My Experience with SOLE

I’m going to be very honest--if anyone other than Jeff McClellan had presented about SOLE the first time I saw it, I would have never tried it.

Working in a CMSD Innovation school, I felt like we got a training every other week about some incredible educational program that was going to revolutionize our classroom. I had tried a few when I was a fresh-faced first year teacher, and quickly realized most of them were terrible-- a waste of time and energy, draining class time away that I could never recoup. Plus I was a Teach for America member, and so I was already inundated with teaching methods and programs to help me be a more effective, more innovative educator, and adding any more to the list just seemed like effort that I wasn’t willing to expend. I was, like most teachers, almost perpetually exhausted, and not very open to new things with very little guarantee.

But Jeff was our former head of school, and our current one, Feowyn (Fe) MacKinnon Marshment, seemed on board with the program too. Neither had ever led me astray when it came to my classroom, and, unlike most other programs, it was only a one day commitment. So I figured I’d try it, and if I hated it then I’d only lost one day. Plus, Fe had always been very supportive of anything I wanted to try out in the school, so it only seemed fair that I try out a program she was excited about.

My first SOLE wasn’t great. My question wasn’t the most exciting, and I mismanaged my time, so presentations were rushed. I wasn’t exactly thrilled, but I wanted to give the program a fair shot, since most of the problems were my own fault the first time around. The second time, I asked for feedback on the question from both Fe and students, and together we came up with one I was pretty excited about. One week later, I tried SOLE again.

They weren’t the best presentations that my class had ever prepared. But students were excited, and everyone was actively engaged in the process. Students who often refused to present got up and shared their information, and a lot of them had really interesting insights that I hadn’t even thought about. The room was a little hectic, but I saw the value that SOLE could add to my class.

So I started using SOLEs once a week-- SOLE Friday, or SOLE Monday typically. Like most things, students got better at them the more they did them, and I was continually impressed with the work they did. Not every SOLE was amazing (I’d challenge anything that works perfectly every single time, especially when kids are involved), but at the end of a lackluster one we’d discuss as a class what went wrong that week. After a quarter of using SOLEs weekly, I was amazed at the difference in my class.

Presentation skills were incredibly improved. Non-reliable sources were almost never used, as students were quick to call each other out if they tried to use something questionable. Students were working well in groups, without one person taking over completely. Plus, they were making deeper connections organically, and continually thinking about them when they were in my class--the argument on whether WWI could have been prevented (a SOLE Monday question) lasted for over a week, in side conversations, in the halls, popping up again in my classroom.

I saw pretty quickly how well it worked in a humanities class. But then I saw how a colleague was using it with great success in Biology. And how a friend was using it in another school to teach Kindergarten. I’ve yet to see a classroom, traditional or nontraditional, that didn’t benefit from the regular inclusion of SOLE.

So when I tell my teacher friends about it, or I give a training on SOLE, and I see people roll their eyes and sigh, I get it. I understand how overwhelmed teachers are. But the difference it made in my classroom, coupled with how little work the teacher has to put into planning, makes it one of the best programs I’ve ever used, and I want to encourage every teacher to give it a shot. There’s very little to lose, and a whole lot your classroom could gain. 

Erika Howard


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