Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Success criteria: Barrier to achievement or a way to unlock academic potential?

Success criteria have become an increasingly common pedagogical feature in British education. This blog post explores the extent to which success criteria can become a barrier to achievement or can allow students to flourish in unexpected ways.
Success criteria: barrier or launch pad?
Success criteria can be used to assess student achievement and to give something concrete for students to aim at. However, if the success criteria we use are too conservative, can they act as a barrier to significant achievement? It's possible they can.

I recently updated some success criteria for a Year 8 investigation on Antarctic tourism. The old criteria looked somewhat jaded and I was keen to give my students an opportunity exceed way beyond what they would usually be expected to achieve.  I gave some guidance to my students and I was impressed by how keen they were to try them out.  The result was incredible.  I saw the most impressive Year 8 work in my whole teaching career from at least two students who were operating at AS level!  It wasn’t just a few students either – the majority of my students achieved way beyond their expected progress.
Year 8 Antarctic tourism sites- proportional symbols map
I developed this approach for use in a Year 7 rainforest project.  This time I introduced some creative ideas and my success criteria included Year 11 GCSE material.  I saw similar breath-taking progress and achievement from many students.

Year 7 incredible edible rainforest cake
As a young child I was fascinated by Astronomy devoured inspirational and high level texts.  My astronomical knowledge and understanding at the age of 11 was extremely detailed.  I hadn’t followed any school curriculum.  The only impetus was my own curiosity inspired by Patrick Moore’s Sky at Night, Star Wars and Star Trek! 

If as a child without guidance I could learn so much, how much more WITH guidance and our pedagogical skills should our students learn even more!  If we as teachers can combine inspirational learning, ambitious success criteria and useful resources with opportunities for creativity, surely the sky is the limit for our students!

For discussion: can limited success criteria be a ‘glass ceiling’ on student achievement?  Can ambitious success criteria still limit achievement?