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Quality Questioning Using the SOLO Taxonomy An online workshop. Adapted from a presentation by the Uniservices asTTle team. Who will find this workshop useful?. Teachers Syndicates / departments AtoL facilitators. How to use this workshop:.

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quality questioning using the solo taxonomy an online workshop

Quality QuestioningUsing the SOLO TaxonomyAn online workshop

Adapted from a presentation by the Uniservices asTTle team


Who will find this workshop useful?

  • Teachers
  • Syndicates / departments
  • AtoL facilitators

How to use this workshop:

  • To update, review and/or reflect on classroom questioning practice.
  • As a focus for professional development in assessment for learning.
  • To support AtoL programmes in schools.

Link:If you are interested in classroom questioning and learning conversations you may also wish to go to: (link to TKI workshop at http://www.tki.org.nz/r/assessment/atol_online/ppt/teacher_student_conversations_28.5.ppt)


When asTTle items were being designed the developers needed to ensure that test questions had differing levels of cognitive demand that required students to think deeply as well as at a surface level.

Why was this an issue?

levels of thinking
Levels of thinking

As we know, not all thinking or knowing is the same.

Yet 80% or more of all questions teachers ask (spoken or written) can be answered with lower-order thinking skills:

  • by recall or remembering
  • by knowledge
  • by simple handling of a restricted set of ideas, data, knowledge

If we can develop students’ higher-order thinking skills this will enhance their metacognitive abilities and hence their learning.


The asTTle team looked for a

set of broad cognitive categories (a taxonomy) that would describe thinking processes in a scale of increasing difficulty or complexity.

SOLO is such a taxonomy

You may also be familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Outcomes. This is referred to in another TKI assessment workshop and can be accessed at http://www.tki.org.nz/r/assessment/atol_online/ppt/teacher_student_conversations_28.5.ppt

why use solo
Why use SOLO?
  • SOLO is a true hierarchic taxonomy – increasing in quantity and quality of thought
  • SOLO is a powerful tool in differentiating curriculum and providing cognitive challenge for learners
  • SOLO allows teachers and learners to ask deeper questions without creating new ones
  • SOLO is a powerful metacognitive tool
  • All asTTle tests have been developed with a minimum of 25% surface and 25% deep questions – the balance can be anything…
what is solo
What is SOLO?

SOLO stands for the Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes. It was developed by Biggs and Collis (1982). Biggs describes SOLO as “a framework for understanding”. (1999, p.37)

SOLO identifies five stages of understanding. Each stage embraces the previous level but adds something more.

The following slides identify and describe the five levels or stages and provide examples of each.


The stages of SOLO

  • Prestructural – the student acquires bits of unconnected information that have no organisation and make no sense. This is not a stage that we want to foster through questioning so we will not pursue it further
  • Unistructural – students make simple and obvious connections between pieces of information
  • Multistructural – a number of connections are made, but not the meta-connections between them
  • Relational – the students sees the significance of how the various pieces of information relate to one another
  • Extended abstract – at this level students can make connections beyond the scope of the problem or question, to generalise or transfer learning into a new situation
surface and deep thinking
Surface and deep thinking

Unistructural and multistructural questions test students’ surface thinking (lower-order thinking skills)

Relational and extended abstract questions test deep thinking (higher-order thinking skills)

Use of SOLO allows us to balance the cognitive demand of the questions we ask and to scaffold students into deeper thinking and metacognition

describing the stages of solo
Describing the stages of SOLO

In the diagram below the symbols shown represent:

Irrelevant or not given information is shown as – X

Given facts, ideas, information are shown by –black dots

The student answering the question is represented by the triangle

The response or given answer to the question is shown by the –R

Relevant information that is not given in the question is shown by –O

This key is used to explain each stage on the following slides

unistructural questions
Unistructural questions

To answer the question students need the knowledge or use of only one piece of given information, fact, or idea, that they can get directly from the problem.

multistructural questions
Multistructural questions

Students need to know or use more than one piece of given information, fact, or idea, to answer the question, but do not integrate the ideas.

This is fundamentally an unsorted, unorganised list.

multistructural example
Multistructural example

Note that a student may choose to answer this by measuring one side of the arrow and multiplying by 2 which shows relational thinking.

However the question does not require them to do this so we cannot expect them to use this strategy.

turn and talk 1
Turn and talk 1
  • Think of some examples from your subject area that are:
    • unistructural
    • multistructural

and discuss these with a colleague.

relational questions
Relational questions

These questions require students to integrate more than one piece of given knowledge, information, fact, or idea.

At least two separate ideas are required that, working together, will solve the problem.

relational example

At the school swimming sports four children completed in the fifty metres freestyle heat.

Joe came first with a time of 40.395 seconds.

Mary came second, Sam came third and David came fourth.

In the next heat, Jan finished with a time of a second slower than Joe.

What was her time? ____________



Relational example

Note: this is a relational question because students have to integrate and apply a range of information. They also need to realise that going slower means adding time.

extended abstract questions
Extended abstract questions

These questions involve a higher level of abstraction. The items require the student to go beyond the given information, knowledge, information, or ideas and to deduce a more general rule or proof that applies to all cases.

extended abstract example
Extended abstract example

An answer requires the explicit expression of understanding of a general principle that applies beyond the specifics of this particular situation. Students need to ‘go beyond the given’.

turn and talk 2
Turn and talk 2

Discuss examples of questions that are:

  • relational
  • extended abstract
how can i create deeper questions
How can I create deeper questions?

Take a unistructural question

  • ask for a list of 2 or more things  multistructural question

Put the list of things into the question

  • ask what they have in common  relational question

Ask what class of event, personality, situation, rule, etc. applies?

  • generate list of possible wrong answers to go with correct answer to create a multi-choice question  extended abstract question
algebra patterns in number
Algebra: Patterns in number
  • How many sticks are needed for 3 houses? (unistructural)
  • How many sticks are there for 5 houses? (multistructural)
  • If 52 houses require 209 sticks, how many sticks do you need to be able to make 53 houses? (relational)
  • Make up a rule to count how many sticks are needed for any number of houses. (extended abstract)


try it out
Try it out
  • In your curriculum area, take a unistructural question and develop it into a
    • multistructural
    • relational and
    • extended abstract question
some things to think about
Some things to think about

Response versus requirement

  • A question must be phrased in such a way as to gain the type of response required.

Deep thinking and difficulty

  • Questions that are hard and require long responses do not necessarily require students to think deeply

Deep thinking and learning

  • Deep thinking can be a given if it becomes a learned response
  • Today’s extended abstract question can become tomorrow’s relational question
Both ‘surface’ and ‘deep’ questions are needed
  • one is not better than the other

Some examples:

Q What is a tappet? (unistructural and technically hard)

A A cylindrical component that transmits motion from the cam to the valve stem. (relational and technically hard)

Q What is most important in a car: grunt, looks, safety, or economy? And why? (extended abstract but easy)

A Grunt and looks (multistructural but easy)

in summary
In summary
  • SOLO is a true hierarchic taxonomy – increasing in quantity and quality of thought
  • SOLO is a powerful tool in differentiating curriculum and providing cognitive challenge
  • SOLO allows teachers and learners to ask deeper questions without creating new ones
  • SOLO is a powerful metacognitive tool
  • Hattie, J.A.C., & Brown, G.T.L. (2004, September). Cognitive processes in asTTle: The SOLO taxonomy. asTTle Technical Report #43, University of Auckland/Ministry of Education.Available at http://www.tki.org.nz/r/asttle/pdf/technical-reports/techreport43.pdf
  • Biggs, J.B. (1999). Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Buckingham: SRHE/Open University Press.
  • Biggs, J.B., & Collis, K.F. (1982). Evaluating the Quality of Learning: the SOLO taxonomy New York: Academic Press.