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How can children understand what they are learning?

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 21 May 2010 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 13 August 2010 by ncetm_administrator


What does formative assessment look like in practice?

“Children do not know how to take control of their own learning and have to be taught to learn …They do not know how to extract from everything they do that which they are supposed to know and understand. We, at least I, have never disentangled all this for the children. Most of them learn by experience something of what is required of them. For many children this experience is hard and dispiriting. Some of them, usually the weakest never do learn.” (Fairbrother 1995 p.110-111)

Learning intentions and success criteria (LISC) are intended to begin to untangle for the children what they are supposed to learn from what they are supposed to do. Therefore learning intentions should be about learning, not what the children are supposed to do. The phrase ‘learning intention’ first coined by Clarke (2005) is useful because it denotes that lessons start with an intention about what the children will learn. However the learning activities may reveal that the children need to learn something else, either the basis of the ideas in the learning intention or something more challenging. The term ‘learning intention’ indicates that teachers should not be constrained but should help their children learn what they need to learn.

To read more about learning intentions from Shirley Clarke who first coined the phrase go to Shirley Clarke's website, where you will find some case studies from various LAs who have been working with her.

Learning intentions and success criteria (LISC) work together to:

  • make clear what is important to know and what is part of the learning process
  • enable the children to be able to talk about what exactly they are learning and how they are learning it
  • open up and clarify the learning, not constrain it.

Framing Learning Intentions

Learning intentions can be hard to phrase; remember they will not be the same as the teaching objectives laid out in National Curriculum documents which are directed at teachers. Learning intentions will grow out of teaching objectives but will be framed for the children. Learning intentions can be the same over a series of lessons because that may be how long it takes to learn as much as it is appropriate about certain concepts. It is also appropriate that learning intentions are similar in Year 2 and Year 6; for example, when do we stop learning more about multiplication? However it would not be appropriate if the success criteria were the same for each of those year groups. The success criteria explain exactly what we are learning about multiplying today.

Learning intentions could be framed as:

By the end of this lesson you will:

Know that... (knowledge)

e.g. Know that multiplication is commutative. Know how to multiply fractions and why. Know more about the properties of quadrilaterals.

Develop/be able to... (skills)

Develop your skills in using multiplication for all types of number. Be able to draw a bar graph. Develop your ability to interpret graphs.

Understand how/why... (understanding)

Understand how to multiply using the grid method. Understand the difference between mean, mode and median. Understand ‘more than’ and ‘less than’.

Develop/be aware of... (attitude and values)

Be aware of the reasons you might use one measure of average rather than another. Be aware of what a straight line graph shows. Be aware of the use of tessellations in buildings.

Work with a colleague to frame learning intentions for the mathematics lessons that you will teach next week.

How are they different from what you would have done prior to reading this strand?

Framing Success Criteria

Success criteria are there to guide the children and to help the children know that they have made progress with their learning. In mathematics there are several ways that success criteria can be stated in order to fulfil these purposes:

  1. Success criteria can lay out the route for successfully going through a mathematical process or method. By setting out criteria in this way the children are introduced to the language they may need to ask for help if they get stuck, to talk themselves through any difficulties they encounter either in this lesson or subsequent ones or to help one another out in the lesson. Success criteria written in this way could, for example, be:
    Remember to:
    • use a pencil and a ruler;
    • label your axes carefully making sure that the spaces between the numbers are equal;
    • plot the points on the grid and draw in the graph using a ruler – extending your line beyond the plotted points.
  2. Success criteria for the process of learning can guide the children through the various stages of the lesson or activity, enabling them to know where they are and where to go next. They could be:
    In this lesson you will:
    • check you can use the grid method to multiply two two-digit numbers by getting the right answer to the first three questions on the board;
    • choose two other calculations to do that might challenge you;
    • write an easy calculation and a hard calculation, check you know the answers and give them to your learning buddy to answer;
    • write a note to yourself to help you remember how to use the grid method for two-digit numbers;
    • work out what to do to multiply a three-digit number by a two-digit number – use a calculator to check you are right.

Work with a colleague to frame success criteria for the learning intentions that you wrote in the previous activity.

How are the different from what you would have done prior to reading this strand?

Success criteria are there to help the children know where they are and what to do next and to enable them to see themselves as successful learners. If the criteria that are set out fulfil these principles then they are ‘good’ success criteria whatever they look like.

Once the children have become used to the idea of using success criteria it is often useful to let them become involved in the process of setting learning objectives. For example, you could have a class discussion that results in ‘our success criteria today’. If the outcome of today’s lesson is to be a poster describing the properties of different quadrilaterals then children can be involved in setting out the criteria for a ‘good poster’. If the children tell you what they are going to do, they are more likely to get involved and do a good job.

Write a summary of your understanding of learning intentions and success criteria in your Maths Subject Leader File. 

As Maths Subject Leader one of the most straightforward ways of monitoring you can do is to look at the way that teachers mark the children’s mathematical work in their books.
To read more about this in general go to Module 2.

Reflect on what you would you look for in children’s books to show that they were being well marked.
What might you do if you thought that the feedback children receive could be better?

Good feedback to children

  • is an essential part of the whole learning process;
  • is written in a way that the child can understand;
  • outlines what has been done well and suggests ways that improvements can be made;
  • has no grades or levels anywhere near the improvement feedback;
  • demands a response from the child and the response should be obvious near the work and show improved learning;
  • is part of an ongoing dialogue between the teacher and child which often also includes the child’s parents or guardians.

Of course the younger children will not receive written feedback, but the value of feedback to learning is such that the oral feedback that children receive should also demonstrate all the above characteristics.

To read more about effective feedback go to the paper Assessment for Learning






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