Criteria for Success – What are they & how do you use them?

Many of us have probably looked at some of our curricular objectives and thought, ‘What does that even mean?’ In class, even though we may put the objective into student-friendly language, our kids may be having the same experience. The information we are often missing is what The Skillful Teacher calls the ‘Criteria for Success.’

Your class objectives are only a goal if students can envision it.

Criteria for success let the students know what the objectives mean, what it will look like if they’re successful in meeting the objective.

Once they know what success looks like, they can evaluate their own progress as they work and know if they’re moving in the right direction versus simply following your directions and waiting for you to tell them if they’re right or not.

When we create our criteria, we are answering the questions:

  • What should we look for in examining students’ products or performance to know if they were successful?
  • What attributes should we use to judge the effectiveness of the product or performance?  What counts?

If our objective is ‘Explain the water cycle,’ for example, our criteria for success might be:

  • Student explanations include the terms evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and runoff.
  • In the explanation, students include enough description that it’s clear they know what each of the key terms means.
  • Student explanations are written in complete sentences and in their own words.

If your objective is more rigorous, you might include student behaviors in your criteria. For example, if students are solving complex problems and you want them to rely on grit and team work during their work, your criteria for success might include :

  • Students are trying multiple methods to solve the problem and are probably experiencing failure repeatedly.
  • When faced with failure, students are discussing what went wrong with peers in order to determine another approach to the problem

For more on incorporating this into rigorous lessons, click here.

Once you have your criteria for success articulated, you need to communicate it to your students.

To communicate your criteria for success to students you can:

Tell them. For less rigorous lesson objectives like the water cycle example above, it might be easiest to just tell students at the beginning of class what they’ll need to do to be successful so they can envision it and plan for it throughout the lesson.

Show them. You might perform a short demo for students or show exemplar models of mastery in order to give students a clear picture of what success on their product or performance looks like.

Let students discover them. If you use the ‘show them’ method, try leaving out the explanation of what makes the model successful and have the students share what attributes made it successful. This can be particularly powerful in a writing lesson. Students might also identify the ‘gritty’ behaviors or examples of team work displayed in a demo to add to the criteria for success.

Use a rubric. A rubric can be particularly helpful in sharing your criteria for success and can be incorporated into any of the previous three approaches. It’s important to note, though, that the rubric by itself is not the criteria for success. Students need to deeply understand the rubric through your explanations or by using it themselves to evaluate examples.

So what are you teaching tomorrow? Pull out that lesson plan and make sure you’re not only telling students what the objective is but allowing them to envision their success on the task with clear criteria!  

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