the Dragonfly journal

Piagetian Programs, Metacognition and Solo Taxonomy

By Steve Garnett - @Garnett_S

Dragonfly-Training RfL Course:

When delivering a recent Research for Learning (RfL) focused CPD session I was asked by a delegate, ‘Steve, what on earth is a Piagetian Program all about?’. The reason for the question was clear. This delegate had done her reading and knew in Professor John Hattie’s book ‘Visible Learning for Teachers‘ that ‘Piagetian Programs’ was second in his list of 138 interventions that affect student achievement.

The answer lies in a teacher seeking to understand where a pupil is in their level of thinking and then challenging a student to go beyond that level through a process described as ‘cognitive acceleration‘. Hattie suggests that ‘being aware of the student’s stage and his/her movement through the levels of thinking is among the most critical sources of knowledge’. This critical source of knowledge is for the teacher who can then plan for and assist pupils in achieving much higher levels of understanding and thus attainment. So far so good, but what does a teacher actually do in the classroom though? Before I answer this, lets look and see what the Sutton Trust has to say.

The Sutton Trust/EEF Toolkit also puts thinking second to the top of its list of 34 interventions though with a completely different title – in this instance Metacognition. Their definition can be summed up as ‘teaching approaches which make learners think about learning more explicitly’ it goes on to say it is where pupils ‘make their thinking explicit…’

So the message is clear for teachers: if we can make the need to focus on thinking explicit, if we can identify where pupils are in their levels of thinking and then assist them in moving to higher levels of thinking we would not only be moving them from an overlay knowledge focused curriculum (though an incredibly important and necessary first step) but we would be also assisting pupils in achieving higher levels of understanding too.

The critical question now then is what should I do in the classroom?

The answer lies I believe, in the lesser known of two learning relevant taxonomies – the SOLO Taxonomy (Bloom being the other). It allows teachers and pupils to literally ‘see’ what the level of thinking is and then what the next level is to achieve so called ‘cognitive acceleration’ – the SOLO Taxonomy.

Developed in the early 1980s by Australian academics, John Biggs and Kevin Collis, it stands for ‘Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome‘, and identifies a 5 stage hierarchy. Hattie matched the the last 4 of the Solo Taxonomy with Piaget’s levels of thinking development thus:

Piaget levels SOLO Levels

1 Sensorimotor Unistructural (an idea)

2 Pre-operational Multistrutural ( ideas)

3 Concrete operational Relational (relate the ideas)

4 Formal operational Extended abstract ( extend the ideas)

For the teacher who is planning to deliver lessons that still have the necessary ‘ballast’ of knowledge but additionally want a much more ‘visible’ understanding of a pupils level of thinking. The following planning templates are from subjects where the teacher has incorporated the SOLO Taxonomy in their lesson planning (thanks to the Twittersphere for examples):

Looking into learning intentions, and the different levels of structural stages:

To see quite literally what level of thinking a pupil is at the use of hexagons are an ideal teaching aide. Templates such as the one below can be generated at Pam Hook’s web site,

You use the hexagons in the following way:

The following video clip shows Tait Coles using the hexagons as a teaching aide to help implement SOLO and the images below showcase some other pupil examples ( again thanks to Twittersphere for samples)