english_front_slide_450SOLO Taxonomy hand signs are a powerfully simple way to watch thinking in action. These spontaneous gestures of thought are a learning strategy that helps students and teachers make sense of learning.

In using gesture to represent increasing levels of cognitive complexity – surface to deep to conceptual (transfer) outcomes – SOLO hand signs have the potential to enhance the sense making in any learning conversation.

In my experience, once introduced the hand signs are quickly integrated into all classroom and staff room talk. Furthermore, the concurrent use of SOLO gestures with the SOLO terms and symbols captures, clarifies and reinforces the nature of the learning task and desired learning outcome.


When observing teachers and students who use SOLO to good effect you will notice the skilled and active use of this consistent visual imagery integrated within the classroom discourse. The SOLO hand signs help embody surface and deep learning.

I am curious about mimicry. When using SOLO hand signs you will often observe teachers or students who spontaneously mimic the SOLO hand signs of the speaker. They appear to borrow the significant gestures in ways that help both parties make meaning of the conversation.

The power of gesture is also evident when the SOLO hand signs are used in SOLO rubrics and visual displays.  The examples below are from Isleworth School in New Zealand.









Why do I post this?

Gesture is often neglected in conversations about effective strategies.  SOLO hand signs are a powerful pedagogical approach when used in isolation and when integrated with other multiliteracies.  These spontaneous gestures of thought are a learning strategy that do not need a printing or laminating budget. Use of gesture is generic – effective across any surface to deep to conceptual learning. They are a SOLO learning strategy that is easy to implement and cheap to sustain – and as such as they are worthy of our attention.



Just as there are “different horses for different courses” so there are different learning strategies for different stages of the learning process

A recent article by John Hattie and Gregory Donoghue (2016) uses meta-analyses, effect sizes and a more nuanced model of surface and deep understanding to look at learning strategies in ways that will help us create versatile thinkers.

In an elegant new model of learning they differentiate surface, deep and transfer in the learning process and #SKILL #WILL and #THRILL as inputs and outputs. They use this model to investigate the effects derived from meta-analyses of research that related learning strategy to achievement.

It is an important article – one that will spark fabulous and ongoing professional discussion in schools. It is research that matters in that it promotes and enables versatile thinking in students.

I have tried to capture the Hattie Donoghue #SKILL process steps in the table below. The addition of the meta-analysis will markedly improve teacher and student versatility when thinking about the best learning learner strategies for any given moment in learning. Check out the effect size and positioning of collaboration as a strategy.
Hattie Study Strategies Poster

Reference: Hattie, J. A. C.and Donoghue, G. M. (2016). Learning strategies: a synthesis and conceptual model. Review Article Number 16013. npj Nature Partner Journals Science of Learning.

Why do I post this?
If you read our curriculum documents – there are claims that we should focus on creating young people who are critical and creative thinkers. It is a pedagogical challenge that I have spent much of my professional life examining. I spent time designing and implementing a thinking curriculum – describing what it would look like and determining the effective pedagogies for sharing this with students -explicit/infused etc. and then implementing this across schools. However, my recent work with SOLO Taxonomy has changed my perspective. When I look at some of the critical and creative thinking materials and suggested approaches – I wonder if we have been distracted and asking the wrong question all along.

Working with SOLO as a model changed my thinking not because it makes surface and deep outcomes visible, but rather because SOLO is a nuanced way to show learning process – from surface to deep to conceptual. In doing this SOLO enables us to categorise learning strategies in ways that help students choose when best to use them. In this way SOLO helped develop student “versatility in thinking”. I have come to believe that versatility is closer to what matters for students than simplistic exhortations to become creative or critical thinkers.

There are many thinking skills and strategies and e-learning apps that purport to help students learn. In the classroom based use of SOLO I encourage teachers and students to categorise these learning strategies by SOLO level of the task. In doing this they create their own SOLO based Learning Strategy Toolboxes. The decision making around when to use a strategy helps develop “versatile thinking”.

You can see some of my early thinking about this below. The addition of the new thinking around “acquiring” and “consolidating” surface and deep learning and the results from the meta-analyses makes this so much better.

  • the HOT SOLO archive wiki
  • Template 19: SOLO differentiated thinking skills and strategies. Hook, P. and Mills, J. (2012). SOLO Taxonomy: A Guide for Schools. Book 2. Planning for Differentiation. Essential Resources Educational Publishers Limited. New Zealand.
  • Tables 1.6 page 16 and 2.3 p21 in the more recent Hook, P. (2015). First steps with SOLO Taxonomy. Applying the model in your classroom. Essential Resources Educational Publishers Limited. New Zealand.
  • Essence of wet dog thinking

    August 27, 2016

    Embed from Getty Images “Less is more” thinking lies at the heart of a SOLO rubric. When we make the SOLO Taxonomy level of learning outcomes visible using text-based success criteria – SOLO differentiated rubrics – we show students that learning outcomes are malleable not fixed. They focus on the strategies that might help shift […]

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    5 Strategies for Deep Learning

    August 21, 2016

    Using SOLO Taxonomy as a model for surface and deep learning learning is a sandbox pedagogy. Embed from Getty Images Using SOLO helps create learning environments that are option rich – collaborative, adaptable and much like a sandbox – always open to the introduction of new possibilities and opportunities for deep learning. The following slides […]

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    Thinking about knowledge

    August 20, 2016

    Knowledge and what we miss when we limit our focus to a discussion about parts of speech – “verbification” and all that.

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    HookED SOLO Map Animations

    July 24, 2016

    New SOLO resources on YouTube The HookED SOLO Map Animations are instructional (how to) video for the SOLO Maps. The first SOLO Maps to be animated: Define, Describe, Sequence, Classify, Compare and Contrast, Generalise, and Predict Each animation is designed by the ever fabulous Nick Denton. And yes I will be uploading more SOLO Map […]

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    Sketching the New Zealand Curriculum

    July 20, 2016

    Embed from Getty Images Planning for successful learning is not unlike planning successful plays for team sports. I have a new creative project this year – I am sketching the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC). One achievement objective at a time. Sketching ideas for learning, showing how they can be connected and extended is fun. It […]

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    The Olympics and SOLO Taxonomy

    July 17, 2016

    Embed from Getty Images A question from Pete in New Zealand Hi Pam, Pete here from XXXX School. We are making a start on our plan for next term. We want to look at “success” as a concept and the challenges and opportunities in becoming successful… linking this to the Olympics and integrating the role […]

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    School Values and SOLO Taxonomy

    July 16, 2016

    Embed from Getty Images A question from Siobhan in New Zealand We met when you came to [xxxxxx College] last term. In between one of the slots with the teachers, I was asking you about ways to link SOLO to our school values. You said you may have some ideas that you could share with […]

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    Interpretation and SOLO Taxonomy

    July 14, 2016

    Embed from Getty Images A question from Tobias in Denmark. How do you teach more complex matters, like “interpretation”? (The rubric for “interpretation” is, in some parts of the teachers’ community here in Gladsaxe, the “Holy Grail”) – Tobias – Educational Consultant Denmark An answer. Interpretation is “making meaning” I teach it by referring to […]

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