational stage to then be able to work at EA, so that they could meet the learning outcome well.

Needs a few more 5:00am excursions along Britain’s motorways to ponder that matter.

Don’t you go accusing me…

…of being the support agent for schemes of work or schemes of learning but what happens if we do not have some sort of long term plan for the learning journey? It is always possible to stretch a metaphor, such as learning being a journey too far but let’s think of a journey from London to Birmingham, with and without an overall plan.

Journey one has a detailed set of directions, including the time for each part, things to look out for en route, petrol stops etc. I am sure you can  see how this journey would work well and also the pitfalls of traffic jams, punctures etc and how this could relate to learning. We would get to Birmingham and we would have seen what was planned to see. Perhaps we lost some of the romance and serendipity of a less focused trip.

Journey two has no such plan. We know only that we are starting in London and ending in Birmingham. We are more 1960s hippy type folk for this odyssey. We get on the road, eventually, late as we forgot to get the neighbour to agree to feed the cat in our absence. Also had to stop at the first petrol station, which is a bit off our direct route to Birmingham. Should have filled up last night. Hey ho. Kids are getting a bit feisty as we did not pack the sweets and the colouring books. Ok, short second diversion to the shops to stock up! Already a bit after than we wanted to be but away we go. Did we turn the central heating off???? Yep, of course we did. Didn’t we?

Lots of interesting distractions on this journey as we take to a bit of off-roading to visit a field of cows that took the kids’ interest.

I think, to continue the metaphor, you get where we are going with this.

On journey one we got to Birmingham, on time but it was not a great journey as we did not allow for any diversions whatsoever. Marks out of ten?

On journey two there was interest and we got a lot done but we did not get too far into our trip to Birmingham. If we still have to complete the journey what do we leave out form our list of journeys we must do?

Teachers have to make these types of decisions all the time. Journey one type learning or journey two type.

Let me make a small plea for some journey one thinking. But to explore this I want to digress to teaching dogs. I have two gorgeous Belgian Shepherd dogs, Merlin and Carlos. Love ’em to bits.

I am currently training them to spin around when I make a spin type hand movement. So we work in the kitchen which has less distractions than the living room with its cats and garden views outside of the rabbits and pheasants. Merlin first. Lure him with a tasty treat and when he follows my hand he gets a treat. Do this a few times until it is reasonably secure with a treat. Then to Caros. Same process. By the way, Merlin, at the end of training session one was not great at doing the spin on command. Note that please and also note that I did not push it too much but I did carry on with the training plan. Just because he could not do the spin on command was not used as a reason to deviate from the plan. Important that will be – to misquote Yoda!

After a short rest for me and the dogs back to Merlin. Wow Merlin can now almost do the spin on command. Remember, when we left him he could not. The delay has allowed his brain to sort out what he was meant to learn.

Sometimes we have to keep to the learning plan even it *appears* to not be working. Perhaps it has to be like this.

Trust The Process – as folk I have trained with will know is a mantra of mine. Trust The Process.

Journey one or journey two?

Scheme of Work – Unecessary?

There is currently a small discussion going on in the Twitter-sphere, if you hyphenate the spell checker does not object, about the value of a scheme of work. Is it valuable or not? The poster, twitterer, asserts that because he has a rather fluid lesson delivery, impacted on and moulded by such factors as AfL, student responses to questions etc the SoW becomes a redundant piece of documentation.

There is some merit in this view, I think. If we see a SoW as an unbending prescription for identifying that we will follow regardless of what happens in a classroom then it is clearly a little too constraining, like whale-bone corsets – or so I am told, for most teachers.

But if instead of a scheme of work we have a scheme of learning does this change our view about what the document would contain and how valuable it might be? If we define learning paths, note the plural, for typical learners than is the value enhanced?

What would a scheme of learning look like compared to a scheme of work? Needs some more time and some more thinking – or perhaps you have some ideas…?

I used to write SoW so that I knew we had written lesson plans that covered the whole syllabus – specification in the new examination board language. we used the SoW to check the timing of lessons. We would rather not do electrostatics in the winter. Heat experiments were good when the weather was likely to be cold.

Also we had to manage the resources so that the limited number of whatever science bits and pieces, bunsen burners or dynamics trolleys etc were not required by the whole of year 7 at one time. We also then had to check the logic of the order we taught things in. Concept development was guided by our SoW.

Perhaps they have some use, still…

Structure of Observed Learning Outcome SOLO Taxonomy

Some thoughts on SOLO



Hexagons, linkage, relational, extended abstract, HOT Maps and lots more. Not all of these ideas are directly part of SOLO but they seem to have been associated with this taxonomy.


I like SOLO. I like SOLO a lot and as I explore more I can see lots of potential to improve the quality of learning in schools. SOLO allows a range of systems to be improved and these are enhanced if students are also allowed in on the secrets – in fact, I think that student engagement with SOLO, their understanding how to learn and how to assess the quality of their learning may well turn out to be the most powerful aspect of this system that has been around since the early 80s.


I copied the next bit from our favourite on-line encyclopaedia, Wikipedia.

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Structure of Observed Learning Outcome – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “Structure of Observed Learning Outcome
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Structure of Observed Learning Outcome (SOLO) taxonomy is a model that describes levels of increasing complexity in student’s understanding of subjects.[1] It was proposed by John B. Biggs and K. Collis[2] and has since gained popularity.[citation needed]
[edit]The model


The model consists of 5 levels of understanding [3][4]
Pre-structural (PS) – The task is not attacked appropriately; the student hasn’t really understood the point and uses too simple a way of going about it.
Uni-structural (US)- The student’s response only focuses on one relevant aspect.
Multi-structural (MS)- The student’s response focuses on several relevant aspects but they are treated independently and additively. Assessment of this level is primarily quantitative.
Relational (RE)- The different aspects have become integrated into a coherent whole. This level is what is normally meant by an adequate understanding of some topic.
Extended abstract (EA)- The previous integrated whole may be conceptualised at a higher level of abstraction and generalised to a new topic or area.”


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SOLO and Blooms

SOLO is a true taxonomy, unlike Bloom’s which struggles to be an ordered list, a hierarchy, while SOLO is built by one stage requiring input from the previous stage. Bloom’s is very valuable for teachers to help identify variety in questioning etc.  SOLO is different and has a wider appeal from planning lessons to student peer assessment.

If you go onto Twitter and search for the hashtag #solo then you will find lots of very interesting articles and lots of helpful advice that should allow you to begin to engage with SOLO and to explore some of its potential for quality learning. There are only, at the moment, three books dedicated to SOLO. Amazon and other good book sellers have details. Just search for solo taxonomy and your wishes will be met.

I do have some cautions, though.

Don’t be too keen to plan lessons that rush to Extended Abstract too quickly. Deep learning usually requires a quite extensive knowledge base and SOLO implies that the stages requiring a knowledge input are quite limited. In one text it refers to unistructural as being one piece of knowledge and multistructural as two facts. As with all “definitions” one has to think about what is good learning and not how one meets these definitions.

The Extended Abstract (EA) level, essentially use the learning in a novel way, is challenging so it can’t be met by just a cursory glance at something not yet covered in the lesson.

Also having completed a piece of work at EA level does that work then drop into the MS level as it is not known and therefore knowledge? As with Bloom’s evaluation is no longer evaluation if the student has learned the evaluation parrot fashion.

What do you think?

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