Success Criteria -the Missing Link in the Learning Partnership?

Most of the teachers I work with, in schools all over Australia, have for some time included Learning Goals or Learning Intentions in their planning and use these with their students. Some teachers use WALT (What Are we Learning Today?) or simply begin with the phrase ‘Today I am learning to...’ In some learning spaces, the Learning Goal has a designated space on a whiteboard or noticeboard so that the students can refer to it as they work. If the learning community is further along on their journey, the teacher will make more explicit use of it – asking students to share how they’re going, having students set their own learning goals with support from the teacher and peers and making time for students to purposefully compare their learning against their learning goal and consider ‘where to next?’
What fewer learning communities are doing is breaking down the Learning Goal into chunks of skill and understanding, so that the students can step through the process in a much more explicit way. Success Criteria can provide highly effective ‘road maps’ for student learning as they unpack the Learning Goal in such a way that each skill or piece of knowledge required to fulfil it, is made clear to the student. Success Criteria are a series of ‘I can’ or ‘I am able to’ statements that allow the learner and the teacher to see how the learning of a new skill or concept breaks down from beginning to completion.

Success Criteria should form the backbone of our assessment because they allow the student to demonstrate their understanding according to very clear and specific indicators. This means a more efficient pathway from between learning and assessment for the teacher – the student is assessed against the Success Criteria that is appropriate for their point of need – and a clearer, shared understanding of what is required for success.

Some examples (at middle primary and middle secondary level):
Learning Goal: ‘To Understand how trees breathe’
Success Criteria:
• I can describe how trees breathe
• I can show how trees breathe in a drawing or diagram
• I can share one interesting fact about how trees breathe

Learning Goal: ‘To compare democracy to dictatorship using a suitable graphic organiser.’
Success Criteria:
• The graphic organiser I have chosen fits my purpose
• I am able to explain democracy and dictatorship clearly
• I have generated at least five points of comparison’
• I have supported my comparison with a combination of reliable print and e-texts

Note how the Success Criteria is written in student-friendly language, which reflects the process of co-construction of the Criteria by the student and the teacher. Developing and using Success Criteria in this way also empowers the student and they work using indicators that make sense to them, towards a Learning Goal that they have genuinely processed at a meta-cognitive level. In every school I have worked in, teachers and students who have embedded Learning goals AND Success Criteria into their routine experience higher engagement, a strong sense of empowerment and have helped create the opportunity for each student to experience success, through using a learning roadmap that is appropriate to them.

For more on using Learning goals and Success Criteria as discussed by Visible Learning guru, Professor John Hattie, read his latest book ‘Visible Learning for Teachers’ and sign up for our term 3 Visible Learning Workshops – dynamic, informative and highly practical sessions designed with real teachers in mind!

Cathryn Stephens

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