If you’re a practitioner of formative instructional practice, or formative assessment, then you know that one of the foundations of smart practice is establishing success criteria in the classroom. Students must understand what they are expected to learn before they can take responsibility for their own learning. In many instances, students have misconceptions about what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how they will know they learned it (which relates to what quality work looks like). As teachers, we have different ideas about both learning targets and success criteria. We sometimes struggle as we write learning targets to get clarity on what is content, context, or activity. Some of that holds true with success criteria, as well.
In many of her books, Shirley Clarke gives examples of success criteria, which for me personally can take as much time to write as the learning targets. One of the clarifiers Clarke’s work provides for me is that there can be both product and process success criteria. As teachers we are generally pretty good at providing product success criteria (although we may not explicitly label it as such). As for the process success criteria… Think about what gets said at the end of the lesson or the beginning of the activity – there are a lot of verbal instructions that some students get, some get part of, and others get muddled.
According to Clarke, defining process success criteria for students helps them do these six things:
- Ensure appropriate focus
- Provide opportunity to clarify their understanding
- Identify success for themselves
- Begin to identify where the difficulties lie
- Discuss how they will improve
- Monitor their own progress
Clarke also tells us that to have the maximum impact, success criteria:
- Need to be known and shared
- Should be the same for all learners (differentiation happens with the activity, rather than the success criteria)
- Can be used across the curriculum
- Need to be referred to constantly by students
When students are allowed to answer the question “How will we know?” and when they understand the learning behind the learning target, they are developing their own success criteria. This enables students to better understand what teachers expect them to know, understand, or be able to do, as well as what constitutes a proficient performance. This allows students to support each other and take responsibility for their own learning by helping them accurately and appropriately evaluate learning against shared expectations and make any necessary adjustments to the learning. Students become activated as learners.