Success Criteria

One of the most pupil-empowering pedagogy ideas I use, is to ask pupils to determine the success criteria for a task, then ask them to use it to do the task, and finally self/peer-assess using the criteria.

It’s a very clever tool to use because it has so many benefits:

  1. Helps pupils engage with an activity at a meta-cognitive level;
  2. Gives pupils ownership;
  3. Develops pupil autonomy;
  4. Develops pupils’ self-assessing skills;
  5. Reduces teacher marking.

So here is how it works:

For straight-forward tasks/activities, you can ask pupils, “What would make an excellent … [insert type of work]?”. If it is something new/difficult, you can show them an excellent piece of work and ask them to identify what makes it so good. This aspect helps give pupils ownership of their learning, and encourages to critically engage with a piece of work. It also helps show them the standard of work which they should be able to produce by the end of a topic or lesson. This clarity is essential for pupils to make good progress. The principle behind this idea of ‘teaching backwards’ is explored thoroughly in a book I recommend called: ‘Outstanding teaching: teaching backwards’ by Andy Griffith and Mark Burns.

An example:

Show pupils an well-written conclusion to an experiment. With your input, the pupils may suggest success criteria such as:

a) You link your conclusion to the hypothesis.
b) You describe the trend in your results.
c) You use data to support your conclusion.

Pupils can go on to use this as a checklist of things when writing their own conclusions. This self-assessment during a task is exactly the skill they need to develop to work independently. This is also the skill they need to use in an exam – after all, they sit the exam on their own and they should be asking themselves constantly during an exam whether they have included all of the relevant information and have answered the question. You are training them to have conversations with themselves in which they compare their current work to where they should be working, to help them steer themselves to the destination that is ‘excellence’.

As further assessment for learning, pupils can then peer-assess using this success criteria. Having these displayed on the whiteboard means you can train pupils to write a ‘What went well?’ that identifies a specific thing, and ‘How to improve’ that is specific as well as actionable. (Normally pupils say things like, ‘You have explained this clearly’ or ‘you need to write more’, which is neither specific nor useful).

Success criteria peer assess

Image 1: A Year 7 pupil identifies a ‘What went well’ and an ‘Even Better If’ for a graph, using success criteria we identified as a class. The student then responded to the feedback, which I then marked.

Another trick, if you have already prepared success criteria, is to print these out for pupils to highlight in two different colours to convey ‘What went well’ and ‘How to improve’.


Hope you enjoyed this post! Please comment below if you have any suggestions around this practice, or have trialled the ideas.


3 thoughts on “Success Criteria

  1. Hi Bunsen Blue,

    I really like discussing success criteria with students but actually hadn’t considered the effect it will have for them in terms of enabling them to self and peer assess. Also, I am convinced by your argument that learners are more likely to have a vested interest in criteria they have helped to create.

    Have you found that your students are more likely to go on and use this feedback and criteria when completing similar tasks in the future? Sometimes I find that students forget a whole feedback dialogue I have had with them in their book and go on to make the same mistakes in subsequent tasks.

    Thank you for sharing your ideas.



    • Thanks for your feedback Mike! This is a new blog, and not regularly updated… something I am trying to change! But I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

      I think the only way that pupils will remember to use the success criteria, is if we constantly remind them of it up until the point where it becomes routine for them. For example, if I remind them of the graph success criteria every time we draw a graph, then I would hope the success criteria get stuck in their heads! Personally, I find this difficult to do, especially when there are so many skills we cover so quickly due to tight teaching times. But it is something I am working on my classes. Perhaps, if we embed the use of success criteria in our lessons, and ask the pupils to be aware of them each time… they will get to a point when they remind us to use it?!


  2. Pingback: Developing autonomy: taking a step back | Bunsen Blue

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