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  • Writer's pictureKristin Phillips

Learning Goals and Success Criteria in an Inquiry-Based Environment

At our school, I do not insist that teachers post learning goals and success criteria.  The simple act of posting them does not ensure that either teachers or students are learning any differently.  What I do insist upon is that teachers think deeply during the planning process about what students need to know and do.  I do insist that students know what they are learning about.  I do insist that we provide the supports for students to successfully meet expectations.  Our expectations should not be a surprise..  What might that look like in an inquiry-based program?

In inquiry-based learning, it may be useful to have 1 to 3 over-arching big questions that will guide the students as they read the novel, explore the science concepts or proceed through their unit of study.  As students are working, researching, thinking and collaborating, you continually guide them back to these big questions.  These are the also the questions that students will need to answer at the end of the learning cycle in some format (essay, presentation, conversation etc).  These are the questions that will lead students towards achievement of the curriculum expectations.

The following is a chart I created that might point to some of the differences between how learning goals and success criteria may have been originally understood and how they are understood in an inquiry-based program.

Posting Learning Goals and Success Criteria Inquiry-based Learning Goals and Success Criteria Teacher posted a statement “We will learn…”The teacher usually decided the goal.The teacher, often in collaboration with students, develops some big questions to answer “How…?”  “Why…?”  “Which factors…?”Success criteria were often the “how-tos” of answering a question or completing a task.As students develop their understanding and skills, teachers help them to record success criteria through checklists, anchor charts and co-created student exemplars.Often success criteria were the things required to complete a task.  The teacher provided a rubric or checklist that listed those things required to complete a given task.Success criteria are discovered by students, guided by teachers.  For example, as students work in groups to begin answering the over-arching questions, they will work as a class to determine what makes a good answer.Usually the teacher told students what they would learn.What we will learn is uncovered as we learn it and begin to answer the over-arching questions.Learning goals were often curriculum expectations rewritten in kid friendly language (hopefully).The over-arching question is designed to help students achieve the curriculum expectations.

As we delve more deeply into an inquiry model we discover that our students are more engaged and, as teachers, we are having fun too.  It is important, however, that we do not lose sight of being planned and purposeful in our practice.  As we design inquiry-based approaches, we still need to be aware of exactly what the students will know and be able to do at the end.  We still need to know how students will demonstrate that.  And, most importantly, we have to make sure we let students in on our expectations.  However, within an inquiry model we can lead students towards learning goals, we can encourage creativity and wonder, we can work with them to construct their own learning.

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