like riding a bike…

First, a terse, reflective question: what is my deal with learning targets and success criteria, anyway? * What, exactly, is my issue? Am I defensive and cranky because it’s “not how I was taught and I still managed to learn a lot of things anyway” notion? Is it the because it feels like another educational bandwagon that, including learning styles and grit, will be just another “this will fix it!” moment?

What do we get from learning targets and success criteria? Moreover, what do students gain? Because what I’ve witnessed are the following:

  1. Students write down LT/SC in some kind of agenda/planner or notebook. Bike analogy: Today you will learn how to ride a bike. You will be successful when you ride a bike. (Specific: ride it several yards without falling down.)
  2. Students sometimes reflect** on whether or not they met that metric. Several administrators have told me and other staff that the LT/SC must change daily. It is not a continuum of learning but a specific tight skill. Bike analogy: Put your foot on the bike pedal.
  3. Evaluator comes in the room, notices if LT/SC are written in student-friendly language on the board, and will spot-check with students if they can parrot say what they are. Bike analogy: where the wheels fall off the bike is when the students are learning a new concept or skill, and have no idea really why they are learning it until they apply it. You are learning how to ride a bike: you have no idea where that bike will take you.

**This reflection is not automatic–it is one more thing to remind students to do. And it’s helpful — this is where we need to turn the conversation around.

Let’s try this:

  1. Students write down LT/SC PLUS a reflection space for the why or possible application of the transferable skill.
  2. Students focus on the mistakes that were made along the way –and the successes.
  3. Evaluator comes in the room, asks them what they are learning, and then follows up with the teacher and students at a future date to read the students’ reflections and ideas about the mistakes, etc.


“Alcala also projects “favorite mistakes” on the board that they talk about as a class. And students get time to look at their own mistakes and figure out where they went wrong. The other advantage of highlighting is that she can call attention to things that she won’t necessarily take points off for, but that she wants students to notice. For example, she might highlight that they didn’t put the correct units in a word problem. They got the math correct, so Alcala is not worried they won’t be able to move forward, but she wants to remind them that units are important.”

From A Grading Strategy That Puts the Focus on Learning From Mistakes

Please notice that this is a math teacher. Math instruction is the go-to for learning target and success criteria conversations. Evaluators can easily pinpoint it, and perhaps we ELA teachers bristle* because our subject area is essentially more abstract than concrete. Learning targets and success criteria that don’t work:

Learning Target: “Today you will learn how to pull the wings off of a butterfly of poetry in order to deconstruct its meaning and then carefully put it back together and still enjoy the same sublime and ethereal beauty.”

Success Criteria: Explain the quality and essence of beauty in a five- paragraph essay.

Okay, so –now what?

Let me try this for two weeks, and do a little teacher-research: click on this link to a Google Doc. 

The plan is to provide the LT/SC written out in advance for students, and then have them fill in the rest–it will be a gradual release process as they build their own autonomy and ownership. Stay tuned for results, late January.