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Using SOLO taxonomy to teach to the top and scaffold the bottom

Solo Taxonomy is the Structured of Observed Learning Outcomes.

It was developed by Biggs and Collis (1982), and is well described in Biggs and Tang (2007) 

I initially heard about this via Sean Allison, Deputy at Durrington High (@shaun_allison) who was kind enough to share some initial resources with me.  You can see more about SOLO on his blog. There is also a good explanation of SOLO on the learningandteaching.info website.


SOLO Taxonomy | John Biggs. 2015. SOLO Taxonomy | John Biggs. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.johnbiggs.com.au/academic/solo-taxonomy/ . [Accessed 21 January 2015].

I find the image above very useful when clarifying expectations of student learning at each level and when trying to adapt tasks to challenge students at the appropriate level.

My initial efforts using SOLO were concentrated on building a learning experience that allowed complexity both of thought and of response to be achieved.  I made use of this type of student sheet: Research Methods Solo taxonomy Student task sheet to pose deeper and more complex questions to students whilst still being able to offer challenge to lower starters and still being able to offer students choice about where they started the task. (Example below from Nikki Barnes)

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 20.15.36

My initial findings were that it really worked!  Students were able to quickly develop their thinking to become more complex and the clear structure seemed to make more challenging tasks more accessible. So far so good!

A2 PE example:  Ergogenic Aids Solo taxonomy Student task sheet

This initial success prompted me to continue to make use of the idea in my own teaching and also to share it with colleagues to see where it went.  One of the colleagues I shared with was Nikki Barnes, Head of RE. Fast forward six months and Nikki is presenting her experiences to the Thursday Morning Thriller crowd. (which incidentally was the largest to date!)

At first Nikki talked about her first foray into using SOLO.  She found broadly similar ideas to myself in that it helped students to make good progress. Nikki organised her presentation of SOLO tasks in the same way that I had with the pre-structural ideas at the bottom and the extended abstract ideas at the top.  What became clear after a period of time was that the highest ability students were not making the anticipated progress because they were too diligent and were attempting every element of the tasks presented to them rather than defining their own entrance into the task at an appropriate point.  This was not a condition imposed by the teacher but rather a self-imposed sanction in the belief that they “just wanted to make sure that they didn’t miss anything…!”

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 20.16.30 Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 20.15.57

After this revelation Nikki addressed the issue by adjusting the way in which tasks were presented to the students; she changed the entrance point to the tasks, making it very clear to students that they had to start at the top of a sheet and only move to the layer of thinking below once they had struggled to meet the demands of the tasks and given it their best efforts.  This gave rise to positive student – teacher dialogue about areas of misconception and also the teacher has the opportunity to address the sticking points of learning with individual pupils supporting them to make progress. To ensure that students were not taking the easier option and falsely opting out without trying Nikki asked students to annotate the barriers stopping them from completing the tasks set at the most challenging level.

Downloadable resources here:




Samples of work shared made it clear that the introduction of SOLO as a concept into learning made it easier for students to make progress.  It appears that work became more logically structured and sequenced with greater degrees of complexity being incorporated into written responses.

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Overall the first forays into using SOLO seem to have been very worthwhile.  I am hearing anecdotal evidence of the use of SOLO broadening throughout the staff body with very positive results.  If you have made use of SOLO and would like to share your ideas or top tips why not make a comment below?

There is a small but enthusiastic group of teachers using the SOLO taxonomy to structure their teaching in schools, and blogging about it. Here are a few, in alphabetical order of authors:

With thanks to: Atherton J S (2013) Learning and Teaching; SOLO taxonomy [On-line: UK] retrieved 21 January 2015 from http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/solo.htm

The latest SOLO update that I have seen so far is a really interesting post from Canons School in Harrow. They are making use of SOLO as part of their assessment without levels plan. This really interesting post is well worth a read!

The website below has a selection of SOLO based resource generators:



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