Research corner

5th June 2015 at 01:00

Each week, we highlight education research conducted by teachers. Here, Joanne Ortega, a history teacher from Maricourt Catholic High School in Liverpool, explains how she used Solo (structure of observed learning outcomes) taxonomy to bring out the best in her class.


Solo is a learning taxonomy that sets out a journey from surface to deep understanding. It describes five stages: pre-structural (acquiring unconnected information); uni-structural (making simple connections, the significance of which is not realised); multi-structural (making multiple connections but missing the larger significance); relational (understanding the significance of the parts in relation to the whole); and extended abstract (making connections not only within the given subject area but also beyond it, and being able to transfer the principles and ideas underlying the knowledge to new areas).


History teacher Joanne Ortega (pictured, inset) originally used Solo to plan for progression within schemes of work, but she soon began to see it more as a tool for peer- and self-assessment. She then took the opportunity to explore Solo in more detail with a class of 13- and 14-year-olds. At the start of the year, the students had been given targets ranging from level 6a to level 7a, but their end-of-term tests at Christmas identified that some had struggled even to achieve a 6c. Their work contained tell-tale signs of surface learning: unoriginality and a lack of synthesis of information. In Solo terminology, the students were unable to move beyond the multi-structural stage.


A questionnaire given to all students suggested that they felt "stuck" in their learning and did not have the strategies to progress. This prompted Ortega to begin using Solo as a scaffold for learning and to try the Solo strategies "hexagons" and "thinking squares" with her class. In the former, hexagons with words or phrases on them are connected in a way that shows the relationship between the ideas. In the latter, a series of squares - one inside the other - contain progressively more in-depth questions.

The results

Almost every student raised their level between the autumn and summer reviews. Overall, 75 per cent of Ortega's class reached a level 6a or above, while 30 per cent reached a level 7. Using the hexagons strategy, most students reached the relational stage in their thinking. With the help of thinking squares, some were able to push on to the highest level, extended abstract.

The impact

Ortega believes Solo raised aspirations and attainment among her history students and provided the structure necessary for them to support their explanations and enhance their analytical skills. She intends to use thinking squares and hexagons next year, while also introducing students to the benefits of other Solo protocols.

To find out more about the project, email Joanne Ortega at

To share your research findings, email

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