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How to Co-Construct Success Criteria

how to co-construct success criteria

One of the common challenges teachers have when using bump-it-up walls and learning walls is knowing how to co-construct success criteria.

I used to write the success criteria for my walls prior to introducing a new assessment piece. This worked well until during one particular lesson when it became evident that my students were demonstrating skills that should have been on my learning wall, but weren’t because I hadn’t even thought of them!

Why is it Important to Co-construct Success Criteria?

Student achievement is fast-tracked when they have clarity about a learning task, they understand what is required and how to do it. Co-constructing success criteria helps your students to understand everything you require, and also gives you an opportunity to explain success criteria and deconstruct for understanding.

Sometimes students can look at a marking rubric as though it means nothing to them – they are unable to articulate exactly what they are meant to do. As teachers, we’ve explained the task, but not made sure students have understood the elements required.

Beyond understanding, there is also the opportunity for students to demonstrate prior knowledge and mastery.

I realized that because I had given students no input into the creation of the success criteria, I hadn’t given them an opportunity to truly demonstrate their abilities.

I had never given students input because I had never seen co-construction of success criteria modeled by another teacher, and I wasn’t sure that I would be able to lead my students to the success criteria I wanted them to find (another mistake). I really needed to have more faith in my students and in myself.

I knew that I had to bite the bullet and co-construct the success criteria – not only giving my students ownership of the learning process but also ensuring that I wasn’t limiting my students.

To simplify the process, I chose to co-construct all of the success criteria in one lesson, because we were already a few weeks into our unit.

At first, I was a bit worried about how this lesson would work, but it was a fantastic foundation for my students, and still, I use the same process now. I hope that you will find the following sequence useful!

How to Co-construct Success Criteria (Text-type example)

You will need:

  • A written Learning Intention – this may be taken directly from the marking guide/rubric and/or re-written in child-friendly language). For example, “We are learning to retell a fairy tale from a different perspective”. Your students may not know what ‘perspective’ means – this will need to be deconstructed.
  • A-level sample (previous student work/teacher written or sourced) Pre-qualify the sample to make sure it includes elements required.
  • Cards to write and display success criteria statements on
  • Learning/Working Wall with marking guide/rubric

Co-constructing Success Criteria Teaching Sequence

  1. Spend a few lessons immersing students in examples of the text type.
  2. Brainstorm as a whole class, What makes a good narrative*?  Write down as many success criteria as possible.
  3. Provide students with an A-level narrative sample – one copy each.  This could be from a past student or an example you have written or sourced yourself.
  4. Ask students, What makes THIS a good narrative? Students should read through, individually or in groups, highlighting the different elements that make it a good narrative. They can write notes and use highlighters/colour coding. 
  5. After reading, analyzing and taking notes, students use their notes to write ‘I Can’ success criteria statements on cards.
  6. As a whole class, read through each I Can statement and ‘think aloud’ with your students. Refin statements collaboratively.
  7. Carefully select the most precise I Can statements.
  8. If your marking guide is organised into headings such as Language features, Structure, Punctuation etc, organise students’ brainstormed ideas into these headings. Use colour-coding if you are going to continue to use it throughout the unit.
  9. Ask students if they think there is any success criteria missing.
  10. If students have missed any success criteria, teacher should ask leading questions.
  11. Is there any success criteria they don’t understand? How can we re-write so that everyone understands what it means?
  12. Organise the selected I Can success criteria statements on Learning Wall. Organise under headings and colour-code. Use string or ribbon to connect success criteria statements to marking guide and to examples on the Learning Wall.

You could also do this for just one element (introduction, climax) noting all Success criteria used; or you could introduce one at a time (e.g during a lesson on capital letters for proper nouns).

Knowing how to co-construct success criteria collaboratively, and using the process as a teaching and learning opportunity in your classroom, is one of the most effective ways to increase student and teacher clarity about learning expectations. Once created, students can refer back to the success criteria repeatedly during the unit of work and during the assessment, massively increasing their ability to achieve each criterion.

how to co-construct success criteria
Sorting student success criteria into useful categories.

What if I don’t Have Time to Co-construct Success Criteria?

Writing success criteria (and finding the classroom time to co-construct) is a serious time issue for teachers.

Here are some tips for when you don’t have time:

  • Find quality writing samples that have already been annotated with leveled success criteria.
  • Ensure success criteria are clearly linked to learning experiences .
  • Ensure each each success criteria is explicitly taught and referred back to during teaching.
  • Create a success criteria student checklist for them to refer back to regularly
  • Use success criteria in conjunction with bump it up walls and learning walls.