Why use Success Criteria?

Utilise this powerful tool to support student learning and motivation in your classroom

31 July, 2022

“Because we have to.”

Please don’t tell me that’s your answer.

“So the kids know how they can achieve the Learning Intention...”

That’s a good start. Why else?

“And take ownership of their learning. Self-motivated and all that stuff.”

You sound unconvinced.

As teachers, we often feel like ideas, methods, pedagogical practices and approaches are thrown at us left, right and centre with the expectation that we will implement them all. But in reality, we end up trying new things once or twice and then carrying on with the way we’ve always taught.

Most teachers already use success criteria in their classrooms in one form or another either because they believe in them or because they think it’s something they should do.

If you’re in the latter camp, I’d like to challenge you to take another look into success criteria and actually use them because you want to.

Blog: Why use success criteria

First thing’s first, let’s clarify:

What are success criteria?

Success criteria are a set of criteria we can use to measure whether students have met a specific Learning Intention (LI).

They are often written in child-speak language in the form of ‘I can’ statements and cover the key skills, knowledge and understandings students need to demonstrate to achieve the LI.

How do we use success criteria?

Used effectively, success criteria are referred to at all stages of a lesson; the beginning, middle and end.

They may be prepared in advance by the teacher then shared with students or, even better, co-constructed with the students during the lesson. In this case, materials such as finished products or exemplars may be provided as an example of what success looks like and the teacher along with the students construct a set of criteria based on this.

Why should we use success criteria?

There are huge benefits to using success criteria in your classroom.

Success criteria...

  • create a clear focus to support purposeful learning

  • effectively scaffold students by breaking down the LI into actionable, measurable steps

  • actively engage students in the process of learning

  • provide grounds for relevant and actionable feedback

  • increase student motivation

🔎 Clear focus

Success criteria create a clear focus to support purposeful learning

When both the teacher and the students know what they are trying to achieve in a lesson, they are immediately going to be in a stronger position to get there.

When this end point ‘destination’ is not known by the student, they are essentially going through your lesson blind, waiting for you to guide them (or waiting to get told off for not doing what they’re supposed to be doing).

As a teacher, you need to know what the steps to success are and focus on helping your students hit each of these during your lesson. When your intent is clear and method at the forefront of your mind, you are going to be set to teach with purpose.

🏗️ Effective scaffolding

Success criteria effectively scaffold students by breaking down the LI into actionable, measurable steps

By breaking the often broad Learning Intention (LI) into actionable steps, we make the learning more manageable for students. Success criteria are specific to a task so we include tangible actions which students can use to move their learning forward or demonstrate their acquisition of new knowledge, skills or understandings.

Using child-speak language and ‘I can’ statements deliberately makes the learning process accessible to our students. When success criteria make sense to our students, sound achievable and are easy to follow, we are providing an effective scaffold for successful learning.

🧒 Student engagement

Success criteria actively engage students in the process of learning

Us educators talk a lot about developing students who are self-managing, self-motivated, self-regulating, can self-assess, self-whatever - you name it - but do we actually set them up to develop these skills and attitudes?

Independence only comes when students take ownership of their actions. When it comes to learning, that’s through knowing how to bridge the gap between what they currently know and what they need to know.

Actively using success criteria means that students are engaged in the process of self-assessment. Used effectively, students themselves will be able to identify when they have achieved success, rather than passively relying on the external approval of a teacher.

If students know that they are in the driver’s seat for extending their own learning and they experience success doing this, they are much more likely to adopt a lifelong learner mindset.

🗣️ Feedback

Success criteria provide grounds for relevant and actionable feedback

Hands up who has done this before: A student has brought you a piece of writing where they’ve tried their best to do what you asked them to do during the lesson, yet the first thing that comes out of your mouth is “Ooh remember your capital letters. What needs to go here? That’s right, a full stop!”. Feedback unrelated to what you taught.

By getting clear on what we’re looking for each lesson, we are better positioned to give relevant and timely formative feedback. Our success criteria are our ready-to-go reference for evaluating students’ work against.

Students who always struggle to think of peer feedback can use the lesson success criteria as a framework for their responses. Better still, the student receiving feedback will be more receptive to feedback that they know is related to their success in the task at hand.

💪 Motivation

Success criteria increase student motivation

Presenting success criteria in formats such as a tick box can be particularly motivational for students who like a bit of healthy competition. I know the term ‘tick box’ probably sends all kinds of red flag signals in your brain, however it is a strong visual motivational tool you can utilise and if it makes your students try harder, that’s surely better than the opposite.

But it’s not just extrinsic motivation at play here. When students can see the path to success and believe that they can get there, they are infinitely more likely to try. Learning is hard but achieving a challenge within their reach is what’s going to fill them with that glowing feeling of success and motivate them intrinsically time and time again.

Summing up

At the end of the day, what is it that we want for our students? For them to learn while they’re in our care and for them to continue to learn and grow once they move on.

Being deliberate in our approach to teaching and bringing the learning to our students in easily digestible chunks is going to bring us that much closer to getting the outcome we want.

Let’s bridge the gap between where our students are and where they need to be. And include our students in the process of building that bridge.

Be purposeful teachers
Who are in control
Feel inspired
And know they’ve done enough.

Biography writing success criteria

Descriptive writing success criteria

Non-chronological report writing success criteria