Towards a SOLO taxonomy

A while back on ukedchat there was a session on SOLO taxonomy. I had never heard of it, and from initial tweets I could see that it might have something to do with blooms. I also confess to being a bit lost, because inevitably the ‘oh, another thing to learn!’ thought crept into my head.

But, James Abela sent me an excellent tweet to this presentation, which I will embed here and let you view in your own time:

What immediately struck me about SOLO was how it takes what’s good about Bloom’s taxonomy but also places it in a way that it can have a consistent and clear impact in terms of lesson progression.

So, over the next few weeks I am going to try and use SOLO in my lessons and will post what I think about it here. My initial ideas are that it would be excellent for focusing students’ minds on how they can develop their ideas about one particular element, lets say ‘personification’ in poetry, as that is a recent focus in our lessons. Stay tuned!


Developing tutorials as a department

one of the most exciting innovations we’re looking at as a department next year is beginning the process of using video tutorials in our teaching. (NB. The videos are clearly media-centred, but what I hope people will find useful are some general thoughts on how you might begin this process in your own department).

(What we used)

  1. Scripts
  2. A moderate amount of time
  3. A decent camera on a tripod
  4. Editing software (Imovie)
  5. Our youtube channel to upload and share finished videos

First tutorials

Our rationale for doing this was clear – as a Media department it seemed a crime that we had no videos of their teachers’ attempts to do the same things we ask our students to do all the time (and its a fair question in general I think: how often do we actually do and experience for ourselves the things we make students do every day?!). We hoped that on the simplest level, just having a clear, engaging visual representation of key things in our subject would really appeal to students. Also, it should provide variety and enable independance – easy for students to watch these again in their own time and to provide variety in teacher-led talk & explanation.

My first attempt was….ok. I worked mostly alone, with the help of one colleague for the main part – a scripted conversation with myself (watch it and you’ll see what I mean) to show the basics of using a green screen. A key thing I had wanted to do was to make the tutorials just a shade of laughable (remembering Jim Smith’s RING <RELEVANT, INTERESTING, NAUGHTY & a GIGGLE principle) so that students might be even more likely to engage with the material. I am not entirely sure how well it worked here, so you will have ot judge for yourself.

Conclusion: When making these tutorials it is better working as a group wherever possible – better ideas=better results.


Main tutorial: Camera shots, angle & movements (see here)

This was the first thing we did as a department (3 people involved in total) and it was much more successful that my lone first attempt. First we picked the best camera possible to film it (d’uh!), but what also worked really well was that in the planning stage we thought really carefully about the mechanics of the video and how it would communicate genuine learning and subject specific vocabulary to our students (the aim of it was to get them familiar with the various ways in which you can describe film)

What we settled on doing was using the ‘camera within a camera’ idea to really show off the mechanics behind the short film’s construction (see screenshot below). So, I was the hapless teacher with the coursework, while my other colleague filmed me who was in turn filmed by the other person in the department! This meant that we were not only showing our students what the different shots the camera was taking but also the way in which my colleague had stood/moved/sat(!) to achieve that shot. Have a look for yourself and see if you think we’ve pulled it off

Final thought: Keeping tutorials short seems to be the key. We have noticed that students want to be able to access the information quickly and not have to trawl through information that is not relevant to them. So, say for a program like photoshop, we have been making lots of mini-tutorials that don’t last more than 2 minutes – generally they are only showing one or two processes at the most.

Will be reporting back soon to see how they are affecting the teaching & learning of our students.

Developing blogging as a department

One of the most exciting changes I’ve had to contend with recently is that I am now a Head of Department – in Media. This (pretty much) ideally fitted the work I’ve been developing in this blog, so the opportunity to take some of the matter contained in here and begin to develop it more closely amongst colleagues is proving to be really interesting.

One of my first aims was to develop a departmental approach to using blogs – i.e. to actually build it into the actual SoW and assessment of our teaching Media, rather than just trying to make it an optional, or ‘bolt-on’ extra.

We’ve started this by doing it Key Stage 5 (or A-level – 16-18 yrs). It made particular sense with Media because the syllabus for A-level strongly encourages teachers delivering the course to use blogs (forward thinking from exam boards for a change!). Setting up a blog proved more difficult. As alluded too many times, blogging sites (including this very one) are all blocked by Local Authority internet filters. This draconian measure means those of us who see the potential in blogs can sometimes not even get started. Luckily though, the very helpful IT guys at my school worked out that the mac server that our computers runs off also came with a blogging/networking facility, that, until now, had gone completely unused. Fantastic!

First step was to set up my own blog which would act as:

  • A conduit for students to find work for lessons and for independent study
  • A place for other teachers within the department to see how I was using the blog and hopefully, gain ideas from it.

As well as this, I created a ‘student’ blog, to model what kind of things students should be producing in their blog. So far, I have really underused it, instead focusing on just getting my own blog in order, but I plan to use it much more once blogging as a system is established. I wonder, if, in part the idea quickly became defunct – as students quickly became more used to the blog, they naturally started looking at each others’ work – a handy feature for encouraging students to think about their own work and adjust it accordingly.

This was one of my own blog posts. As well as more typical ‘how to do my lesson’ type posts, I tried to post tutorials for neat little tricks they could do, such as taking screenshots. What I found good about doing this particular post is that when one student looked at my own post they showed me an even quicker keyboard shortcut to doing what I was talking about. Excellent – so I was able to very quickly edit the post and put that in as well, thereby showing how the collaborative nature of the blogs could be both ways rather than just one. The blog itself looks like this to students as they click into it:

Attaching files is fantastic – instructional ppts are the mainstay, but also something as simple as having a picture on the different blogs means that students can find the appropriate blogs for their class that bit more quickly. I am also training students in the use of tags – and have tried to make my own blog reflect that. Once my blog gets into the 30+ posts mark, it will be interesting how quickly students get into the habit of clicking on the correct tag as opposed to spending ages trawling through the pages.


Currently, both AS, A2 and OCR national students are using the blog – roughly in excess of 40 students. Also 2 other members of staff are using them to set and mark their own work in their lessons. One member of staff has also created a youtube channel for the department, then linking it to their blog, creating a great way of linking different multimedia together. The intention is to continue to get students to look at good and bad blogs – and use these to generate discussions on standards and allowing for improvements. As a final aside, I am just wondering if anyone has any experience with using these MAC-servewr generated blog – one issue we seem to be having at the moment is that embedding video (i.e. from youtube) just doesn’t work. Although (and I think this particularly cool!) my students figured this out, got annoyed by it, but then some managed to download the videos (*cough*TOS*cough*) and insert them into their blogs that way. And that’s my favourite thing about using the blogs across a whole department so far – it seems to be encouraging resourcefulness – from both staff and students.

Using Microsoft Word to deliver quality peer assessment

Today I had one of those ‘why haven’t I done this before?’ type moments that occurred to me when I was planning a 2 hour lesson with my media studies class. I use Microsoft Word all the time to produce documents and so do my students. I have reflected on how to use plenty of other pieces of software as a teaching tool before, but never the humble word. This, I now think, was a mistake!

I knew that students had to show me their skills at writing in the tabloid style for the upcoming exams and I knew that I wanted them to peer assess each others’ work. As their writing was a ‘work on progress’ I wanted them to be able to edit it easily, so I decided they could use the computers to write their articles. I then thought I would just let them print off an early draft of the work. Could I avoid the hassle of 23 students printing off work at once then going crazy with post-it notes? Then I remembered the ‘review’ feature on word – what if I could get students to do the process of peer assessment in ‘real-time’? What I envisaged with this is that another student could quickly offer written feedback to the student on their word document and then the student could return to their own computer and edit their work quickly.

Q: So how did I achieve this?

A: In word click ‘review’ (top menu), highlight a piece of text and click ‘add comment’. Done!


 Key notes from observing students carrying out this task:

  • Easy to be specific. Sometimes when you get students to peer assess their work on paper they don’t like drawing on the other person’s work or underlining key things. With reviewing on word all the comments are made on a wider right margin and so don’t actually impinge on the actual content. Students generally seem to enjoy working on computers and this is another way of exploiting that engagement for learning.
  • Keep it moving. The slight kinaesthetic element of this activity meant that students didn’t have enough time to become bored sitting at a computer – after five minutes they were shuffling onto the next one! I wonder if in the future I could make this moving a bit more fun…
  • Success criteria to frame comments. Before students started, they had a display on the board that modelled the kind of language they should use to make comments (e.g. they should imagine someone else is reading it and that they can understand the explanation) and the kind of language techniques that you would expect to find in a tabloid style article. This meant that students had an expectation, right from the beginning, of the quality of the peer assessment they were supposed to produce.
  • The text box problem. Students who had done fancy layouts to mimic the look of newspapers were left a little despirited, because you can’t add comments to text inside text boxes. If the focus is on writing, then next time I do this I’ll make a point of saying that layouts are not our focus and should not be used.
  • Highlighting too much text. Often students (by mistake I think) highlighted the whole part of the text. I will make it clear to them next time not to do this, or to delete any comments they make doing this by mistake.


I got a little carried away by how well this process was going that I didn’t leave enough time at the end of the lesson for students to go back to their work and use this to strengthen their learning. Many students raced back to their computers and immediately started editing their text based on the suggestions other students had left. This made me realise that the best way to use this will be in short, sharp bursts. What I mean is this: Students spend 10 minutes writing a paragraph, break for 10 minutes to peer assess using word and then return to their work. Repeat when necessary. Having, in a sense, a series of peaks and troughs of peer assessment is going to be valuable for the reasons above but also for the purposes of ensuring all students are engaged and on-task at a similar level – if they know that in ten minutes another student will be seeing their work, I believe they might just sit up and take a little more notice of their writing.

Developing blogging in the classroom

Introduction: As part of my ongoing work in collaborating with colleagues I have been trying to develop blogging with other colleagues within my school. This blog post is therefore co-edited by another of my colleagues within the school and is a combination of points developed in a meeting we had and a reflection on how we can use them next:

Richard’s noticing

Richard started off by showing how he had been using blogging with a couple of the Year 7 classes he teaches. Both Richard and Andy had previously worked out how to create blogs (which is detailed in this post) and so at the end of their last meeting they had decided to start trying to use it with one task on a few of our classes. Andy was interested in how the approach of using blogging for homework out of the lesson as a starting point for using it, had worked. This was different to Andy’s approach of using it firmly within the context of the lesson and showed that they already had developed different ideas about how the idea of blogging with a class could be used.

The responses from Richard’s homework blogs were promising; a number of students had completed the homework already and were now queued for Richard to ‘approve’ or ‘reject’. Richard again highlighted that this was an interesting option because it places increased emphasis on the value of what appears in the blog: if the students work was not quite up to the standard expected, then it could be sent back to the student for redrafting. This means that the final product of the blog post is given more value to the students, as they can see that the piece of work that have produced has met or exceeded the required standard.

Andy’s noticing

Andy showed Richard the way he had been using blogging with his Year 8 English class. Essentially the blog was being used as an opportunity for students to post their creative writing pieces. There were different examples available on the blog – some the ‘bite-sized’ mini-sagas they had produced (which must be exactly fifty words), and some postings were of the students Horror stories. Andy remarked that an issue with using blogging in class is that the teacher can quickly move away from being a facilitator to an administrator – especially with only being able to approve one blog post at a time. Nevertheless, what had been achieved was a blog that contained both further comments from the students on blog posts that weren’t just their own and some students had recognised the instruction to begin categorising their posts in the ‘Gothic Genre’ area; easier to find for future for reference.

Ideas for further development

  • Richard was interested in exploring getting students to comment on other students’ post, and categorising posts. Andy showed him how to do this and then they both discussed why both could be useful – Andy had used commenting as a way of encouraging peer assessment between the students’ story and had begun to try categorising because he wants to be able to keep using the blog throughout the year and wanted a way for students (and him) to organise and easily find the rapidly increasing amount of blog posts.
  • Andy was very interested in the idea of setting a blog post as homework. This could really help develop students’ reflective learning. It also places more value on homework, as the blog is something that could then be reflected on in another homework by other students, or within a classroom lesson.

We intend to meet soon after Christmas to further explore the issues raised in this post. Merry Christmas everyone!

Compromise: how often do you do it with technology in schools?

I ask this question because it sheds light on the current state of my attempts to bring about more use of multimedia in my school. This previous blog post provided a commentary on the difficulties I was having in trying to use external websites to begin a process of encouraging other teachers to use innovative, emerging multimedia.

So the title of this post is compromise. I knew that the failures with the wikis no longer working on our schools systems could easily be repeated if I choose to continue with the approach of using the kind of external websites. This was further confirmed by one of my most valued websites,, suddenly being blocked when I returned after half-term (eventually I managed to get it unblocked with help).

This didn’t leave me with very many options. I knew I wanted to continue to push the use of podcasting in the school but the reality of knowing that there is a definite and sometimes steep learning curve involved in using this meant that I wasn’t sure it would sit with people who were sceptical / didn’t think they could use new multimedia . This ‘group’ of staff represents the point of the project I am doing – I have found it relatively straightforward and rewarding to collaborate with members of staff already proficient in using multimedia, as might be expected – what I need to do is try and encourage those who want to be proficient but don’t know how to be. On this I think the merit and point of my project stands and falls.

I found that I was struggling where to turn to know what to do next – some kind of compromise with the multimedia tools I was using needed to be made.


For those not familiar with the terminology, a VLE is a virtual learning environment or school portal, through which students and teachers share a space where they collaborate and share resources. In principle its great – mainly because it neatly dodges all those issues associated with e-safety – the space is enclosed and only teachers, students (and parents) have access.

For me though, the VLE, or at least what existed of it for my school (we run the version by RM) a year ago was, in my own words clunky. There seemed very little in the way of ‘web 2.0’ tools – I could find no blogging facilities, for example. The thing was slow and when I tried using it with my Year 11 class last year, it frequently crashed. I dismissed it as something that was not analogus with what I wanted to achieve with the use of multimedia – I resolved not to use it as one of the tools for advocating my use of multmedia.

The RM VLE - and the 'space' that the year 11's had to revise - containing podcasts they had made for revision in class - they could then access this from home.

Present day

To give credit where credit is due, RM have made a lot of improvements to the VLE in the past year. I always kept half an eye on it – continuing to use it with Year 11 last year as they entered the exam. There were successes as well as failures – details of which you can see in this short video. What I noticed was that gradually features such as blogs, wikis and discussion forums were being added (to be fair they may have been there from the start, but I found them neither easy to find, or easy to set up).

Then, for me, recently came the neatest innovation – every time you created a course for a group that you teach, a learning space was automatically created for it as well. What this means is that the resources are there and easily accessible, but you are also given a fully customisable page for each group you are teaching. On this page you can add a number of customisable features easily – including blogs, wikis, forums, RSS feeds and document libraries – all things associated with user-generated content. At this point I began to realise that I had made an error in being so dismissive of the VLE – and actually it appeared to be coming into its own just as I was facing problems using the external websites I had been advocating in school.

This half term has therefore seen me trying to throw all my efforts into using the VLE as a tool for helping me work with other colleagues. Responses so far have been positive and currently I am working with colleagues by:

  • Using the VLE to collaborate with one teacher in setting up a blogging facility on classes learning spaces – allowing them to reflect on their learning as well as access course materials.
  • Posting homeworks that English teachers in one year group can access and set to their students.
  • Helping one teacher to set up a discussion forum for her high-ability GCSE group to encourage discussions related to exam texts in the run up to the mock exam.


I feel like I am getting to the stage now where I have developed meaningful collaborations with colleagues. I don’t intend to stop this process beyond the scope of this project – indeed, this blog will hopefully provide a way with me to continue collaborating with colleagues who are perhaps not even in my school. What a focus of mine must be now though, is in collecting the thoughts of my colleagues on whether they now feel more confident in using and collaborating with innovative, engaging forms of multimedia.

So in this case, compromise seems to have worked, although it is too early to tell whether the project has resulted in significant differences in colleagues’ practice. How do others feel about this issue of compromising in the use of technology in school?

Using Cool Iris to present podcasts, diigo and the VLE

I was asked recently to provide a talk to another school in the town where I work on how the work I have been doing relates to the concept of developling Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS). I approached this from the angle of how I have been using multimedia to develop reflective learners – and by that I am referring to both staff and students.

This blog post therefore has 2 purposes – it shows you how to use the freely downloadable program cooliris to provide a rich multimedia presentation and also I will talk about the content of the presentation and how it reflects the practices I have been developing in using multimedia.

My presentation. You can view it @

Cool Iris. My tools for this presentation came from these three blog posts. I was particularly wanting to use cool iris for a presentation because it enables you to switch between ‘slides’ (actually pictures) easily. I had a selection of images that I thought enabled me to frame what I was trying to say and a few powerpoint slides for moments of building on / concluding points. Cool Iris is great primarily because of how it is activated. When browsing with it installed, all you need to see is the little triangle/arrow () that lights up in the bottom left corner of an image, click it and you automatically launch the cool iris browser.

My intention was to move away from the ‘death by powerpoint’ thing that can sometimes happen when people give presentations about technology. Moreover, I wanted my philosophy of using innovative, engaging forms of multimedia to colour the the tools that I used to present my noticing (Mason, 2002) of it. I hoped this would provide a genuinley engaging way of presenting to staff who may or may not have an interest in multimedia.

Continue reading