Success Criteria Pitfalls

I have been experimenting with giving a check list of success criteria at the start of the unit and for the major assessments. There are a couple of things I need to look out for, to make the most of these tools.

Self awareness is necessary

At the start of several my new units, I introduced the success criteria based on what they will be assessed on.

Metal extraction success criteria
At the start of the year, I introduced the success criteria based on content I wanted them to learn.
Ice age success criteria
Both have their own advantages and disadvantages and I’m not sure which I like best. Maybe a combination of the two would be ideal.

One disadvantage they both share is that only self-aware students can get anything out of them. Some students think they haven’t learned anything (usually out of a desire to get something perfect) and some students think they can already do everything (even when they just can’t). The solution is to have a column inviting students to prove it but who has time for that?

Students do not read the whole thing before they get started

Here is a worksheet I recently made to guide my students (13-14 years old) in writing a report about the science of house design.

heat worksheet

What I have found is that many students asked me “what do you mean by factors?” and just had not read down to the list of topics (or understood that is what I meant). When I do this again, I’ll use the word ‘factors’ instead of ‘topics’. Even though we read this together as a class, what I wanted from them hadn’t gone in properly.

Some students think the criteria are questions

Related to the first pitfall, students say “I’ve done questions 1, 2 and 3, I won’t have space for the last two questions”…. but the last two criteria are “use scientific language” and “cite your references”

Not only aren’t they reading through the criteria before they start writing but they don’t realise they are not a set of questions like you might see in a textbook. In their paragraph about u-values, they need to describe and analyse. In all their paragraphs, they need to use scientific language.

What it means to be ‘successful’ is hard

Here’s another worksheet, it’s for 14-15 year olds but I have provided more structure because the concepts are trickier and I wanted to reduce cognitive load.

Copper extraction worksheet

I have tried my best to give my students everything they need to make a great report which allows them to achieve at the highest levels.

Yet, the language I have to use and the skills I want them to display are hard. This means that students who are not able to discuss and evaluate (for whatever reason), are only outlining or describing.

Maybe the worksheet needs to include all the possible levels of success but then the tick boxes become unwieldy and unreadable.


I wouldn’t be without them now. I tried them out as an experiment and have been refining the process for almost a whole year. They are very useful, not only in terms of setting up tasks but keeping students’ energy up during a unit.

What do you do to communicate what you want your students to learn? Do you have ways through these pitfalls?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s