Friday, February 21, 2020

Thinking about Success Criteria

I was listening to the Make Math Moments that Matter Podcast (Episode #63: Convincing Students To Value Struggle – A Math Mentoring Moment).  It was a story from a middle school teacher that is all too familiar to me.  She was using rich tasks to get students engaging in deep mathematical thinking and the students were just wanting her to tell them how to do the math.  I've been there.  It is frustrating when you know what math can be and want to share it with students and all they want is the answer and a good grade.  I was excited because I wanted to hear where the conversations and mentoring session would lead. 

As I listened, this quote from Jon Orr lit my mind on fire.  (29:12 - 29:36)
"The kids want to be successful too and sometimes when kids go home and tell parents that or voice those concerns in class they are really saying 'I'm not getting what I need.' They only have to resort back to the way they were taught before, so I don't think it is a situation where you have to teach me the other way. I think it's just they are feeling like they are not getting those mini successes that they would get.  There is something there that they are walking out going 'I didn't feel accomplished today.'"

From there the conversation turned to learning intentions, purposeful questioning, and closing the lesson, but at that point I was only half listening.  (I will have to go back and listen to that again later.)  My mind was reeling over this realization that kids aren't actually asking for direct instruction.  They are asking for what they feel they aren't getting, a sense of accomplishment.  After all, isn't that what motivates us.  As much as I don't like 20 questions of the same problem, I can see how a student would feel a sense of accomplishment when they had finished.  They would feel like they knew what they were supposed to know because they could do that worksheet.  How do we help students have this same sense of accomplishment through our rich tasks and group discourse?  The learning intentions are a great tool.  We use learning targets in my district and this year have been fine tuning them to focus not only one the learning intention, but the why.  I that...  It has helped us, as teachers, to think about the progression of learning and our purpose .  They are definitely invaluable, but I'm not entirely convinced they bring that sense of accomplishment.  I think what students like about the "You teach. I'll mimic." approach is that it is black and white, clear cut, no grey areas.  

I have to admit, I coach my son's Destination Imagination team and the challenges are as grey as it gets.  "Make a structure that triggers a special effect and a story to go with it."  Ready. Go.  There have been plenty of times I have longed for more direction and structure, even though I appreciate the creativity that comes from not having a clear direction.  I imagine students feel the same way about rich tasks in math.

Along with our learning targets, we have started creating success criteria for each lesson.  This is really where my brain went after Jon's statement.  I have been leading our PLCs and I have thought a lot about our success criteria this year.  
Here is a quick look at part of a pacing guide we have created this year:
(It's a work in progress, so if you have feedback I'd love to hear it.)

Some of my thinking around success criteria is that it often seems to just be a repeat of the target.  At times we will put a specific problem in the criteria so that students can more easily self reflect on their understanding.  Other times we might identify a problem in the lesson that we would consider a hinge question or exit task (see Formative 5 or Episode 32 of Make Math Moments Podcast) that we could use to determine student understanding with our learning target.  Some days the success criteria is to be able to explain a new strategy, vocabulary words, or connect the new material to background knowledge.  All of the success criteria were created through the lens of formative assessment.  What do we want students to be able to do/understand after this lesson.  How will we know and how will the students know if they have met the learning target for the day?  

Jon's statement this morning got me thinking about our success criteria and whether or not it fosters that sense of accomplishment in our students.  Throughout our process this year we have found that checking in on the success criteria a few days after the lesson works better for most lessons.  Many students might not be fully successful that day, but when given time to process the information and practice with spiraled review problems then the pieces start to fall into place.  Looking through this lens of students' feeling successful, our success criteria might have that effect within the unit, but how might they leave feeling each day?  Do they feel like they are always a day late and a dollar short?

This week as we were working on a pacing guide there was a series of 3 lessons.  The first day is an exploration of rigid transformations.  Success would be engaging in the exploration.  There is no definitive thinking we expect out of that day.  It is simply an experience they can pull from the next 2 days as we formalize some of their noticings.  We were not going to have success criteria that day.  What might be the impact that has on students? Will they leave class that day with that anxious feeling mentioned in the podcast where they don't know what they were supposed to learn?  Will they connect with success criteria about observing and noticing patterns? Or does that lack parameters that students would need in order to determine if they were successful?  

All these questions are swimming around in my head.  
Have we oversimplified our success criteria because we wanted something students could measure in order to self reflect?  
Are our current success criteria valid if we don't expect students to be successful with them by the end of class?
How might the success criteria look different if we focus on the student perspective of feeling a sense of accomplishment for that day?  

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