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Learning Intentions and Success Criteria

Jan. 11, 2023  ◊  By Studies Weekly

Educational programs and policies change all the time. In the education industry, terms often evolve as well. Often, the new terms have similar but nuanced meanings. For example, learning intentions and success criteria.

As Noelle Carter, Studies Weekly Curriculum Director, explains, these terms refer to what you want the students to be able to know and do by the end of a lesson, activity, or another learning opportunity. Learning intention refers to what the students will be learning, and success criteria refer to what the students will be able to do that demonstrates that they learned.

What Are Learning Intentions?

Learning intentions are goals set by the teacher to guide the lesson. When teachers use learning intentions in lesson planning, they can focus their teaching on these objectives, which makes each lesson clearer and easier for students to understand.

Learning Intentions child is aiming for with a plane

Learning intentions may also be known by the following names:

    • Learning objectives
    • Learning targets
    • Performance indicators
    • Learning standards
    • Grade-level indicators

What Are Success Criteria?

Learning intentions would not be complete without success criteria. If learning intentions guide teaching, the success criteria gauge how successful that teaching is. In a workshop booklet, the NCCA explains, “[Success criteria] help the teacher and student to make judgments about the quality of student learning” (p. 5). Success criteria help an educator assess if student learning was successful.

Measure success criteria

Why Should Teachers Use Learning Intentions In Lesson Planning?

According to the NCCA, when students are aware of the learning intentions and success criteria in a lesson, they are:

    • Focused for longer periods
    • Motivated
    • Active in their learning
    • Taking ownership of their learning

Peter DeWitt, a former K-5 US principal, wrote about his observations while attending an education conference in New Zealand by describing two different schools that applied learning intentions and success criteria. In these schools, the students showed incredible independence and interest in what they were learning. More attention was given to learning than to test scores, which allowed students to take responsibility for their education without stressing about grades.

How Can I Use Learning Intentions To Help My Students?

“It’s important to create the learning intention first, and then determine the success criteria that students can use to assess their understanding — and then create the activity and some open-ended questions that help students learn,” said Peg Graffwallner in an EdWeek article about lesson planning after describing an experience when a teacher started with the activity. The teacher had a hard time defining what she wanted her students to learn.

Graffwallner also provided some helpful feedback for all teachers by telling them to ask themselves these questions:

    • What do I want my students to learn? Why?
    • How can they learn this information?

Here are some steps teachers can follow when planning lessons around learning objectives:

  1. When planning a lesson, define what you want your students to learn.
  2. Then define how you will know they’ve succeeded in learning.
  3. Plan your lesson to help your students achieve those goals.
  4. Share the learning intentions and success criteria with your students.

Happy teacher and studentStudies Weekly Uses the Learning Intentions Concept

The newest edition of the Studies Weekly Florida Social Studies curriculum references learning intentions specifically, but we’ve used variations of those words for years in the Teacher Edition of our publications.

At a high level all these variations are synonyms, but there are nuances, Carter explained. For example, a learning objective has a specific format, such as:

    • With guidance and support, the student will describe the geographical features and resources of the Southwestern Region.

This format has the same pieces as learning intentions and success criteria – they both are looking at what students are learning, and how their learning will be measured.

To ensure the language in our Teacher Editions is student-friendly, when we use learning objectives, we also add “I can” statements – which is also a version of the success criteria. So the statement above becomes:

    • I can describe the geography and resources of the Southwestern Region.

The main thing is still a focus on what the student is learning, and how they can demonstrate their learning.

Lesson Planning Just Got Easier

With Studies Weekly, you have access to a plethora of resources for every subject. Each Teacher Edition makes lesson planning simple by providing learning objectives, activity ideas, and more! Try Studies Weekly for free in your classroom or district today!

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