Going SOLO with Charles 1

Image by lisby1

I have developed more than a passing interest in SOLO taxonomy and I hang on to words of encouragement from those who urge, “Go for it.” It just makes sense to me; a simple way to enable students to note how far along the road they are to becoming astute critical thinkers.

Today’s year 8 History lesson covered the trial and execution of Charles 1 in 1649. To raise students’ interest in the topic, I showed Russel Tarr’s 3 minute video clip of the execution (To Kill a King, 2002). Rupert Everett does a grand job of portraying Charles and the scene has some valid historical pointers.

I then introduced the big question; one which was beyond the scope of a single lesson, but which was definitely at the Extended Abstract level. “Given the same circumstances, would Charles 1 have been executed in 2012?” I worked as quickly as I could through a presentation, (which will forever not be known for its design beauty and I only had 35 minutes) outlining how students were going to get to answer this. The intention was to enable students to answer an easier question, “Why was Charles 1 executed in 1649?” and then a slightly more complex question, “Should Charles 1 have been executed in 1649?” We would be using SOLO as the marker for progression and specifically ideas from David Didau’s presentation and a slightly edited version of Tait Cole’s poster (I hope he doesn’t mind!). Once the explanation of SOLO was complete, I got students to mark on a sheet, various SOLO level descriptions, to see if they had understood. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had grasped the general idea of SOLO very well. (The statements are in the slideshare presentation.)

It was then time to move onto the lesson content. I handed out primary resource material on Charles 1’s trial and execution, one part from Russel Tarr’s brilliant Active History website and more from the High School for Girls in Gloucestershire. I thought that using the hexagons would suit the purpose, as opposed to using a HOTS describe map, or a define or classify map. Each hexagon was to have one fact on it; gleaned from the source material to answer, “Why was Charles 1 executed in 1649?” Students could also assign each hexagon as a reason as to why Charles should have been executed and a reason why he shouldn’t. I put students into pairs, anticipating that the strongest academics in the class could get ahead quicker in their discussions.  Not all students liked this, as some have strong friendship groups and were at first a little recalcitrant at having been split up. Each student might have been better off doing the activity on their own.

However, discussion was good and the pairs of students approached the activity differently. Some immediately started writing points down on the hexagons, others carefully underlined points on the resource material in order to gain an overall picture of the event first. I don’t think that one approach was better than the other, but I encouraged the boys to write down as they read.  Boys who were reluctant to commit pen to paper (David Didau refers to students being hesitant because they wanted to be right first) wrote as near to the edge of the hexagon as they could and were generally a little slower than others, the more enthusiastic made bold use of as many hexagons as they could get their hands on. Walking around and discussing points with the students, I felt that they were making keen progress.

We ran out of time in the end, but as a plenary, I asked the students what point they thought they had reached on the SOLO levels – most were confident that they had reached the Relational stage and I was pleased with this.  I also went through the hexagons I had created prior to the lesson and most of the students had noted down at least  8 of the facts I had. In a follow up lesson, we will continue with the work on Charles 1, I will more than likely get students to colour in the hexagons to reflect “should have” “shouldn’t have” been executed, and then put them together to write an essay. The resource material made reference to Charles not having the opportunity to speak in his own defence nor to have witnesses at his trial, to the fact that the charges against him were weak and that as the ruling monarch, legal process should have had a precedent to follow before such a firm sentence was given.  I have no doubt that most students will reach the Extended Abstract level by the time we finish this unit of work.