Revisiting old posts: learning intentions and success criteria


Visible Learning Feedback

Last term, my wonderful school sent me to the Visible Learning conference in Edinburgh. It was an absolute privilege to be able to attend this conference and listen to experts in the field such as Hattie and Clarke. I was blown away by Hattie and Clarke and, as always, promptly purchased three of the Visible Learning books. (I found it hilarious that the edu book seller recognised me – he has seen me part with a lot of my hard earned cash!).

Book 1 for me was the recently released Visible Learning Feedback, which if I remember correctly had been in construction for 10 years as neither Hattie nor Clarke wanted to release anything until they felt they had something definite to say. RESPECT!

Visible Learning Feedback is an excellent collation of what works with regard to good quality feedback. Some of what is said will be obvious to some but, as ever, I feel like I am constantly being reminded about areas in which I can improve and am constantly being refreshed by being tasked with looking at something in a completely new light. Even more so, when I am in a new school and developing my practice here.

Sharing Learning Goals

In 1998, Black and William conducted research into improving learning through assessment and identified the following four key strategies:

  • Sharing learning goals with students
  • Involving students in self-assessment
  • Providing feedback which leads to students recognising their next steps and how to take them
  • Underpinned by confidence that every student can improve.

This blog post will focus in on the first bullet point: sharing learning goals (and success criteria with pupils).

Sharing the learning journey with pupils at the start of a unit and then throughout a unit is something that @KristianStill advocated when I used to work with him. I was never really sold on the idea as I felt it ruined the element of surprise. However, in Visible Learning Feedback, Hattie states:

‘This ‘big picture’ helps students see the progression of learning. Knowing how each part of the jigsaw fits together in advance is a secret we have often not let students into, something adults would be unlikely to tolerate. Imagine how motiviation would be impacted if we were to start a set of art lessons, for instance, or attend a day’s course with no agenda, having no idea about the content of each session. Apart from the motivation impact, not knowing the big picture makes it much harder to place each piece of learning into the whole as it is happening.’

A premise none of us can really argue with.  And then I saw a tweet from @MissHuby23 in which she shared the learning journey she had created for the teaching of Kensuke’s Kingdom.

learning journey

So after reading Hattie’s words and seeing someone else’s learning journey, I decided to embed this into my planning for a mini-unit on War Photographer and came up with this:

My learning journey 1

What I found was that the process of constructing the learning journey gave me a greater clarity of what I wanted my pupils to learn especially as it enabled me to identify the most salient things for my pupils.

However, upon further reading, I realised I had made a rookie mistake. In creating my learning journey, I had created learning goals that were specific to War Photographer. Hattie and Clarke, in Visible Learning Feedback argue that ‘learning intentions should be decontextualized so that the skills can be transferred’.

My learning journey 2

In reframing my learning goals in a more decontextualized way, I will be able to come back to the ideas of influence, contrast, emotive vocabulary and images when approaching other poems in the anthology and link back to their learning here.

Decontextualised learning intentions, Hattie and Clarke argue, are also important when creating clear success criteria for pupils. Compare these two examples taken from Visible Learning Feedback:

contextualised learning intention

decontextualised learning

In picture A, the learning intention is limited to the task within this lesson. However, by decontextualizing the learning intention, the skills being learnt can be transferred to future tasks of a similar nature.

This brought me back to the idea of the learning journey and got me reflecting upon surface learning and deep learning and how we use success criteria to aid both. Sadler argues that in order to be an effective learner, pupils (and teachers) need to ‘possess a concept of the standard (or goal, or reference level) being aimed for’ with Hattie reinforcing the importance of students knowing the learning intention but arguing that ‘in order to posses a ‘concept’ of this intention more needs to happen. Success criteria (effect size 1.13) as well as the analysis of good examples of the finished product, help to build this concept.’

Clarke argues that learning intentions tend to be either:

  • ‘closed (as in grammar, punctuation, math procedures – right or wrong) with equally closed and compulsory success criteria (remember to…) which are the rules or steps to follow or (SURFACE LEVEL)
  • Open (as in story structure, narrative writing, art-quality difficult to quantify) with a menu of possible items to include, optional rather than compulsory.’ (DEEPER LEVEL)

(NB here: Hattie and Clarke state: ‘there are often two forms of learning intentions at play: the knowledge you want them to acquire and the skill they will use either in acquiring that knowledge or in applying it. Both learning intentions need to be known, at the appropriate time, but the skill-based learning intention will be the one which has accompanying process success criteria. Knowledge acquisition is vital for the development of skills, also providing engaging and stimulating contexts, but the breakdown of knowledge is better placed in curriculum planning than in success criteria).

Our learning journey should, therefore, be made up of closed learning intentions, with definable success criteria, that then lead up to and culminate in an open learning intention, with optional success criteria. An example (although not linked in this case), Hattie and Clarke gives in the book is

surface versus deeperWhat I particularly love about this is the concrete nature of the surface level, closed learning intention feeding into (although not in this specific example) the deeper level, open learning intention. I really like the idea of the success criteria being optional as it demonstrates there isn’t one way to create an effective suspense story. I also, particularly love that examples are given with each success criteria.

In considering this, I will need to revisit my learning journey for War Photographer once more. I will need to consider

  • My deeper level learning intention – their written analysis of a poem
  • The surface level learning intentions that will help me arrive at my deeper learning that will not only focus on the writer’s influence, technical aspects but also the composition of a response (meaning that my learning journey will need to be reframed).
  • Separating the surface learning intentions out in terms of knowledge and skill and making this more explicit.

Muchos workus to do!

My key questions to you:

  • Do you share your learning journey with students?
  • Are your learning intentions decontextualized to best support the transference of skills?
  • Are you using surface level, closed learning intentions in a formative way to build to a deeper level, open learning intention in a more summative way?

I also think that considering the above would be an excellent focus for departments when constructing units of work.  As I move into year 2 and consider the units I will be teaching, my planning will begin by focusing on just this!


As ever, would love to hear your thoughts.

Hattie, J and Clarke, S. (2019) Visible Learning Feedback. Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge


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