The mantra of all successful lesson observations these days is that students should be seen to be making progress. Perhaps the best way to show that you’re having an impact on their knowledge and understanding is to show that the learning is ‘deep’. By that I mean, knowledge that transfers from students’ working memories into their long-term memories.

Students understand new ideas by relating them to existing ones. If they don’t know enough about a subject they won’t have a solid base from which to make connections to prior knowledge. Students are more likely to remember learning if they “make their own sense of what they are learning, and relate it to what they know”.[i]

Psychology prof Daniel Willingham‘s advice to teachers is as follows:

  1. Provide examples and get students to compare them
  2. Make deep knowledge the spoken and unspoken emphasis
  3. Accept that shallow knowledge is better than nothing

Using SOLO will help address these points:

  1. You can make the differences between multistructutal and relational knowledge obvious so clear that it’s almost impossible for students not to make progress
  2. Relational and extended abstract understanding is always the expected destination – multistructural is never enough but…
  3. …It is absolutely essential – until they know enough about a subject, students cannot see relationships between the things they know.

I’ve been grappling with SOLO for some time now and owe a huge debt to Lisa Jane Ashes who has managed to explain it more clearly than anyone else. I think I’m finally getting my head around how to guide students through the difference levels of knowledge in English lessons.

Why hexagons? Cos they’ve got six sides and when you give a pile of the them to kids their natural response is to start fitting them together and making connections between the  multistructual base, making relationships visible. This is adapted from Damian Clark’s original idea.

You can put whatever you want onto the hexagons, or leave them blank for the kids to fill in. In this, very simple, example we have some words connected to Macbeth:

Macbeth 1

Students use their multistructural knowledge of the play to show the relationships between the hexagons. Obviously, there’s no correct way to do this; the point is that students get to show off their deep understanding by explaining the links they have created:

Macbeth 2

If the hexagons are arranged differently, is the relational understanding different?

It’s almost impossible for students not to start making links and practically guarantees that they will demonstrate a relational understanding of whatever topic they’re learning about.

So far, so good, but to move to extended abstract is always more of a challenge. My ideas is that students need to explore the  nodes at which the hexagons intersect. For instance by examining these nodes students can start to show an appreciation of Shakespeare’s intentions. This almost invite abstracted questions. For instance, How does Shakespeare connect Macbeth with friendship and power?

Macbeth 4

Or, Does Shakespeare use Lady Macbeth and Duncan to show different views of power?

This can work equally well with language analysis.  Here’s an example comparing the language of Simon Armitage’s The Manhunt with Carol Ann Duffy’s Quickdraw. If you ask an abstract question like, ‘Are love and pain different sides of the same coin?’ students can use the cards to explore relationships between the language the poets’ use:

The connections made will depend on how much the students already know about the poems. I like the idea of using this as an introductory activity where students are encountering these lines for the first time. There are some fairly obvious links that can be made and these are a great starting point for getting students to consider the effects of language and to interpret the writers’ possible intentions.

And if you don’t feel like going through all that tedious cutting out, try David Riley’s Think Link
Here’s some photos of hexagons in action:

And here’s some of the impact:

There’s lots of other excellent uses for hexagonal learning. Have a look at examples from Tait Coles and Chris Harte, who has also put together a useful Prezi on this very subject:

If you want to save yourself some tedious cutting out you could buy some read made hexagonal post-its from Logo Visual or try Think Link, the interactive version which David Riley of Triptico has put together.

Related posts

What’s deep learning and how do you do it?

What is learning?

SOLO taxonomy training