Collaboratively Developing Students’ Understanding of Success Criteria: Modelling Criteria (Part 2)

Students need to interact with the criteria in a variety of ways. In fact, the more students interact with the criteria, the more they are able to internalize look-fors and apply them when assessing the quality of their work or performance. (Nicol, Macfarlane-Dick, 2006)

Welcome back to this series of posts related to Collaboratively Developing Students’ Understanding of Success Criteria. The first introductory post (Part 1)  highlighted the importance of success criteria as a way to describe and calibrate what quality work looks like and sounds like, enabling students to visualize progress towards achieving the learning goals.

How might educators foster understanding of success criteria? Read on to consider the effectiveness of simply providing students with the criteria compared to a variety of ways for educators to model criteria.

Actions to consider when fostering students’ understanding of criteria

Providing Students with the Criteria

One way to begin the conversation with students is to simply ‘tell’ or give them the success criteria. This could be construed as an efficient strategy BUT it’s not effective. I know many of you have experienced frustration when picking up off the floor, or stuffed in desks, the elaborate checklist or rubric you spent hours designing. It was meant to save time but it ended up being a waste of time. Students simply did not understand nor care about a process that didn’t engage them.

Modelling Criteria

When deciding how to collaboratively develop success criteria with students, considerations such as grade level and familiarity with a skill or process come into play. Modelling, including a think aloud or a demonstration by the educator, accompanied by guiding questions may be a starting point for young children or when older students are seeing a new skill or concept for the first time. Through discussion, asking questions and documenting ideas, together the students respond to ‘What does success look like? Or ‘What is important about…?’

Last year, I witnessed kindergarten students developing success criteria for measuring using non-standard units. (Learning Goal: We are learning to measure.) The educator demonstrated both effective and ineffective ways to measure and then asked students,’What is important about measuring?’ Students were able to explain and document the success criteria using photos and symbols:

  • I can choose something to measure.
  • I can choose something to measure with (all the same unit).
  • I can start at the baseline and end at the top. (This is language agreed upon by students.)
  • I can make sure all the units are touching (no spaces or gaps).
  • I can measure without overlapping.
  • I know the bigger the object I use to measure, the smaller the count will be.

In early learning, the educator may focus on establishing one idea at a time, making sure each criterion develops a deeper understanding of the learning goal. Watch a grade 1 teacher model one criterion for the learning goal, “We are trying to communicate ideas and information orally.’  Assessment for Learning for Young Learners Segment 4

For older students, modelling in the form of an educator think aloud engages students in picking out important aspects of quality work. Students are directed to listen for ‘what’s important? what matters?’as the educator models giving an oral presentation or writing a persuasive letter step-by-step.

Recording ideas using sticky notes, white boards or appropriate apps, such as, Show Me, y chart 3 500Explain Everything or Mindomo, helps reveal both individual and group thinking. A ‘Y’ chart (Looks like/Sounds like/Feels like) is one tool that may be used to develop students’ understanding of a process. We have witnessed this strategy used to develop understanding about learning skills and work habits or the mathematical processes (e.g. problem solving, reasoning)

Stay tuned for the next posts in this series:

Part 3: Using Samples to Uncover Criteria

Part 4: A Dynamic, Ongoing Process

running-297154_1280One last thought – and a call to action! Educators make hundreds of assessment and instructional decisions every day. What is your thinking process when deciding to model criteria for students? Talk to a colleague about your intended purpose. Compare your intentional moves with some of the examples described in this post. Share your process with us!

Nicol, D., Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31 (2), 199-218.

Ontario Ministry of Education. Video: Assessment for Learning with Young Learners. Segment Four: Developing Success Criteria with Students. Downloaded September 18, 2018.


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