Exploring Criteria for Success

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This past week I’ve been observing how students reflect on their learning. This observation originated from a brief conversation that I had with an administrator about the need for students to be aware of the mastery learning objective. Depending on the lesson, I feel like being aware of the goal upfront is important as students have an understanding of what’s expected. Although posting an objective brings awareness and is easy to check-off during a class walkthrough, it doesn’t necessarily impact student learning.  At the most, posting the objective may direct students to informally question the connections that they’re making in relation to the goal. To ensure that students are making a personal connection to the goal I believe they need to have ample opportunities to reflect on progress made towards the goal.

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That reflection process becomes important as students start to recognize their own growth over time. This year I’ve been giving students time to review assessment results and compare their results to specific math standards. In the past students have used math journals and a reflection sheet to document their progress. At this time of the year students are using it every 2-3 weeks and it’s a bit sporadic. I’m trying to become more consistent with giving students time to compare their academic progress to the expected goal. In general, I want students to become more capable of self-assessing their own progress. I believe moving towards a criteria for success model may help.

criteriapicI first heard of criteria for success during a Skillful Teacher class that I took awhile back.  This past year I’ve been experimenting with using it more frequently.  I’ve been finding that the criteria for success communicates what meeting the standard looks like. It also tells students if the product that they created is good enough to meet the standard. I think of it has an expectation gauge. If students can recognize that they’ve met the criteria for success then they’re meeting the minimum expectation for that particular assignment. Josh Hattie has been quoted as saying a visual learning school is “when kids know what success looks like before they start.” See Hattie’s video here for a more in-depth dialogue on his view on criteria for success. My first thought of criteria for success revolves around the idea of rubrics. But it doesn’t end there. A decent rubric can tell students if they’ve produced work that has met the standard. Personally, I feel like a rubric can’t be used for all assignments and projects. A criteria for success can also take the form of a checklist or list that describes the qualities of a proficient project.

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Should the criteria for success be used for every lesson? Right now I’m tackling this question. I’m wrestling with it because students complete so many activities and assignments that narrowing it down to just one a seems unmanageable. Also, sometimes students work on projects that last a couple of days. In those cases, does the criteria for success stay the same and do students periodically revisit it accordingly?

I’ve been using criteria for success checklists over the past few days and am analyzing the results. I’m finding that students are intentionally reflecting on whether they’re meeting the posted objectives. Students that analyze their own performance have opportunities to also set goals and move forward. I see potential in using this model as students become aware of their own performance level compared to the standard.

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Posting Daily Objectives

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I’ve been in schools that have highly encouraged teachers to post daily objectives. The topic of posting visible daily objectives has been controversial over the years. I’ve been in many teacher lounges and staff meetings where this topic has been at the forefront.  Social media has also taken aim at the issue.

Lately, the idea of students understanding the daily objective has been highly emphasized in my district.  It seems to also play a role in what administrators are looking for when they drop into the classrooms. This year administrators and teachers are walking through classrooms with a checklist to collect data. One of the items on the list relates to whether the classroom objectives are posted. If so, do students understand the objective and how it applies to their learning?  These are heavy, but quality questions for elementary students to answer.  The data collected will eventually be shared with administration and teachers in order to improve practices.

I believe that students need to have an understanding of the goal for the class. Having an understanding of the expectation is important and can give students a potential goal to keep in mind throughout the class. Also, students should have an idea of what’s expected (criteria for success) to show that they’ve personally met the objective. What I’m finding though, is that how the objective and criteria for success is communicated matters.  Moreover, how students internalize the objective can play an important role in how students perceive the instruction and make connections.

So how are teachers communicating the objectives to students? I’ve observed some classes where the objective is neatly written on the board next to the daily schedule. Students can recite it after quickly swiveling their head towards the board. But does that truly mean that they understand the objective? I would say not in all cases. Teachers are also using “I can” statements to communicate goals.

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Some schools require or highly recommend that teachers use the “students will be able to …” (SWBAT) method. After writing SWBAT on the board the teacher places the objective in the correct place. This standardized approach might be an easy way to ensure that the objectives are posted, but again, I go back to wondering if this impacts learning and is internalized by students. Other teachers are transforming their objectives into kid-friendly language. They’re using verbs that might invoke more student curiosity or interest. Students will “investigate” “wonder” “explore” _____ skill. In addition, teachers are giving students a picture of how the goal will be achieved. In other words, teachers are showing one way in which students will show how they’ll achieve the objective.

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It’s clear that communicating the objective is important. How that’s communicated matters, but it may look different depending the teacher, school, or students.  What are your thoughts?


Links to consider:

ASCD – Know where your students are going

Grant Wiggins and his take on posting objectives