Skip to content

“New adventures” in SOLO, flipped learning and better learning intentions.

March 22, 2014

“I have loads of brilliant ideas. It’s such a shame they have been borrowed from other people.” Damian Benney, March 2014.

Thank you for clicking on my blog link. Before you read any further it is worth pointing out that there are MANY blogs on using SOLO, sharing learning intentions and flipped learning. Here are just some of them:
For information on SOLO try this and this from @LeadingLearner. The person that pioneered the classroom based approach of SOLO Pam Hook (@arti_choke) shares her vision here. Andy Day (@Andyphilipday) shares some of his uses of it here and David Fawcett (@davidfawcett27) some of his uses of it here. There is also this by the prolific Andy Knill (@aknill).
For more on learning intentions there is nothing better than this blog by Dan Brinton (@BelmontTeach).
For flipped learning read this by Jon Tait (@TeamTait)

In comparison to their extended abstract blogging, my blog is positively unistructural (apologies, I thought that was funny). The rest of the blog is fairly self explanatory. However I do not explain what SOLO taxonomy is so please read one of the above SOLO blogs for more information. However here it is in a nutshell:

The above is from Tait Coles @Totallywired77 or @nwatkin (but from Pam’s work originally)
Here is David Didau (@LearningSpy) explaining SOLO.

Because there are so many superior blogs, I am still a little unclear as to why I am actually writing this blog (other than the fact that blogging is becoming quite addictive). I suppose one reason is because I would like staff in the school where I work to read it and try it (if they’re not already). Another reason is that when I read the blogs of people like Andy Day and Dan Brinton it seems clear that they are absolute experts at what they are doing. However a trawl through Andy’s earlier work and there is a blog on his first “toe dip” into using SOLO. I found this very illuminating as reading his current blogs on SOLO can be almost intimidating such is the thought that he puts in to applying SOLO taxonomy. But, we all have to start somewhere. I spoke to Dan Brinton on the phone for over an hour a few weeks back and he talked me through the journey his school has gone/is going through on sharing learning intentions. So this blog is a short journey into dipping my toe into the world of flipped learning, SOLO and sharing better learning intentions. If you are still reading then thank you. If not, well at least my blog stats went up by 1 (it is ALL about the stats!!).

Over the last 4 years I have been routinely sharing learning objectives and learning outcomes/success criteria with my students in a fairly consistent manner. In my previous school this is what my board would have looked like at the start and at the end of the lesson:

I was happy with the system as it gave pupils a clear destination for where we were headed at the end of the lesson. It also gave them a clear “checklist” at the end of the lesson so that they could measure how “successful” they had been. As a department initiative I also included the lesson by lesson learning outcomes as part of the unit review that pupils stuck in their books. It looked like this:

Pupils would self assess against the outcomes at the end of each lesson.
The pupils didn’t need much training on self assessing (RAG is fairly straightforward- I’ve always known). The system was particularly handy because we had identified plenaries as a departmental area for development and the outcomes gave the basis of a ready made plenary. My only concern was that the learning outcomes were set in stone, as was the order of lessons. However in my view the positives outweighed the negatives.

When I moved to Penyrheol Comprehensive I continued to use a similar style learning objective/outcome system. It was only after reading Dan Brinon’s blog that I have questioned the quality and the challenge of my learning outcomes. Dan’s blog, along with many other blogs on using SOLO, made me realise that I was using poor language like “I know” or “I understand” and that these were quite difficult to actually “measure” at the end of the lesson. More on learning outcomes later.

In January of this year my Head suggested flipped learning for me to use as the “Penyrheol tip of the week.” He had read about it in the TES and felt it was an interesting concept.


I was intrigued but my biggest reservations for flipped learning was a) how would I evidence whether pupils had actually done the homework b) what exactly would I do with pupils who hadn’t done the homework and c) what would I do in the lesson which would make the prior knowledge essential but build on it further.
I then read a blog written by Jon Tait. His method of flipped learning (see here for how successful it has been) is to get pupils to make their own notes when watching the video. They then bring these into class and use them for the lesson. There is an ipad available for any pupils that did not do the homework. I liked this. It assuaged a lot of my concerns. I also liked the idea of pupils getting into the habit of making their own notes independently. I was even more reassured when Jon tweeted the following:

I decided to create my first flipped learning video on some standard procedures on testing materials (year 11 Applied Science). Here is a link to the video and here is a link to the “how to take notes” video (shamelessly copied from Jon Tait’s idea). The videos took a long time to create and upload to YouTube. Time is such a precious commodity in teaching and the video took far longer to create than I anticipated. I haven’t taught the course before so I did not have a bank of resources ready to use. Most flipped learning would be a video created from an already owned PowerPoint (using the app explain everything perhaps). It took me a long, long time to create the video and when I had uploaded it to youtube I was less than happy that there had been fewer hits on the video than there are pupils in my class on the day of the lesson. In fact, 9 pupils had not done the homework. To say I was unhappy would be putting it mildly. Those 9 pupils had to rely on finding the key information from a text book during the lesson. They all struggled. The pupils that had made notes found the lesson more straightforward. One pupil said on the way out “I’m glad I did the homework because I would not have been able to do that otherwise.” This pleased me.
However I was disappointed at how many pupils had not done it. I was also concerned that whilst the lesson required the knowledge from the homework, it didn’t ask pupils to do anything really challenging with it. I could have taught the knowledge during the lesson and given the lesson tasks for homework and pupils would have had no problems. I felt the lesson had missed the point. I needed to plan a lesson following flipped learning where the pupils have to apply the knowledge in a more challenging way. I needed them to make use of the fact that I was there to assist in the more difficult tasks. If I can get pupils to really think then I am convinced I will get pupils to really learn (if learning is both understanding and remembering). This is from Daniel Willingham:

The poor homework turnout and the time it had taken could have convinced me to shelve the whole concept. However, one pupil handed this feedback in on the back of his homework. I hadn’t asked for the feedback.

This made the time spent doing it feel far more worthwhile.
There is a trade off in terms of time with flipped learning homeworks. They don’t need to be marked so if it takes you an hour to make them this is compensated by the hour or so to mark them.

When I reviewed the lesson I knew there were lessons that I had to learn. Around the same time, Julie Ryder (@JulieRyder2) tweeted this out (Julie has blogged about her (fantastic) hybrid approach here):

And it made me think that as well as ensuring a lesson following a flipped learning task built on bringing in the prior knowledge, I could use SOLO to ensure my learning outcomes and (therefore my learning tasks) would stretch the pupils and make them think. After deciding this I tweeted out this (slightly self indulgent) tweetpic:

This was during half term when I actually had some time to plan the flipped learning task. I looked at the scheme of work and decided to make a video on kitchen and personal hygiene- here it is. This would follow on from a lesson on food poisoning (and the bacteria Salmonella, Campylobacter and E Coli). I decided the best way to give pupils a challenging lesson would be to get them to link the concepts of kitchen/personal hygiene with the bacteria that cause food poisoning. I know this was taking SOLO pretty literally (link being the relational) but I thought it was an ideal outcome for the pupils (particularly as it is a common exam question). So as a lesson outcome I wanted them to explain why kitchen and personal hygiene is so important by linking it to bacteria. With the learning outcome in mind designing the task was straightforward. Here is my (very rough) lesson plan:

20140322-163207.jpg(I’m a big fan of using this format designed by @TeacherToolkit and @LeadingLearner)

This is what the learning objective/ learning outcomes looked like (at the time I was calling them success criteria because for pupils to have been successful they need to have achieved them):

And here is the main task that I asked pupils to do:

They would have to use their flipped learning notes (on kitchen and personal hygiene) AND their summary notes from the previous lesson (on food poisoning and bacteria).

20140322-163630.jpg (the summary notes from the previous lesson are the ones with the colour bacteria photos)

Followed by the SOLO classic- the hexagons (told you I was taking SOLO fairly literally)






How did the lesson go?
Checking YouTube the night before, things looked very promising. The number of hits was bigger than the number of pupils in my class. On the day, out of 23 pupils, only 1 had failed to complete the task. I wanted to create an environment where pupils would feel left out if they hadn’t done the task. I felt I had succeeded. The pupil was given access to an iPad to watch the video (at least that was the intention- but wifi was down so I gave him the text book). The Tuesday before I had presented my assembly to year 11 on grit and flow (thanks @chrishildrew) and so the joke was (the lesson before the homework was due) that I didn’t want any of my science pupils on my hit list; I wanted them on my grit list.

During the lesson the pupils were appropriately challenged. They made use of me during both tasks, asking for guidance or support. I could circulate around the room spotting small misconceptions and offering clarification. The photo below shows a little bit of confusion between types of food poisoning and the names of bacteria which cause food poisoning. I was on hand to correct this misconception at source.

Doing the task in the lesson meant I was available to correct and clarify. When taking the books into mark (#RAG123 marking- see here for more details) I was pleased with the output from the pupils. The question to ask when setting flipped learning is was the flipping worthwhile? If the pupils could have received the “teaching” in the lesson and completed the tasks for homework to the same standard? If yes then what is the point? I was very satisfied that this was not the case.

Since then I have not planned a single lesson without having the following documents in from of me (and I feel it has had a positive impact on pupil outcomes):


Folllowing my conversation with Dan Brinton (and the ideas of Zoe Elder @fullonlearning) I tweaked my learning intentions template to:

20140322-165943.jpgThe (much appreciated) telephone conversation with Dan made me focus on my learning outcomes. I had to to make sure that they were more “measurable” with sufficient challenge. Focusing in on my learning outcomes has also brought in more accuracy to pupils’ RAG123 rating. I have been able to match the learning outcomes to the learning tasks far better. It is not a case of having three learning outcomes matched to three learning tasks (necessarily) but more knowing what I wanted them to achieve at the the end of the lesson and what tasks would I need to “evidence” it.

In the last month most pupils have had a G rating (from RAG123) for their learning/performance in most lessons. This is great on the one hand but on the other hand it made me question whether I was setting the bar high enough. By using SOLO I can ensure that I am pushing pupils to show at least relational and possibly extended abstract. This meant I was expecting a better, deeper outcome to award pupils a G.

Earlier this week these were the learning outcomes:

20140322-170211.jpg I raised the bar to “extended abstract.”
It was a run of the mill lesson but I was really pleased with the outcomes. I certainly got the pupils to think more (which is kind of the whole point).

20140322-170431.jpgI only gave pupils a G if they were able to fully justify their position on intensive v organic farming. Fewer pupils than usual achieved a G. This was pleasing though because it was a clear sign that the bar had been raised. I now expect MORE for a G. Pupils know my expectations have raised. Crucially, they also know what they need to do to get a G. One beauty of having learning outcomes for lessons is that there is no “secret garden”- pupils know what they need to do.

My short term aim is to continue to use SOLO to set (and assess via RAG123) challenging learning outcomes. At this moment in time I am not going to share the language of SOLO with my pupils. Year 11 have 5 weeks in school before their exam. This will have to be a consideration for the next academic year. It is still VERY early days. Pupils are in effect assessing their SOLO level in each lesson though (and I’m doing the same) because if they are rating themselves a G (for their RAG123) and the learning outcomes go up to extended abstract then that is where they say they have got to.

I am making a short presentation to staff on sharing learning intentions in an upcoming inset day in 3 weeks. I really hope that I can convince staff of the benefits of using SOLO to set challenging learning outcomes. I don’t want anyone to think this is something being imposed on them. I want staff to do it because they can see the huge benefits.

In terms of flipped learning I will definitely continue to set these types of homeworks. In the next academic year I need to be sure I base them on existing resources to save on the time it takes to prepare them. Again, the key will be the follow up lesson. However, using SOLO I’m confident that pupils will be suitably challenged.

My long term aim remains the same; I want to get better at what I’m doing in the classroom and if successful, share this across the school where I work.

Many thanks if you have read this far. I didn’t intend the blog to be this long. I do like the sound of my own font.

As always, feedback is welcome.



From → SOLO

  1. Damien

    I like the way you’ve tried things, I am a bit like that. Have to say i am not a fan of SOLO but love flipped learning and intend to blog about some project based iPad learning I am trialling and also had growth mindset training yesterday. Keep going buddy real life examples of how all these learning strands could for together is great



    • Thanks Andy.
      I really appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment. It’s early days with SOLO but it has been hugely beneficial in planning (more) challenging lessons.
      I look forward to reading your project based flipped learning blog. Maybe some growth mindset stuff too? I’m a big fan of that concept (hard not to be I know).
      Cheers Andy

  2. Such a lot going on. I am a fan of SOLO but not, yet, a fan of flipped learning. I think it is my concern about using videos to teach initial knowledge as well as the time children would have to spend at home. I like the idea of using teacher expertise to focus on the later stage of learning.

    Are there any other sources of videos you might be able to use. There is a lot of stuff on YouTube that might be adaptable?

    What I do like/love is that you are developing a whole system for planning, delivery and feedback that does seem to have real potential.

    • Massive thanks for taking the time to read and comment Peter. You have been there, done it and got the T-shirt so your opinion is one I certainly value. You make a very valid point about using ready available YouTube videos. For flipped learning to work it needs to be manageable in terms of time.
      Many thanks for your final comment. I do feel that my system (which is hopefully constantly evolving) is working for me and my students and I do hope it has as you say, real potential. Again many, many thanks Peter. If you like it I reckon I’m on to something good!!

  3. A great post on the starting points of solo and flipped classroom practice. I feel the two compliment each other completely . I am a term or so behind you , am really excited to implement it in my primary classroom . Thank you for your reflections , they are extremely valuable .

    • Thank you so much for the comment. I didn’t realise just how much solo and flipped learning suited each other until I trialled it. My second flipped learning experience was made by using solo to plan for challenge. Good luck with what you’re trying to do with your pupils. I’d love to read about the challenges with implementing this with primary pupils.

  4. THIS is THE definition of the “uber-blog”! SOLO, flipped learning, RAG123, “so that” outcomes…….you name it, this blog has it. A stunning synthesis of ideas weaved together perfectly into pedagogical perfection. All this plus the perfect exemplification of the tremendously positive power of twitter. A tour de force and a cracking blog to boot. Top work Mr B!

    • Wow. Thanks Dan. I’ve been waiting for your thoughts and i am certainly not disappointed! I can’t stop smiling at your comment. I am glad you enjoyed because your input was SO important in terms of SOLO and learning outcomes (in particular). The telephone conversation was invaluable, as have been your blogs. I am really happy with how “my”system is evolving and I do feel things are weaving together nicely. Twitter is an amazing medium but it is only as good as the people that I interact with. Thanks again for such a generous comment (still can’t stop smiling). However, your learning intentions blog is STILL the daddy of über blogs. Thanks again Dan,

  5. I think that my head is about to burst! There is certainly a great deal going on in your lessons Damian, and like you, I have found flipped learning a time consuming task. Unlike you however I gave up!
    The thing that comes across really strongly in this blog post is that everything that you do in lessons has the pupils learning at the centre. I think that you have shown how some really simple ‘tweaks’ can lead to great success. So that… is such a small change but seems to have really framed your lessons ‘so that’ challenge is an integral part.
    This is certainly a blog that I will be sharing with colleagues.
    I’ll send the bill for my 10% cut!
    Keep up the great work.

    • Massive thanks Neil. Your comments are very, very generous. Focusing in on my learning outcomes (especially with the so that ) has made a huge difference to my planning and hopefully to the outcomes of my pupils And as you say, it is such a simple tweak. It really made me reflect on how challenging my lessons were ( or we’re not).
      You are more than welcome to your 10% ;). Thanks again Neil for taking the time to read and comment,

  6. I am inspired by your flip learning. I have the same reservations you expressed at the start of your experiment. I am amazed how quickly you made it work for you and your class. Your student’s wonderful positive feedback must have been a nice heart-warming moment.

    • Hi Janette. Thanks for the feedback. Next year I will definitely use ready made resources to create videos. That was the only down side as it took up a lot of time. I was delighted with the written feedback. One of those golden moments in anybody’s teaching career.

  7. Wow Damian! This was awesome! Exactly what I needed to read. SOLO can be difficult to grasp and then harder to use if you haven’t been taught how properly. Loved your links at the top and will go back and look through them now. You’ve given me a way better understanding showing me how it works in a classroom. Think I might just be able to get started in both using SOLO tomorrow with visible shared LI’s and planning out some flipped learning. Thankyou!

    • My absolute pleasure. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I now use SOLO for setting the learning outcomes every lesson. It’s had such a positive impact in my classroom. Thanks again for your comments Alex,

  8. leedickinsonpe permalink

    Damian, it seems like you are at a similar stage to me. I am currently researching and incorporating the benefits if SOLO flipped lessons. I have found that ‘magpie’ing other YouTube clips have saved a huge amount of time. I have also been using learning mats based on the work of @Pe4learning and tombrush. I have found that they have been particularly useful for my lower ability pupils. It has given them focus outside of the lesson and enables them time to really think about the new concepts. Both have transformed my teaching at A level and I am now creating a new research group at my school (Clevedon school) after delivering my methods at a recent INSET. Great work, keep it going.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment Lee. Hugely appreciated. I’m following you on twitter now so I look forward to hearing more about the research group you are putting together at Clevedon and on your work with flipped learning and SOLO.

  9. Thank you for all your excellent blog posts, Damian. There is so much here for me to take away and apply to my teaching. I am nervous and excited to trial SOLO and this post is a lot less scary (but informative) than most!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Reflecting on teaching in 2013-14 (the routine) – what went well, what needs to be improved? | mrbenney
  2. New Term, New Strategies, New Me! | educatingmiss

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: