Learning intentions and success criteria

Learning Intentions

In many English schools, it is quite common for teachers to begin the lesson with sharing the Learning Intention(s) (also commonly referred to as Learning Objectives) with students. Although wording may differ slightly, these tend to relate around the following three categories:

  • To know…

  • To understand… (sometimes "know how"…)

  • To be able to…

Writing learning intentions that are clear is hard, even for more experienced teachers, and Booth (2019; 2023) (based on Clarke’s (2005) work) provides some useful information for teachers to consider. 

First, teachers need to consider context surrounding the Learning Intention(s). For example, in an English lesson, a typical Learning Intention could be “To be able to write a letter to your local council to keep your local swimming pool open.” The context here would be “to your local council to keep your local swimming pool open”. This presents a problem because we are probably not that interested whether students can write a letter to their local council per se, but whether they can transfer that knowledge and understanding they have acquired into another, different, context like whether it is immoral to eat animals and birds, for example. As such, “To be able to write a letter” becomes our Learning Intention. This, too, is problematic; second, we now need to separate what students are going to do, with what they are going to learn by doing it. For example, the more focused Learning Intention “To be able to write a letter” is actually activity-focused not learning-focused. What is it students are going to learn by writing this letter in particular? Are they, for example, writing to argue or persuade? Are they learning about formal letter writing techniques or informal ones? When teachers become clearer in their own minds about these issues, then they can be clearer to their students as to what it is they are going to learn.

Success Criteria

Once teachers have shared what the intended journey is going to be, the next key aspect to consider (and share with the students) is what it is students need to do in order to get there

Clarke (2005; 2021) evaluates two types of Success Criteria: product and process. Product Success Criteria, merely tell students what the end product might look like. For example, in English, “the reader will be persuaded by your letter”, in music, “it will sound like a piece of Blues music, or, in Biology, “I can explain how cells and tissues in the body are adapted to increase the rate of diffusion.” These can be considered problematic when trying to communicate clearly what “success” looks like because learners are not likely to be sure on what exactly they need to do in order to persuade their readers, what exactly they need to do to compose in the Blues style, or what exactly how to write an effective explanation. 

The use of more Process Success Criteria, on the other hand, provides students with a step-by-step list of key ingredients that they need to do in order to “succeed” in the lesson’s activity/activities towards the Learning Intention(s)

For example, as Booth (2023: 427) exemplifies:

Learning Intention: “To be able to write persuasively”

Process Success Criteria: You need to: 

  • State your point of view

  • Give reasons for your points of view, with evidence

  • Give at least one alternative point of view

  • Use subjective language (personal feelings)

  • Use rhetorical questions

  • Summary

The important point is that by using process success criteria teachers are not simply just giving students the answer in order to complete the task(s). Instead, teachers are sharing and clarifying what students need to focus on when completing the task(s).   

More information and examples can be found in Booth (2023), Wiliam (2018a, 2018b), and Wiliam and Leahy (2015).