Aim: To encourage students to develop higher order skills such as detailed explanation, application and evaluation.
Background: QE Boys is one of the top state schools in the UK and typically 50% of the Sixth Form take at least one Science A Level. High achieving students tended to approach Science as facts to be learned and to focus on what would be assessed. The removal of national curriculum levels gave the Science department the freedom to develop more meaningful assessment strategies.
A new KS3 course was developed which contained a more focused practical component. Focus was given to student-led activities which encouraged detailed exposition. Students were assessed using the SOLO framework where achievement is measured according to how an answer is structured in line with Bloom’s taxonomy. The Head of Science contacted leading experts in this method from Denmark and New Zealand. Contact was also made with a local school in Stevenage which had successfully implemented SOLO across all key stages and subjects in order to share best practice. A staff handbook was created with links to explanatory materials, exemplar tasks and marked work. SOLO tasks were incorporated into schemes of work. Workchecks of student books, learning walks and observations occurred each term to track use of SOLO in lessons and homework, which also enabled any inconsistencies between staff to be identified.
Evidence: Questionnaires, student work, lesson observations and a focus group of 15 Year 7 and 8 boys.
Impact: SOLO was experienced by 92% of the cohort across all three sciences and it was used in a variety of ways, both in and out of directed lesson time. Feedback indicated that the majority of students found SOLO helpful in identifying challenging topics – ones which would require much deeper thought – and 86% said SOLO encouraged them to improve their written work without prompting by a teacher. Common ways of integrating SOLO involved use of thinking maps (22% of activities), hexagons (50% of activities) and progress sheets (27% of activities) where students self-assess their progress.
The questionnaire and focus group also identified areas to be developed: Inclusion of SOLO in summative assessments so students see that the skills they have developed in class and through independent study are valued. Recording of SOLO data on a central system so that teachers can review it more easily and are accountable for its use in the classroom. Discussion with other subjects about implementing it in their area, as students expressed a desire to use SOLO throughout their studies.
Reflections: The challenges with implementing any change were always going to be about staff and student mindset with this project. As it is only being implemented in Science at present, and was completely new to teachers, there was some resistance from some staff. This was overcome through support with the production of a department handbook which contained a map of resources and explanatory information, departmental meetings where best practice was shared and collaborative development of resources.
Contact: Dr Sarah Westcott, firstname.lastname@example.org