Learning intentions (outcomes, objectives, goals or targets) and assessment criteria vary greatly. They can be detailed or general. They can focus on knowledge, skills or understanding, or even target attitude.
- How do you make it clear to EAL students what you expect them to learn each lesson?
- How do you make it clear what you expect them to be able to do after an assessment?
EAL students need to know what they are learning and why they are learning it. Teachers therefore need to make the learning intention(s) for EAL students explicit. The learning intention for a lesson or series of lessons is a statement describing clearly what the teacher wants the students know, understand and be able to do as a result of the learning and teaching activities.
- Focus on student behaviour: The ability to translate knowledge and understanding into a demonstration, performance or product is crucial as it gives learning a practical purpose. It applies knowledge in a practical context. How well learning can be applied and how willing the student is to demonstrate learning provides evidence of student engagement.
- Learning intentions should focus on the transferable learning, not the activity: The teacher knows why the students are engaged in a particular activity, but the students are not always able to differentiate between the activity and the learning that it is meant to promote. A carefully framed learning intention will direct students' attention to the learning. The learning intention emphasises what the students will learn (and why), rather than what they will do. For example, ‘We will learn to plan our writing’ is a better learning intention than ‘We will plan our weekend recounts’.
- Communicate intentions to students: The teacher shares the learning intention(s) with students, either orally or in writing. Sometimes the learning intention is presented at the beginning of a lesson or unit. At other times it is not introduced until after a warm-up or engagement activity. By telling students what they are learning and why they are learning it, students can focus beyond the lesson itself and understand how the skill contributes to the purpose of improving their English.
- Tell students how they can measure their progress: By including a measurable or observable goal as part of the learning intention, students accept responsibility for their learning and feel a sense of achievement: “I didn’t know that or couldn’t do that before, now I understand and can use this knowledge to …"
- Acknowledge small achievements: As language acquisition is a cumulative process, building progress markers into learning intentions can help to reinforce the small achievements in the journey.
For EAL students, the learning intention must use accessible student-friendly language. If the intention cannot be expressed clearly as a single statement, use multiple short statements rather than a complex statement. If the meaning of a key word may not be understood, include a definition.
Here are some student-friendly definitions for thinking skills. Click here if you would like to print a version for your students.
|I can make a reasonable guess based on the information.
|I can use different pieces of evidence to decide what they have in common. Then I can make a statement that is true for this evidence and is likely to be true in similar situations.
|I can use what I already know to guess what will happen next.
|I look at the evidence. I decide what that evidence can tell us.
|identify cause and effect
I can explain two events by answering the questions:
|I can tell how things are alike.
|I can tell how things are different.
|I can make a decision about the quality of something.
|I can make a short statement about the main message in what I read (hear, view).
|find the main idea
|I can find the most important idea in the text
|find supporting details
|I can identify the facts, arguments or evidence which give the main idea strength.
Benefits of learning intentions
Parents / care-givers
Know what to teach
Know what to assess
Choose activities with a purpose
Can look back at learning rather than content
Can track progress
Understand the aim of the lesson
Accept responsibility for learning
Feel a sense of accomplishment
Know what the students are learning
Can help at home using the same terminology
Help interpret feedback
Understand reporting information
Can track progress
This section explains what success criteria are and how they can be designed and used effectively in classrooms with EAL learners. Whereas learning intentions specify the progression of learning that is intended, success criteria indicate how the student can demonstrate the extent to which s/he has achieved the learning intention. Used together, the learning intentions and success criteria enable the teacher and the students to form a clearer idea of what successful learning looks like and what areas might need further work.
The following example shows how one learning intention has several success criteria:
|Students will understand how conjunctions can link two contrasting ideas in one sentence.
I can identify
|I can select an appropriate conjunction to join two contrasting ideas.
In this example, the success criteria form a rubric with descriptors of different levels of performance. Verbs are shown in italics to make it clear what the learner has to do. The rubric organises the criteria so that students can monitor how their learning is progressing in relation to the learning intention.
Sharing success criteria with students
Teachers can share success criteria with students through:
- work samples exemplifying different levels of performance
- a checklist of features that should be included in students’ work
- a rubric
- a single-point rubric.
Providing work samples is the most authentic way to help students understand what success looks like. Where possible, providing more than one high-quality exemplar can help students recognise that there are multiple ways to attain success. Students can also work in pairs to rank a set of work samples from lowest to highest, and then engage in a class discussion about what makes one sample stronger than another.
In addition to work samples, a checklist can help students understand the components of a high-quality piece of work. Checklists are particularly relevant when a task must include certain features: for example, a poster about an animal that must include its name, diet, appearance, and habitat.
A potential problem with checklists and other clear articulations of success criteria, such as rubrics (see below), is that they can never fully encapsulate a complex task. In other words, a task such as writing an engaging narrative can never be broken down into a simple list of features that, once included, automatically mean that the writer has achieved success. Using checklists or rubrics in conjunction with work samples can help students understand how these features look in practice and can avoid inadvertently conveying the message that learning a complex skill is as simple as checking a series of boxes.
A common way to articulate success criteria, particularly on larger, summative assessments, is through a rubric. By organising success criteria into levels of performance, rubrics can render learning more transparent for students, helping them understand what they have achieved and what they can do next to improve. They help students to recognise that skills such as learning a new language are acquired incrementally rather than in leaps and bounds.
But a good rubric is hard to write, and making it accessible for EAL students can be even harder.
Below are some guidelines we can follow to help us develop effective, student-friendly rubrics.
What does a good rubric look like?
In their chapter ‘Writing Assessment Rubrics’, Patrick Griffin and Pam Robertson (2014) outline ten guidelines for writing quality developmental rubrics. We will focus on five of the ten guidelines and explore their implications for EAL teachers. These guidelines can help us develop rubrics that support consistent interpretation by both teachers and students, and which function well as a formative tool by clarifying what students can do to improve. However, it is important to keep our purpose and context forefront in our minds when approaching these guidelines. There are situations where it can be useful to adapt Griffin and Robertson’s recommendations, particularly in order to make the rubric comprehensible to EAL students.
If you wish to read the list of guidelines in full, the chapter is available in Assessment for Teaching, edited by Patrick Griffin (2014).
1. Avoid counts and pseudo-counts.
Griffin and Robertson argue that rubrics should avoid ‘counts’ of things, for example, ‘contains 3 conjunctions’. Counts can encourage students to include as many of a given feature as possible to increase their mark, while counts of mistakes (for example, ‘contains fewer than 3 errors’) can incentivise students to play it safe. Griffin and Robertson also advise against the use of ‘pseudo-counts’ such as ‘some’, ‘many’ or ‘a range of’. Pseudo-counts have the same issues as counts, while also being vague: it is not clear what constitutes ‘some’ or ‘a range of’.
However, there may be situations when counts and pseudo-counts are appropriate.
Consider the following rubric:
|Uses no conjunctions
|Uses at least one conjunction correctly
|Uses some conjunctions correctly
|Uses a range of conjunctions correctly
Although it contains both counts and pseudo-counts, this rubric nonetheless provides the student with some guidance about how to improve their work. And while the difference between ‘some’ conjunctions and ‘a range of’ conjunctions isn’t immediately evident, sharing work samples can help teachers and students arrive at a common understanding of what these terms mean.
The main problem with this rubric is that it elevates quantity over quality: the more correct conjunctions students include, the better. If our goal is for students to practise using conjunctions as much as possible, then this rubric might be appropriate. However, if our goal is to develop students’ ability to write effectively about increasingly complex ideas, then this rubric may not serve our purpose.
Instead of using counts and pseudo-counts, we can distinguish between levels of performance through increased quality, difficulty, and/or complexity. For example:
|Uses correct word order in simple sentences
|Connects ideas with conjunctions (e.g. and, but, because)
|Connects ideas with relative pronouns (e.g. who, which) or conjunctions (e.g. while, although)
|Varies sentence structure for effect (e.g. follows a complex sentence with a simple one to draw attention)
Here, students move up to the next level by using conjunctions in a more complex or more effective way, rather than by simply using more of them.
It can be difficult to construct hierarchies of complexity like this for all areas of language learning. However, where possible, we can aim to distinguish between levels in this way rather than using counts or pseudo-counts.
2. Use clear, unambiguous language.
Words and phrases like ‘satisfactory’, ‘good’, and ‘superior’ are subjective: one person’s ‘satisfactory’ might be another person’s ‘excellent’. And even if teachers and students attain a common understanding of what constitutes ‘satisfactory’ work, such terms provide little guidance about how to improve.
A more helpful approach is to distinguish between the different levels of performance through the verb, for example:
|Identifies persuasive techniques
|Discusses the effect of persuasive techniques
|Evaluates the effectiveness of persuasive techniques
3. Include one central idea in each criterion.
There should be one criterion per ‘box’ in a rubric. If each criterion contains more than one idea—for example, ‘The story contains an orientation, complication, and a resolution’—it can be difficult to assess work for summative purposes when one aspect of the criterion has been achieved, but not all. Rubrics with many dot points in each box can also be harder for students to read and may provide less clarity about next steps for learning.
However, it is also worth avoiding rubrics with too many columns and rows, as these can become unwieldy and overwhelming. In pursuit of a tighter rubric, it may be sensible to collapse two or more ideas into one criterion.
4. Criteria should be directly observable, describing what students do, say, produce, or write. Avoid negatives.
Examples of observable criteria include ‘Uses full stops accurately’ or ‘Explains the causes of an earthquake’. By contrast, a criterion such as ‘Considers vocabulary choices carefully’ requires the teacher to make inferences (it’s possible the student thought very carefully about their vocabulary, even if it isn’t evident in their writing). Observable criteria make the assessment process more transparent for students and provide tangible guidance about how to improve.
Griffin and Robertson also advise against using negative statements, such as ‘Does not use capital letters’. In theory, it is not necessary to articulate what students have not done, as this is implied by the criteria at higher levels. However, while it is worth avoiding negative statements where possible, sometimes a succinct negative statement might provide clarity, particularly for EAL learners. As always, keep your purpose, audience and context in mind when interpreting these guidelines.
5. Include criteria that cover a diverse range of levels, including ambitious goals for the most proficient students.
Include criteria that seem like they may be a stretch even for your most highly proficient students. This encourages high expectations among teachers and students alike. Students are not penalised for not meeting the criteria at the highest level if the rubric is not used to generate a percentage score.
Below is an example of a rubric that adheres to most of the above guidelines. Where has the rubric writer decided not to adhere to the guidelines? Why do you think they made that decision?
|Students are learning to write an explanation text.
|Students will write an explanation indicating at least 3 ways in which earthquakes occurring under the ocean differ from land-based earthquakes.
|used an informative text which explains
|The text is informative but describes rather than explains
|The text separately explains effects of the two types of earthquake
|The explanation highlights differences by contrasting the two types of earthquake
included three ways the location of an earthquake affects its characteristics
|Some links are made between where the earthquake occurs and its characteristics
|Three effects of location are included for each type of earthquake
|The links between location and earthquake characteristics are clearly explained
|used and identified some conjunctions to indicate contrast within a sentence
|Includes but and although to contrast ideas
|Includes but and identifies at least two different conjunctions used to contrast ideas within a sentence
|Includes at least four complex sentences using different conjunctions to link contrasting ideas. Conjunctions are correctly identified.
|included and identified at least one connective to show contrast between separate sentences
|Includes a simple connective such as also
|Includes two connective phrases such as In contrast
|Correctly uses less common connectives such as however; whereas; nevertheless; in spite of
Possible answer: The rubric writer has included some counts (for example, ‘Includes at least four complex sentences’). This may be because one of the purposes of this task is to give students practice at applying their knowledge of conjunctions and connectives in a meaningful context. To this end, it makes sense to encourage students to practise using conjunctions and connectives multiple times throughout the work.
A good compromise between the simplicity of a checklist and the detailed feedback of a traditional rubric is a single-point rubric. A single-point rubric contains three columns: the outer two are blank, and the middle column contains a list of standards. Next to each criterion, teachers write one thing the student did well and one thing they can do to improve. Single-point rubrics are not translated easily into scores, which maintains the focus on learning and reinforces the message that it is always possible to improve. They work well for open-ended tasks where it can be difficult to specify in advance what constitutes quality work at different levels of performance.
Something you could improve…
… was written in simple present tense.
… contains all of the required information.
… uses the technical vocabulary accurately.
… uses conjunctions and sequencing words effectively.
… includes a range of descriptive noun groups.
Application task #1
- Either on your own or with a colleague, match the category of learning intention to its description: attitude; performance; product; knowledge; thinking skills.
- Rank each category according to how often it is a focus for your lessons. Are some missing from your regular practice?
- Do you make the learning intentions clear to students at the beginning of each lesson? Note how you communicate the goals to students in the final column. Does your method vary with the focus of the lesson?
|Learning intention type
|How students know
|Factual information, process required to do something, concepts
|Critical reflection for interpretation and understanding
|Physical demonstration of skill
|Creation of an artefact to meet specifications
|Affective goals: disposition; interest; motivation; engagement
Application task #2
- Either on your own or with a colleague, consider the positives of each type of success criteria.
- Decide which type of assessment activities are most suited to each type of feedback.
|Suitable assessment activities
· shows students what success looks like
· high, medium and low samples can be used to elicit student understanding of the task
|· any assessment activities involving students’ use of productive skills, for example, oral presentations, writing activities (at sentence, paragraph or whole text level), posters, etc.
The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) summarises learning intentions and success criteria.
Prof. John Hattie describes the importance of both setting learning intentions AND success criteria in the YouTube video: Learning Intentions and Success Criteria. He highlights the importance of showing students what success looks like.
The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) summarises success criteria on their web site.
In Writing Measurable Learning Outcomes (2007), Osters and Tui write that to achieve a learning outcome, students need precise information about what they must be able to demonstrate. The authors provide a number of examples of measurable learning outcomes for programs and students.
In Word Study in Action Success Criteria (developed by Canadian Curriculum Services), a teacher exemplifies how to involve students in identifying success criteria.
Read "What are rubrics and why are they important?" by Brookhart (2013). This article discusses why rubrics are an important and useful tool for students and teachers. It includes several examples indicating how the level of detail can vary according to the purpose. The final section explains how rubrics are useful for teachers, ongoing programs and students.
See Griffin, P. (Ed.) (2014). Assessment for teaching. Cambridge: CUP for more guidance on creating rubrics.
Some exemplary rubrics are available at Reliable Rubrics.
The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) has put together a guide to developing rubrics for formative assessment.
Read How single point rubrics can improve student work by Perkins (no date) for more information about this alternative form of rubric.
Use learning intentions to plan a lesson you are about to teach.
Question: What do I want my students to learn?
Hint: Express as knowledge about the topic, skills needed to demonstrate learning, and understanding which can be applied to future learning.
Question: How will my students know when they have met the learning intention(s)?
Hint: Break the goal or outcome down into achievable steps.
What classroom activities will help my students focus on the learning intention(s)?
Hint: Check that the activity is directly enhancing learning and is not a distraction.
Now add the success criteria so students will understand the progress they are making.
Question: How can students use the success criteria to evaluate their own progress?
Hints: Levels of success need to use language the students understand.
Provide examples so that students know exactly what to check for. Check that the criteria are measuring aspects or performance that are useful and meaningful.
Question: Will the rubric give enough feedback to students?
Hint: A well-designed rubric which is also used for self and peer assessment will save you time as there will be very little extra to say.
Question: What method/s will I use to clarify the success criteria with students?
Hint: Sharing work samples in addition to another form of sharing success criteria (checklist, rubric, or single-point rubric) can help students understand what success looks like in practice, without it becoming a game of ‘give the teacher what they want’.