Collaboratively Developing Students’ Understanding of Success Criteria: A Dynamic, Ongoing Process (Part 4)

[Students’] input on what constitutes success provides the teacher with feedback about how students are viewing their progress and what they believe they will need to get there.  (Hattie, Fisher, Frey, 2017)

Welcome back to the series Collaboratively Developing Students’ Understanding of Success Criteria. Refer back to Part 1 – Introduction, Part 2 – Modelling Criteria and Part 3 –  Using Sample to Uncover Criteria to set the context. This fourth and last post in the series suggests a general, facilitated process where students act as resources to each other by revealing their background knowledge and previous experiences. As a learning community, students uncover possible success criteria, giving an educator the opportunity to listen deeply, assessing what students already know and understand (ie. assessment for learning). 

A Dynamic, Ongoing Process for Collaboratively Developing Students’ Understanding of Criteria

Strengthening the understanding of the criteria comes throughout the learning cycle. This process is effective for young children as well older students and adults. Whether you are working in a classroom with 30 students or a room of 100 adults, the process remains the same:  

  • Activate prior knowledge: Ask students (or participants engaging in professional learning) to visualize in their mind a process or product they have encountered in the past related to the learning goal. It could be about writing an effective lab report, creating a powerful presentation, solving a problem, constructing a model or working as an interdependent team member. Visualize ‘what a successful…..looks like and sounds like?’
  • Reveal thinking: Ask individuals to consider, ‘What is important about…?’  Have students write their ideas on individual sticky notes or slips of paper or enter individual ideas using a digital collaborative space (eg. Padlet, Mindomo).
  • Group Ideas: Working in small groups, have students review and clarify each member’s ideas, grouping like ideas together. (Hint: Give each member of the group a different coloured marker.)
  • Name: Have participants name or label each grouping.
  • Calibrate: For consistency, or to generate additional ideas, mix and mingle students between groups to review the grouping and naming of ideas.
  • Consolidate: Lead a consolidation phase where ideas are discussed as a whole group. Ask clarifying questions to make sure students understand the criteria and how each criterion is related to the learning goal. Ask probing questions to uncover additional success criteria that students may not have thought about. It’s important to refer back to the success criteria you had initially anticipated.
  • Revisit, add, refine: Students should think of the list as a working document. Throughout the learning, protect time to revisit the criteria and reflect back on connections made to the learning goal. Use modelling or student samples to add and revise as needed.

Important considerations:

  • Organizing Success Criteria: The power of this dynamic process lies in the constructivist approach. Student own the success criteria because they are part of the process of compiling and constructing the criteria as the educator acts as activator and facilitator. Consider a proactive and intentional move to support monitoring by calling attention to the possible grouping of success criteria under the headings of the Achievement Chart*. This will help to categorize the success criteria even further while simplifying documentation. (Coming Soon: Monitoring Learning using Learning Goals and Success Criteria)
  • Sharing and Displaying Learning Goals and Success Criteria: How might you ensure that all students, depending on their needs, have access to both the learning goals and success criteria? Will you post chart papers; print out individual copies for some or all students; provide audio files or visual images to help students access success criteria? How might you leverage technology to organize ongoing pieces of student work as students reflect on their progress based on learning goals and success criteria?
  • Getting the Timing Right: Many educators report being frustrated when they try the process of co-construction because they think that all the criteria must be developed with students in one lesson. A more effective approach is to build the criteria with your students over time. Insisting on learners focussing their attention on unfamiliar criteria for 40 minutes is unreasonable and ineffective. Rather, spend small chunks of time over a few days (perhaps, over a few weeks) developing and documenting the criteria as appropriate opportunities arise. Frequently referring back to the learning goal(s) and uncovering success criteria supports making connections and deepens students’ understanding.

View the process of Collaboratively Developing Students’ Understanding:

Assessment for Learning for Young Learners Segment 4

Learning Goals and Success Criteria Library:  (Jun., Int., Sec. examples) 

Segment 4: Developing Success Criteria 

Segment 5: Helping Students Understand Criteria 

Segment 6: Co-constructing Success Criteria

For administrators:  How might you collaboratively develop educators’ understanding of what success might ‘look like, sound like and feel like’ related to one aspect of your school improvement plan?

How might you support educators as they continue to learn more about the process of collaboratively developing students’ understanding using learning goals and success criteria?

running-297154_1280One last thought – and a call to action! The intentional process of devoting time to sharing a learning goal, then exploring meaning by identifying and clarifying what success looks like is considered a worthwhile investment of time. Slowing down to the speed of learning actually speeds up learning! Talk to a colleague about this assertion.

Discuss at least one idea suggested in this series of posts related to collaboratively developing students’ understanding of success criteria. Challenge yourself to try a strategy or talk about one small change you would implement to support your students in your context. Let us know how it goes!

Hattie, J., Fisher, D. Frey, N., Gojak, L., Delano Moore, S., Mellman, W. (2017). Visible Learning for Mathematics, Grades K-12: What Works Best to Optimize Student Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

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

Ontario Ministry of Education. Video Series: Learning Goals and Success Criteria Library. Segment 4: Developing Success Criteria; Segment 5: Helping Students Understand Criteria; Segment 6: Co-constructing Success Criteria Downloaded September 18, 2018.

*The achievement chart is a framework within which teachers “assess and evaluate student achievement of the expectations…It enables teachers to make consistent judgements about the quality of student learning based on clear performance standards and on a body of evidence collected over time.” (Growing Success, 2010, p. 16)


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