Setting Clear Criteria is Improving Student Learning – Brad Arndt, LC7 Teacher

Thank you for sharing your learning from the year, Brad!


The profession of teaching has two overarching purposes in my mind at this time. The first is to provide students with the thinking and process skills that will enable them to live successful and fulfilling lives. The second is to help them develop character, integrity, resiliency, independence, and empathy, so they can become ethical citizens. Our team goal this year related to setting clear criteria and our school goal was to provide kind, helpful and specific feedback. While my reflection is going to focus on the idea of creating clear criteria, both, the process of learning skills and developing ethical citizens benefit greatly when using criteria and feedback effectively together.
When I talked about clear criteria before this year I took for granted that all good teachers automatically did this. I mean the instructions for the assignment are clearly typed out on the top of the page, I went over them with the class, and I sat down with students that were still stuck. What more could the students need, right? Wrong, there is a lot more to the process. Certainly, these elements are part of the process and help students understand what is needed, but there is so much more I am doing now to help the students really understand what is expected in their learning and in their work. I won’t sit here and outline my entire process or pretend to be an expert on the topic, as there are books that can explain how and why this is important much better than I ever could and I feel I like I still have a lot to learn in this area. However, I will tell you a few of the things I am taking away from this year in regards to ensuring students clearly understand the criteria and expectations. First off, I feel like building the criteria as a class is so valuable. Students love to have a say in how they will be assessed. They often will include important ideas or details that I may have missed. This provides ownership and autonomy to the students, and when students feel ownership the engagement is way higher. Second, providing the students with exemplars to see the criteria in use first hand. In my first years of teaching I used to think using exemplars meant showing the students the highest levels of work, then sending them off to replicate that level of work. Again, that is so far from the mark of how I am doing things now that I am almost embarrassed to admit that’s how I once did things. Now I use exemplars of all levels of achievement. This is important because students will get to practice using the continuum. They learn that they have to support the reasons for why they rated an exemplar higher and lower and how the work matches the criteria set out at the beginning. This will make them so much more successful later on when they are using the continuums on their own work. Third, provide an easy to read, simplified visual aid for the students to use to measure their progress. This could be a checklist, a continuum, a bullseye, a scale, a rubric or any other measure that helps students see where they are currently at based off the criteria we set together. I found that the more simple, concise the wording the more the students used these tools. They should also be given time to use these tools both individually(self reflection), with a partner and within larger groups. Holding them accountable to the process and internalizing the learning can be done by a written or oral reflection where the students provide rationale and support for why they placed themselves or others at any given point on the continuum. I have to admit this process takes longer than simply introducing a new assignment at the beginning of class and letting the kids work, but the payoff is certainly worth the time and effort. The changes I have noticed first hand in my classroom include:

Students produce a higher quality of work
Students are able to express their learning easily
Students reflect and improve on the learning process(metacognition)
Students demonstrate greater patience for the learning process
Students will demonstrate greater independence and responsibility
Students develop a growth mindset

At the end of the day having clear criteria built into the classroom activities everyday leads to very high level learning. As teachers, we should be working to help students maximize their growth as both learners and as ethical citizens. Setting clear criteria of what these things look like has made a large and important impact on the learning that happens within my classroom.

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