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Learning Intentions and Success Criteria: What could they look like?

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

There is a lot of research out there about learning intentions and success criteria. Lyn D. Sharratt’s work in Putting Faces on the Data (2012) and Clarity: What Matters MOST in Learning, Teaching, and Leading (2018)

has been an outstanding guide when it comes to learning intentions and success criteria, as well as data walls. She explains that learning intentions tell children what they are learning and why they are learning it, while success criteria gives them the way to achieve their learning. Success criteria can be become a useful and meaningful self-assessment tool, even in early childhood.

But what do learning intentions and success criteria look like in each stage of learning?

Early Childhood

In early learning centres and preschools, learning is based on children’s interests and is often individualised. This makes learning intentions and success criteria very tricky to manage if written for each individual child and their interest or developmental goal. At this age the learning intention may be “I am learning to recognise my name” and the success criteria may be “I can read my name, I can find my name on the bag rack, I can find my name in a group of names”. In early childhood settings, where children are not able to read, having learning intentions and success criteria written on a board is meaningless. But having visual goals and choosing one main area of the child’s development to focus on, can be very successful. In the image below, I created a chart that can be modified for each learning goal or intention, for each child. When the child has achieved the steps or success criteria they get a star token. When they have completed this the chart can be adjusted for a new intention or goal. The photograph allows staff to know who the goal belongs to and children know which goal is theirs. The visual learning intention may not be able to be read by the child, but can be verbally communicated by the adult. The three success criteria are visual and children are able to identify what they need to do to be successful.

Lower Primary: Early Stage 1 and Stage 1

Similar to early childhood settings, young children need visuals. However, in schools there is often a common language that is required for presenting learning intentions and success criteria to students or a specific formula for writing them. Without visuals, written learning intentions mean very little to children who are not able to read yet. Often in Kindergarten settings especially, they are written and displayed for the teacher, for leadership, or for outside visitors. However, the reasoning behind having them remains the same, and that is to communicate to children what they are learning and how they can achieve learning. Depending on the subject area and unit, learning intentions and success criteria may be the same for the term or may change every few weeks. In lower primary, I like to have the same learning intention for the term where possible as I find, with shorter-term intentions, children begin to understand what they are learning and then it changes. This is not fair for them. While learning intentions and success criteria are displayed in my classroom, I continue to verbalise them with my students and use the visuals to assist them in knowing how to achieve the learning intentions. In the image below, it shows the learning intention and success criteria for our social emotional learning this term in Kindergarten. We are learning to be like Rosie Resilience (You Can Do It program) and to achieve this we can name and recognise our feelings and use strategies to be calm when situations are challenging or when bad stuff happens.

Other ways of presenting learning intentions and success criteria to lower primary students is through the use of simple bump it up walls or rating systems. Below I have used visuals and smiley faces to teach children how to colour correctly, as well as a bump it up wall to teach children how to write a sentence. Stamps and mini checklists have also been very helpful, particularly during conferencing with a child, providing feedback to them about how they are going and what they need to do to achieve their goal or the learning intention.

Upper Primary: Stage 2 and Stage 3

Of course, learning intentions and success criteria look very different in upper primary. Most of the time, the teacher can present the general topic or learning intention and the students are able to determine what their learning could look like and write the appropriate success criteria as a class. This gives them more ownership of their learning and accountability for their goals. Children in upper primary seem to be most successful when they understand the purpose of what they are learning and can apply it in contexts or ways that interest them. For example; the teacher presents students with “this term we are learning about how to use poetic devices in writing”. The teacher can then facilitate discussion about poetic devices and students can refine the learning intention with more detail or an end product that interests them (performance, spoken poem, song, written poem...) and can then begin to list success criteria outlining how they will be successful (I can explain poetic devices, I can analyse poetic devices in texts, I can use poetic devices in my writing…).

In regards to displaying learning intentions and success criteria in upper primary classrooms, often they are written on a whiteboard or written on butcher’s paper and plastered on every wall. If your classroom is strapped for space, try displaying the learning intention and success criteria on the screen throughout the lesson, or provide a copy for each student to glue into their workbooks. If students are using their own device, they can be sent to each student as a notification or digital presentation at the beginning of the week or lesson.

Please leave a comment if you have used one of these ideas in your own classrooms or leave suggestions about things you’ve found successful that are not above.

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