We are always learning…
I have been including success criteria in my books since the late 90s, after hearing Dorothy Grange, an assessment advisor from northeast England, advocate, with passion, their use. “How are they supposed to know what success looks like without them?” she reasoned, this truth resonating through the room.
So, we began with an end-point definition: “By the end you will have……” linked to the learning intention of the lesson. We also tried “What I’m looking for…”. These success criteria focused on the product or end result of the learning intention. See if you can see the problems with this approach:
Product Success Criteria:
L.I. To be able to multiply two digit numbers by single digits, using the column method
S.C. By the end you will have:
- At least 4 correct answers
- Used your table facts
- Lined up the columns
L.I. To be able to use effective adjectives; Context: Jungle description
S.C. What I’m looking for:
- You will have used at least 5 adjectives
- Your adjectives will describe the jungle
Yes, you’ve guessed it – the success criteria told the students how the teacher would assess their work, but gave them no help whatsoever in how to actually achieve the learning intention.
By the year 2001, teachers in the United Kingdom were using acronyms of ‘WALT’ (We are learning to) and WILF (What I’m looking for), often with characters for each, with speech bubbles. I believe this was a necessary prop for teachers at this point, who were coming to grips with the National Curriculum and expectations that learning intentions and success criteria should be given to children to ‘let them in on the secret.’
I ran an intervention evaluation project over two years with schools in Gillingham, Kent, in which 525 students in primary schools were interviewed, to see how the use of formative assessment was working. Teachers had been asked to use WALT and WILF to illustrate their learning intentions and success criteria. The results were illuminating and the impact far reaching. The acronyms and characters distracted students, more concerned with ‘pleasing the dog WALT’ than doing the learning for themselves! WILF was also seen by students as, quite rightly, ‘what the teacher wants us to do,’ rather than what the learner needed to do. The acronyms were dropped and the wording reconsidered. The most striking finding was that, of 128 teachers, about a third of them instinctively defined success criteria as ‘process steps or ingredients’ – what the students needed to do during the learning, not by the end. In these classes, achievement was significantly higher. Look at the difference in these success criteria, as compared to the ones above:
Process Success Criteria
L.I. To be able to multiply two digit numbers using the column method
S.C. Remember to…
- Estimate a ball park answer first
- Multiply in the units column first and carry any tens
- Then multiply the tens (don’t forget to add on the carried number)
- Check your answers
L.I. To be able to use effective adjectives. Context: Jungle description
S.C. Remember to…
- Make sure the adjectives come before a noun
- Use adjectives that tell the reader something they don’t know (don’t say wet water!)
- Use our adjective wall to help you
- Help the reader imagine what you are describing by using your senses
So now the students know the steps, or ingredients, to achieve the learning intention. It was also clear that only skills lent themselves to success criteria, as knowledge learning intentions ended up being just a list of facts. Once process success criteria for skills became the adopted norm nationally, through advice from the Department for Education who had read my report, success criteria started to have an impact on achievement and now has an effect size of .77 (with .4 as the mean).
That wasn’t the end of it, however. From 2002 onwards, our understanding of process success criteria deepened. They didn’t work the same for every subject, some were easy to create and others much harder and some worked for one lesson, but couldn’t be carried over to another lesson with the same learning intention, because the success criteria had been too bound to the context of the first lesson. Rather than simply giving them to students, we discovered that co-constructing the criteria via a range of efficient strategies led to students internalizing and remembering them, rather than the criteria becoming wallpaper.
The latest issue is: Where does knowledge fit in if process success criteria are only linked to skills?
There is no blanket approach for any learning intention, but, after 20 years of developing learning intentions and success criteria with thousands of teachers from all phases in my annual learning teams, I can summarize what we now know…
Skills and knowledge (or context) need to be separated to make the skill transferable
It is useful to separate the skill from the context, or the success criteria end up being contextualized (e.g. L.I. To create a poster about a holiday in Jamaica will lead to success criteria all about Jamaica, and won’t be able to be transferred next time the class is making posters). Instead, it’s better to separate them thus:
L.I. To create an effective poster
Context: Holiday in Jamaica
Rearranged this way, it means the success criteria can now be focused around what makes an effective poster. So, instead of success criteria such as ‘Use the colors of the Jamaican flag’ and ‘include information about the resort,’ etc., we can now co-construct criteria for an effective poster by perhaps showing them a good one (any poster for any context) and a bad one and asking which is best. Follow this by asking pairs to come up with one feature of the good poster which makes it effective.
Within a few minutes the students will have come up with criteria like this:
- All the relevant information is there (e.g. date, time, place, price etc.)
- It is eye-catching (pictures, cartoons etc.)
- The font chosen is easily legible
- Contrasting colors have been used for the words (i.e. not yellow on white)
Now we have generic criteria that can be brought back on the screen/flipchart whenever a poster is to be created. There is another point here – students need to know that one generic skill can be applied to many different contexts, or they can sometimes believe that this skill is only relevant for this content!
Tools and rules
We quickly discovered that some learning intentions have compulsory success criteria (think grammar, punctuation, math procedures) which work with the tag ‘Remember to’ and are often chronological. By doing these correctly you can guarantee success, with no continuum of quality between students – using speech marks is either right or wrong:
L.I. To use speech marks
- Put speech marks before and after speech.
- Start each new person’s speech on a new line.
- Start speech with a capital letter, unless it follows a linking phrase (e.g. ‘What?’ she yelled, ‘is the meaning of this?’)
- Include any punctuation before the final inverted commas.
Most narrative writing criteria (e.g. a characterization, suspense writing etc.) has, by contrast, choice criteria, or a suggested toolkit of writing strategies. Making the elements compulsory results in contrived, formulaic writing so giving students a ‘toolkit’ from which to choose is more appropriate, as follows
L.I. To write a characterization
- Describe the face/hair/voice
- Describe the body
- Describe the clothes
- Use 3rd person
- Describe their actions
- Show their personality (likes, dislikes, attitudes to people, introvert, extrovert, sense of humor etc.)
Some teachers asterisk the criteria they specifically want students to include with the ‘choice’ criteria.
English is more nuanced, because, for narrative and nonfiction writing, even with the success criteria followed and obeyed, they alone can’t guarantee excellence. Take the characterization example, above. I could include these but my writing might still be weaker than another student’s. Teachers encourage students to also take notice of ‘What makes good writing’ success criteria (often a poster in the classroom) to help develop a sense of quality, such as ‘using similes, personification or adverbs and adjectives,’ but, in the end, these still don’t guarantee quality, only support. So we see English writing needing continual promotion of reading (because writing begins in reading) and the co-construction of success criteria via analysis of different excellent previous examples of writing. It is this whole class analysis of previous students’ examples of excellence (and often compared to poor examples) which gives students a real opportunity to develop a ‘nose for quality’.
One other thing about student narrative writing: never suggest that the only thing they will be assessed against are the criteria! I’ve seen so many pieces in the past, with green highlights (for good) against adjectives and similes, for instance, when the most spectacular aspect of a student’s writing has been ignored, such as some humor or a particular lyrical phrase, because it was not in the success criteria. I also overheard two boys, instructed to make some improvements to their writing, discussing how many similes they thought they should put in to make it better! The success criteria are there to provide a toolkit – but the main point of writing is the author’s intent and the impact on the reader. Beware killing creativity! We’ve been there and come out the other side…
The UK is going through a transformative move towards a knowledge-rich curriculum, influenced by the powerful findings of cognitive science. I am currently experimenting with raising the profile of knowledge alongside success criteria with my learning teams of teachers, who experiment and feedback three times a year. Knowledge has sometimes been marginalized in favor of the skill. We might co–construct criteria for an effective oral presentation, for instance, but not spend as much time on the content of the presentation. I’m trialling two columns as follows and await results.
Let’s take the poster example again:
|Skill L. I. (transferable)||Knowledge link for this lesson|
|To create an effective poster||Jamaica tourism|
Co–constructing the success criteria
Finally, I mentioned the importance of co–constructing the criteria. This should not be pulling teeth but a worthwhile activity, usually:
- comparing two contrasting examples (good and poor),
- analyzing two or more excellent examples and drawing out their features,
- analyzing what is missing or what has gone wrong in an example,
- demonstrating via the document camera the steps involved, and, great fun especially for younger students, is
- demonstrating how not to do something using the document camera (e.g. counting) so that the students correct you enthusiastically at each step.
Also go to www.shirleyclarke-education.org to see many excellent video clips of success criteria in the classroom.