In which I ask whether SOLO Taxonomy can be used to develop a growth mindset

I should be clear from the outset this post aims to outline the thought process by which we arrived at a research question for our research and development project on the growth mindset. It does not, at this stage, aim to answer the question.

The story so far…

Two previous posts [1] have outlined a series of whole-school or departmental-level strategies that the relevant leaders could implement in order to develop a growth mindset. They are presented, in summary, below:

On feedback:

  • Share clear success criteria for every piece of work with students
  • Comment-only marking (or, at least, not sharing levels / grades with students)
  • Mark work based on sustained effort and the process of learning, rather than / as well as on the outcome (i.e. no levels / grades, with the possible exception of marking for level of effort)
  • Use the school reward / sanctions system to promote sustained effort and engagement (rather than / as well as for good results in tests)
  • Use the school report system to recognise sustained effort and engagement (rather than / as well as to judge progress)

On differentiation:

  • Plan lessons / schemes of work around a sequence of learning activities at increasingly high level of challenge
  • Stop identifying students as “Gifted and Talented”
  • Stop differentiating downwards (except to account for special education needs)

On progress:

  • Smaller sets with regular movement between them
  • Adjust signpost / target grades at least annually to allow for greater-than-expected progress


  • Formative lesson observations (no levels / grades)

On teaching and learning:

  • Teach the process of learning as well as the outcome (SOLO Taxonomy?)

Arriving at a research question

There are two colleagues working on the same research project as me, and we had our first meeting the week before last to compare notes on the literature review phase of our project. Our initial thoughts were the same – that what literature does exist on the growth mindset in schools advocates praising sustained effort not learning outcomes, avoiding the long-term use of extrinsic rewards, teaching students that academic ability is not fixed, but stops short of suggesting how discrete teaching and learning strategies might be used to develop a growth mindset. [2]

It was at this point that I proposed making SOLO Taxonomy the focus of our project. One of my colleagues, a Maths teacher, expressed interest at the idea of implementing a strategy that allowed teachers (and students) to evaluate the quality of learning without attaching levels or grades to any feedback; school policy requires levelled learning objectives, while she saw this as an opportunity to promote student progress through “a love of Maths” rather than because their target level/grade required it of them.

The strengths of SOLO Taxonomy, compared to Bloom’s Taxonomy, were outlined in an appendix to a 2004 paper by Hattie and Brown. [3] Our main sticking point was on the terminology used in SOLO – prestructural, unistructural, etc. While I argued that we shouldn’t patronise students by replacing these levels with something unrelated to the learning process (a subject that is also mentioned in passing at the end of another previous post of mine [4]), it was agreed that we should try and come up with a slightly more student-friendly way of identifying the levels. At present, our version of the levels is:

New Beginnings


Narrow Knowledge Base


Wide Knowledge Base


Making Connections


Making Extensions

I am not aware of any empirical research into SOLO Taxonomy, so this project is really asking two linked questions: (1) How much (if at all) does SOLO Taxonomy influence learning? and (2) Can SOLO Taxonomy be used to promote a growth mindset? My next post will outline the specific research methodologies that we will use to answer these questions.


[1] C. Phillips (2014) ‘In which I start a 6 month research and development project on the growth mindset’,; C. Phillips (2014) ‘In which I start to consider specific teaching strategies to develop a growth mindset’,

[2] C. Dweck (2012) Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential [Kindle edition] (London, Constable & Robinson); M. C. Ricci (2013) Mindsets In The Classroom: Building A Culture Of Success And Student Achievement In Schools (Waco TX, Prufrock Press)

[3] J. Hattie and G. Brown (2004) Cognitive Processes In asTTle: The SOLO Taxonomy (asTTle Technical Report #43, University of Auckland/Ministry of Education)

[4] C. Phillips (2013) ‘In which I encourage students to “level up”’,

About carljphillips

Geography teacher. PhD in cultural/historical geography (Nott'm., 2006). SF/F genre fiction fan. Liverpool FC supporter. Libertarian. Humanist. Etc. I blog about the theory and practice of Geography teaching, and teaching in general.
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2 Responses to In which I ask whether SOLO Taxonomy can be used to develop a growth mindset

    • carljphillips says:

      I remember reading your post back in June (although it seems a lot longer ago than that…) Sadly, I wasn’t able to persuade my R&D colleagues to follow the ‘SOLO’ line of enquiry, but I’d still like (time permitting) to set up an in-house project and actually put it to the test. Watch this space…

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