Professional Development

How to Use Learning Intentions and Success Criteria Remotely and in the Classroom

  • Sophie Murphy

Discover the most effective ways to use learning intentions and success criteria and learn why they can provide greater clarity for our students.  

The fast move from the classroom to teaching remotely from home has been challenging for many reasons. Over the past few months, I have written weekly blogs for Big Ideas Learning and National Geographic Learning. I hope that these have been useful for educators globally in assisting and supporting them in our ever-changing world.  


I recently asked several teachers what they would say has been positive in teaching remotely amongst this global crisis. I also asked them what they will take back into their classroom from this experience. Many suggested that their fast move online meant that they found lessons that worked well were ones where they created more deliberate learning opportunities for their students. 


As teachers began to evaluate their practice, all teachers said that the lessons that they believed had the most significant impact were those that had clarity and helped students make deeper-level connections.  


These lessons included ones where:

  • Teachers reminded students about their prior knowledge and understandings.  
  • Students could see what success looked like with visible Learning Intentions and Success Criteria, moving from surface level to deeper levels of learning.  
  • There was purposeful dialogue relating to the intention of the lesson and series of lessons 


In further discussions, teachers unpacked their previous misconceptions about using Learning Intentions and Success Criteria. Such as knowing if they could use the Learning Intention or only the Success Criteria? Or not being sure how to use them and write them so that they created purposeful lessons and moved students from surface to deeper levels of understanding throughout the lesson sequence. The use of Learning Intentions and Success Criteria in classroom discussion assisted students in reviewing and monitoring the learning. Students could actively develop a deeper understanding through dialogue with their teacher, peers or themselves (self-regulation).  


One teacher said that remote online learning felt like she was teaching under a microscope where everything felt magnifiedShe wanted students to understand where they were in the learning process, where they needed to go next and have the confidence and understanding of how to get there. She wanted them to know what to do when they don’t know what to do.   


Learning Intentions (LI) and Success Criteria (SC) can provide clarity for our students (Hattie, 2012). A common language of learning ensures that students understand what we are teaching them. Actively using Learning Intentions and Success Criteria provides a learning guide for students to answer the three feedback questions proposed by Hattie and Timperley (2007):  


    1. Where am I going?  
    2. How am I going?  
    3. Where to next?  


I have been working with schools and teachers globally for many years and have found that teachers who plan and develop lesson sequences using Learning Intentions and Success Criteria as a significant part of their instructional practice love using them.  


I have also worked with some schools and teachers who say that they only use Learning Intentions and/or Success Criteria because they have to but they do not find them useful. When digging deeper into why this is the case, I have found that this occurs when teachers feel the use of Learning Intentions and Success Criteria are used more for compliance rather than purpose. They don't feel connected or comfortable with using them and they often feel that their students don’t like them either.  


If you have used them before and they didn't work for you, please read on to discover the most effective ways to use them and, more importantly, discuss why and how they can provide greater clarity for our students.  


What are Learning Intentions and Success Criteria? 

Learning Intentions 

Learning Intentions are (brief) statements that explicitly describe what students should know, understand and be able to do as a result of the learning sequence. A learning intention clearly outlines what students will be learning rather than what students will be doing. Learning Intentions should NOT change daily, as there needs to be the chance for all students to move through the learning sequence, which may go over a few weeks, e.g. to understand probability. While this sounds broad, it is an example of what the learning is. Not addition. Not measurement. The focus is probability.  It clearly outlines the focus and understanding of the learning sequence (series of lessons) being taught at that time. The Learning Intention should focus on what we want students to learn/understand as opposed to what we want them to do (the task) or how we want them to do it (the activity). They should be linked closely to the standards and outcomes set out in curriculum documentation in whichever country/state you are based.  


In generating Learning Intentions, teachers should avoid: 
  • Repeating the Learning Intention in the Success Criteria  
  • Describing the task as the Learning Intention 
  • Naming the end product as the Learning Intention 
  • Giving the specific number of right answers you want 
  • Having more than one Learning Intention with every Success Criteria 


Additional tips when using Learning Intentions: 
  • Learning Intentions should be shared at the beginning of a lesson. They should also be referred to throughout the lesson and again at the conclusion.  
  • Learning Intentions provide a tool to assist in focusing on the importance of 'tuning in'; building on where learners are in their learning when introducing the Learning Intention. This includes setting the scene and explaining why we are learning this while linking to what is known.  
  • Learning Intentions should be written in student‐friendly language, in a way that actively engages students in the learning process. 
  • Use of Learning Intentions should put greater emphasis on the process of learning over the completion of a task or the end product.  
  • They should be meaningful and inform assessment and reporting and linked to curriculum outcomes


Success Criteria  

Success Criteria are the measurable definitions of success used to determine whether, and how well, learners have met the learning intention. I suggest using four instructional verbs that progress from surface to deep. Use of the SOLO Taxonomy can assist in creating four Success CriteriaTwo 'I can... statements that are surface and two 'I can... statements that provide deeper level understandings. The Success Criteria should provide students with a range of entry points based on ability and leach students demonstrated level of understanding. The Success Criteria should provide a scaffold and focus for pupils while involved in the activity as the basis for feedback and self and peer assessment.  


In generating Success Criteria, teachers should avoid: 
  • Repeating the Learning Intention in the Success Criteria  
  • Describing the task as the Success Criteria 
  • Naming the end product as the Success Criteria 
  • Answering the problem in the Success Criteria 
  • Giving the specific number of right answers you want
Success Criteria should: 
  • Provide students with appropriate challenges.  
  • Match teaching and learning activities and assessment tasks set by curriculum guidelines 
  • Be provided as a tool for the self-efficacy of ALL students knowing that can achieve all of them over the learning sequence (yet at their own level) 
  • Provide clarity on the process so that students actively seek feedback  
  • Be generalizable to allow effective transfer of learnt skills to different contexts.  


To provide additional support for teachers, I have written Learning Targets and Success Criteria that are aligned to the Common Core in the Big Ideas Math textbooks. You can find many examples of what they look like and adapt them for your students. The Learning Intentions and Success Criteria are supported by the vocabulary in Laurie's Notes to help teachers in using them effectively. Think ahead about the questioning strategies you can use and if teaching remotely, these could be used with the ‘digital exit tickets’ from my previous blog 


A few questions may be:  

  • How are you progressing through the Success Criteria 
  • Where are you in the Success Criteria? How do you know?  
  • What helped you to improve towards your goal?   
  • How did your learning connect with what you already knew and could do?  
  • How can you move to the next success criteria?  


See below for a very basic checklist in starting to develop your own learning Intention and Success Criteria.  


 Checklist for creating effective Learning Intentions and Success Criteria  

  • Learning Intentions begin with: To understand… To be able to……. 
  • Success Criteria address curriculum outcomes. 
  • Success Criteria provides a range of entry points based on ability. 
  • Success Criteria uses instructional verbs from the SOLO Taxonomy chart that progress from the surface to deep. 
  • Success Criteria includes two surface and two deep levels of learning. 


I will be providing more examples of what Learning Intentions and Success Criteria look like in action on Twitter @sophmurphy23 and through Big Ideas Learning and National Geographic Learning.  


If you have been using them online or in your classroom, please tag Big Ideas Learning on Twitter or LinkedIn. We would love to see how you are using some of these tools with your students.  


Stay safe and have a wonderful week with your students.  





Hattie, J.  (2012).  Visible learning for teachers : maximizing impact on learning.  London ; New York :  Routledge 

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.

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