A very unconvincing lesson study on SOLO

Lesson Study – Approach to Unseen Poetry, Using SOLO

Context

As part of the lesson study on using SOLO to improve students’ analytical quality, three English lessons were identified for the study.

A focus was agreed on by three participating teachers: approach to unseen poetry, Section B in AQA English Literature Unit 2 Examination.

Lesson Study Design

One particular poem, The Lesson, was chosen for comparison of learning outcomes across the three groups.

Four areas for developing analytical skills were also agreed on:

1. Title
2. Poetic techniques (imagery)
3. Form and structure (verse form and rhyming scheme)
4. Ideas and themes (story)

The ways in which SOLO method was introduced by the respective teachers would vary in the following manners:

1. Explanation of the theoretical basis
2. Timing of using SOLO in a lesson

Discussions took place during and after each lesson to allow adjustment of approaches for the follow-on teachers.

Lesson 1 (Year 10, mixed abilities)

The reasons for trialling SOLO were explained to the group at the start of the lesson.

Much emphasis was placed on practising the theoretical underpinning of metacognition in SOLO. Students were encouraged to verbalise how they approached an unfamiliar poem. A list of pre-determined areas (agreed amongst the participating teachers) was offered to the class to consider.

Verbal responses were given by students with some explanations of their choices.

The second activity involved the students to start annotating the poem on the sheet following the previous discussion.

The hexagons were handed out to students after the annotation activity.

Students were instructed to record their ideas on the hexagons and to begin to link the relevant ideas together. Examples of organisation of hexagons were photographed for discussion purposes.

Finally, students were instructed to construct their response in writing.

Findings

Firstly, It appeared that the organisation of hexagons seemed to correspond with the theoretical cognitive structure outlined in SOLO. Some followed a linear line, whereas some formed a “map”. Interestingly, there were also cases of disconnected groupings.

Secondly, it would seem that there was no unanimous verdict amongst the students on the “usefulness” of using the hexagons to structure their thinkings. When asked the question, “When you started to write your paragraph, did you find yourself referring to the hexagons or did you work from the annotations?”, a small sample of 6 students revealed a half and half split. Some found using the hexagons useful to organise their ideas, whereas some did not see much difference between using the hexagons and annotative notes.

Discussions

It was generally felt that the timing of introducing the hexagons could be brought forward in the following lesson to allow more time to use them.

There would be less emphasis on the theoretical basis of SOLO.

The areas for analysis would still be used to guide the students.

In addition to adjustments for the following lesson after the discussion amongst the participating teachers, it was concluded that it remained unclear whether or not SOLO offered a distinctive advantage to help students to approach an unseen poem in a more organised and productive manner. In this light, whether or not using hexagons was “cost-effective” proved to be inconclusive after the first lesson, considering the time needed to produce them.

Lessons 2 (Year 11, mixed abilities)

No explicit explanation was given on the use of SOLO.

Four strategies for approaching an unseen poem were explained. Students were encouraged to offer their personal choices and to explain their reasons.

No link was made to structural terms in SOLO (as agreed following the first lesson).

Ample time was given to allow students to think independently and collaboratively.

No reference to metacognition was made (as agreed following the first lesson).

Half way through the lesson, the hexagons were handed out to the group. Instructions were given to ask students to record their ideas on each hexagon.

Ample time was given to allow students to group the hexagons based on relevant ideas or points.

Photographs of their “visible thinking” were taken for discussion purposes.

Linking of hexagons revealed a range of linear and irregular or disconnected groupings.

The students then were instructed to construct their paragraphs following the discussion.

Findings

Interestingly, irrespective of the lack of overt explanation of SOLO taxonomical structure, the patterns revealed by this group seemed to mirror the choices made by the students of the previous group. Some organised their hexagons into a straight line, some irregular shapes and some disconnected groupings.

Like the previous lesson, when asked about the usefulness of hexagons as basis of constructing writing, a small sample also revealed a even divide.

Discussions

Based on the outcomes of the first two lessons, it was tempting to conclude that how literature was taught to students – to meet examination assessment objectives – corresponded with the metacognitive structure of SOLO anyway. Whether or not it was necessary to categorise thinking explicitly in relation to SOLO became questionable. A comparable case would be the overt allusion to “Bloom taxonomy” in the classroom.

It was agreed that in the final lesson, hexagons would be introduced slightly earlier in the lesson.

It was also agreed that instead of listing ideas on a hexagon, the students would be instructed to record their ideas along the six sides of a hexagon. The hexagons must touch when relevant points could be made between seemingly disparate ideas.

Lesson 3 (Year 11, mixed abilities)

Like Lesson two, the objective of this lesson was to test the students’ ability to use the hexagons without prior knowledge of the theoretical basis of SOLO.

Similar to the previous lesson, no explanation was given on the use of SOLO.

Four strategies for approaching an unseen poem were explained. On this occasion, a PowerPoint with some key images from the poem was displayed on the IWB.

Students were encouraged to offer their personal choices and to explain their reasons.

Like the previous lesson, no link was made to structural terms in SOLO (as agreed following the first lesson).

Ample time was given to allow students to think independently and collaboratively.

Once again, conscious decision had been made not to make reference to metacognition (as agreed following the first lesson).

The hexagons were distributed at a similar time (half way through the lesson) as they were in the previous lesson.

This time, however, the students were instructed to list their ideas along the six sides of a hexagon before they started to link the tiles together.

Findings

No significantly notable differences in learning outcomes were identified between this group and the previous two groups as per the predictions of their respective teachers. Within each group, there were differences in both quantity and quality of written work produced at the end of the lesson.

As it was the case in each of the previous two lessons, when asked about the usefulness of the hexagons, opinions were divided roughly in equal numbers.

Discussions

After three lessons, the participating teachers remained unconvinced that they had sufficient knowledge or understanding of SOLO to claim that the outcome of this lesson study could offer a rigorous case study and its findings could claim any theoretical and practical authority.

In addition, question remained as how practical or sustainable it was to teach lessons using SOLO and the hexagonal tiles when there was unavoidable pressure to cover a multitude of subjects and topics in the curriculum. It was entirely understandable why in these three lessons a decision was made to incorporate hexagons as a teaching tool without setting aside a lesson to “teach” the concept of SOLO. That would have meant another layer of conceptual complexity in their learning on top of the already complex exercise of literary criticism that they had to master. Any undue confusion was undesirable

Final findings

1. It remained inconclusive about the effectiveness of SOLO in improving the analytical ability of the students, evinced by the quality of their written analysis of an unseen poem.

2. It was also evident that all participating teachers needed more knowledge in the “correct” way of using SOLO in lessons. There was a shared anxiety that the teachers’ lack of confidence in SOLO might have some direct impact on its effectiveness and the reception of their students.

3. For some students, the hexagons made no difference in the ways in which they structured their ideas and linked them. The hexagons were simply treated as a different way of taking notes. For some, on the other hand, the mapping of the hexagons offered useful visual clues needed for structuring and linking their ideas in writing.

Final discussions

How much difference was there between SOLO approach and how The three participating teachers would normally teach literature to address key areas in literary critique: understanding, interpretation, inference, referencing, development, synthesis, evaluation, etc.? The methods might differ, but the objective remained identical, and the outcome not noticeably different based on the written work produced in these three lessons.

In addition, the research design and methodology of this type of lesson study did not seem to be as rigorous as it should have been to yield more convincing findings. For example, it is almost impossible to claim categorically that any one student’s work has shown either improvement, deterioration or no change as a direct result of using the hexagons without any comparison with previous work on a similar task.

Indeed, questions had been raised about the validity of this particular lesson study. All participating teachers had expressed uncertainties in their understanding of the theory of “lesson study”. Therefore, it was fair to suggest that this lesson study was compounded by the insufficient understanding and knowledge in both lesson study itself and SOLO. Due to the lack of expertise, any result produced was open to challenge and vulnerable to discredit.

When probed further, all participating teachers shared the same frustration regarding the lack of sufficient training in both key subjects: lesson study and SOLO. Time constraint and curriculum pressure further compounded their endeavour.

It would seem that more training on any key initiative is required. Additionally, a longer study period is required to generate more comparable data for analysis and discussion.

Despite the uncertainties surrounding SOLO itself and the doubts about its beneficial impact on literary analysis, this lesson study triad has been a useful experience in generating discussions amongst the participating teachers and reflecting on their own practice.

It would be useful to read the reports of other triads.

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About W. S. Lien

Tweed Wearer - Country Lover - Teacher Researching Professionalism and Identity@Clare College, Cambridge - Keen Amateur Photographer - Devotee to Poppy my Labrador
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