Everyday Outstanding – The Take Away – S.O.L.E, or: Student Organised Learning Environments – #5 – @FarinaAckerman

What is your Take Away?

S.O.L.E, or: Student Organised Learning Environments.

What is it?

Handing over control to the students! Eek!

In a nutshell: Ask a relevant, yet open question and allow the class to go forth and discover, in any way they choose. Yep – that’s right – any way they choose.

Why do you need it?

“The most effective way to improve progress is through “acceleration.”

To achieve it students need: persistence, concentration, and deliberate practice…” 

(HATTIE, 2012)

SOLE has been used in many contexts and countries in order to meet Dr. John Hattie’s conditions for accelerated progress.

International research* has proven this model is effective and is beneficial to young people in many other ways. Several schools are making it work in UK classrooms.

The pioneer of the technique (Sugata Mitra) explains SOLE in this very short video (recommended):


The concept of handing control of a lesson over to students is a little daunting, but massively satisfying when it works. I hope, after reading this blog, you’ll give it a try and comment below.

Here’s why I tried it:

As a teacher I have only one brain, and only one (caffeine –addled) head to keep it in. More than this, I have a very specific outlook, and unique range of experiences. A “taught” lesson, albeit with “independent” elements, will often be restricted by my previous knowledge and understanding. Unwittingly, I may end up restricting my students’ progress through the very process of planning lessons.

When the learning journey and conclusions are generated by students (questions, discussion, presentations, essays), we are likely to achieve a diverse set of outcomes that could not have always been predicted by the teacher. Not only this, but learning through SOLE tends to be deeper and more exploratory. The result (eventually) should be that students knock through the ceilings on their target grades.

Once familiar with the process, students should naturally seek a high level of challenge. When they feedback their discoveries (and if you model good questioning) they will take class discussion to a higher level. When they’re ready, you can use advanced, yet simple feedback methods e.g the socratic circle.

By trusting them (and training them) the students should feel empowered to work independently in any setting or context.

The international review found that this methodology, when used well, leads to the following rewards:

  •  improved academic performance.
  •  increased motivation and confidence.
  • “natural” peer-teaching becomes emergent.
  • greater student ability to manage their own feelings (esp with “delayed gratification”).
  • enabled teachers to focus on Teaching and Learning rather than organisation/behavour.
  • fostered social inclusion by countering alienation. “Students in self-regulated learning environments are more motivated to learn, report more enjoyment of the material and are more actively involved in their learning…”Setting up a SOLE takes some pre-planning. I made a list of barriers (off-task behaviour, IT access, technological failure) and solutions (re-clarify effort and behaviour expectations, booked some library space, asked students to use the environment to create “paper presentations” so IT was not relied upon in isolation).https://vimeo.com/87480177
  • Here are the rules:
  • This very short video should be reassuring (a teacher from George Stephenson High explains how she runs her SOLEs):
  • What is your solution?

Ask students an open question and let them decide how they will answer it.

Minimise teacher talk.

Provide students with checklists (to aid self-regulation). After a while, this process should become internalized.

Refuse to help.

Write clear instruction slips (if the class needs them).

Teach failure/managing own feelings as part of the feedback process.


Want to go further? Allow the students to choose their own groups and their own question.

Taken from: Classroom practice – Teach students to set themselves free

TES magazine, 28 February, 2014 | By Mike Gershon



Before the day of the SOLE, think carefully about the question you would like to ask. Also think about the Success Criteria – can you link the subject-knowledge and skills, to the question. How much detail do they need? An example I used is pasted below. The question is in red.

Everyday Outstanding Takeaway

Questions could include this sort of thing:

“Was Pythagoras the greatest mathematician who ever lived?”

“How far do you agree with the statement that Hollywood Action films are ‘Art’?”

Please add your question ideas in the comments section.

You may want to book a library space or an IT room.

I found it was easiest to ask for a “paper presentation” to save on technological faff-time. Each student had a different coloured pen and a large piece of sugar paper. This meant I could see their contribution clearly and that they had to rely on their abilities 

Outcomes and Evaluation

Students need some guidance on how to organise themselves at first. Some groups will take more easily to this method than others, while some individuals (particularly those with low-self-esteem who like to “passenger” by letting others work for them) may need motivation/rewards/sanctions in place until all are participating equally.

The real, unexpected, challenge for me was when trying not to offer help or “micro-manage” my students. I had to force myself to circulate – ask the odd question but not direct their learning in any way. It was excruciatingly difficult to break this habit of “interfering”, however temporarily.

As is the case with the teachers who use this method successfully, the trick is in asking the right question, and organising the follow up sessions, so that they allow for development of ideas plus higher-order thinking.

What is your Twitter name and handle if you have one?

Please feel free to contact me through @FarinaAckerman on Twitter.

Recommended reading

* What is independent learning and what are the benefits for students? Author(s): Bill Meyer, Naomi Haywood, Darshan Sachdev and Sally Faraday. Publisher:  London: Department for Children, Schools and Families Research Report 051, 2008

Watch this for inspiration:

Where it all began (Sugata Mitra’s TedTalk on his very first SOLE experiments).



Dweck, C (2007) Mindset: the new psychology of success (Ballantine Books).

Gershon, M (2014) Classroom practice – Teach students to set themselves free (TES Magazine).

Pintrich, PR (2000) “Multiple goals, multiple pathways: the role of goal orientation in learning and achievement”, Journal of Educational Psychology, 92: 544-555.

Pintrich, PR, Schunk, DH and Meece, JR (2002) Motivation in education: theory, research, and applications (Pearson).

Zimmerman, BJ (2002) “Becoming a self-regulated learner: an overview”, Theory into Practice


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