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March 5, 2021

Give Students the Lead with Learning Goals and Success Criteria

One of the hardest jobs we have as teachers is assessing student learning. One of the things that has really helped me and my students assess learning this year is the use of learning goals and success criteria.

This is not a new idea or technique, I’ve always used some sort of objective or learning goal in my lessons. However, this year I want my students to truly understand and own the goal. In most lessons, we take time to discuss the goal as a class before beginning a lesson. One question I tend to ask is, “what does that mean?” After discussing the goal, we move onto the success criteria, which help describe how we will know when we have met the learning goal. One of the most powerful ways to get my students to own the criteria is to have them develop the success criteria with my guidance.

For example, during this formative assessment lesson on effective collaborative discussions, I wanted my students to understand the success criteria of: 1) asking each other questions, and 2) adding on to what other students said.

Before we began the actual discussion, I had them work in small groups to answer several questions directly related to these criteria. The students wrote their individual thoughts about the questions on post it notes, and then shared and discussed their thoughts in small groups. Next, the groups narrowed down their responses to one common idea for each question and shared that with the class. Then, I used these ideas — their direct input — to develop the success criteria for the collaborative discussion. In the end, the students had a much better understanding of the success criteria and felt they were reachable because they had created them.

Sometimes, there is just not enough time to go through a process like this one. I know many teachers, like myself, are looking for ways to make it all work. Here are some quick ways to engage students in learning goals and success criteria:

  • Create a “sort” of examples and non-examples of success criteria for students to do as a class or in small groups.
  • Use turn and talks and have students explain to their partner what they think the success criteria should be — then discuss and decide as a whole class.
  • If providing the success criteria to students, use a fishbowl and have two students role play using the criteria correctly — discuss what makes it work.
  • As a whole class, create a chart of what the skill or learning goal will “look like” and “sound like” if using the success criteria correctly.
  • Present one or two unfinished success criteria and have students decide what is missing or what needs to be changed or added.

Since starting this in my own classroom, I’ve noticed my students becoming more comfortable in their own learning. They are saying things like, “I’m really good at _______, but I need to work more on _______.”  The learning goals and success criteria are truly shifting the ownership of learning. It’s amazing how honest and perceptive students can be!


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