Learning intentions & success criteria where are we going and how are we going to get there? - Mr T Beattie

Living in Dundee and having 3 small children, my wife and I are always on the lookout for interesting places to bring the kids for a fun day out. Two of our favourites are Cairney fruit farm and Scone Palace. There are many common denominators between the two attractions, my favourite common denominator would be the coffee shops, however, my kids favourite and the attraction that springs to mind when thinking about learning intentions and success criteria is the large maze at both locations.

Trying to get to the centre of the maze without a set of directions is very difficult. Trying to get out again can be even more difficult. Getting lost inside a maze is very annoying. I often cheat. I will attempt to take a picture of a map of the maze on my phone so I know which direction to go. Many mazes have steps or bridges so that you can sneak a look and see where you need to go. My kids might love it as something to do on a Saturday afternoon, but after awhile I can't deal with it, there isn't much that is more frustrating than being stuck in the middle of a maze, not knowing where it is I should be going, or indeed how to get to where I need to go.

Its the same in the car. Trying to get to a particular destination without sat-nav, looking at a map or having some idea of basic directions is just pointless. What is even more pointless is trying to arrive at a destination without knowing where or what that destination is...

...and meetings. Have you ever walked out of a meeting turned to a colleague and asked what the meeting was actually about? You maybe thought you had some idea beforehand, but upon exiting the room you were more confused than you were when you went in. Pointless.

Many would argue that teaching a lesson without a learning intention is not unlike the above examples. Facilitating a pupil as they journey through their learning can become very frustrating for them if they don't know where they are going and how they are going to get there. Having pupils in your class that are unsure about the intentions and outcomes of their learning, or indeed how to be successful in their learning, is, well, utterly pointless. As Shirley Clarke writes "If they (students) have not been told where they are going, it is unlikely that they will arrive".

What follows is some of the thoughts from our CLPL session on learning intentions and a little bit on success criteria during our most recent in-service day.

Learning Intentions

Often called different things, the learning intention (outcome, objective, WALT etc) is a statement or phrase given at the beginning of a lesson or series of lessons which describes clearly what the teacher would like the pupils to learn during that lesson or series of lessons. Learning intentions are shared by the teacher with the pupil and this can be done in a number of different ways. The learning intention can be shared by displaying it on the board at the front of the class, orally through discussion or on handouts that are used for that particular lesson. Or often, quite successfully by using a mixture of all the aforementioned.

What makes a good learning intention...

First, A quick question… At the beginning of a lesson is it more effective for a teacher to explain to the class that today they will be a) learning how to add 578 and 312 or b) learning how to add two different numbers? What would be the most appropriate learning intention? Hopefully the answer was the later. The learning intentions we use are far less useful if they specifically include the context of the learning. The most useful learning is that which the student can apply beyond the context of the immediate classroom they are in.

The diagrams below (from Wiliam & Leahy, Embedding Formative Assessment) show how to clarify a learning intention. Moving it beyond the context of the immediate learning. Doing this is invaluable in helping pupils apply the learning they do in our class across other curricular areas.

As outlined above, learning intentions are quite simply what we want our pupils to learn. So it makes sense that if we want a pupil to learn something then we should make it part of the learning intention. However, we can do this, as shown above by removing the context of the learning from the learning intention. There are a number of valuable reasons as to why you should do this. It helps you to plan the success criteria (which we will move on to), it ultimately helps the teacher in simply planning their lesson and it helps to give the pupil a sense of focus and clarity in their learning as well as making connections across learning more straightforward.

One question that pops up from time to time is 'Are learning intentions always needed'? My initial response would be, pretty much... Yes... You might be able to make a case that you don't know what the exact outcome of the lesson may be or that sharing the learning intention spoils the journey and you might be right.

What is of primary importance regarding learning intentions and whether they are always needed, is that we take time to reflect why you would choose to omit a learning intention from the learning that is about to take place. You may be able to justify it, however, it is quite difficult to make a case that the learners in front of us don't need to know where they are going.

Success Criteria

How do we know that we have been successful in our learning?

If the learning intention tells us where we need to go, the success criteria tells us how to get there.

For many, there are two main types of success criteria that we can consider - process based and product based success criteria. The diagram below explains each:

Below is an example of a learning intention and how you might develop the success criteria from that learning intention. The example comes from Shirley Clarke and is from an English lesson - it shows how both product based and process based success criteria could stem from a learning intention.

Learning intention: We are learning how to write an effective characterisation.

PRODUCT success criteria-

  • Someone who reads your characterisation will feel they really know the person.

PROCESS success criteria-

  • Remember to include at least two of the following; - The character’s hobbies and interest - the character’s attitudes to self and others - examples of the character’s extrovert or introvert personality - examples of the characters likes and dislikes
Some questions to consider regarding success criteria. Which type of Success criteria might you prefer to use in your classroom and why? Is there a case for using both? Does it depend on the learning and teaching taking place?

A little practical tip – It can be very beneficial to create the success criteria for the lesson with the pupil, this works particularly well with process based learning intentions.


Created with images by geralt - "hand draw labyrinth" • Maksym Kaharlytskyi - "São Roque" • ErikaWittlieb - "car trip road trip" • rawpixel - "untitled image"

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