Professional Development

Using Learning Targets and Success Criteria in Big Ideas Math

  • Sophia Montiel

Learn how to effectively use Big Ideas Math's Learning Targets and Success Criteria to empower students to take ownership of their learning.

Now, more than ever, we are seeing the importance of students being able to take ownership of their learning. When teachers and students aren’t able to be in the same space or, in some cases, meet at the same time, it is vital that students understand what they are supposed to be learning, how they can take steps towards learning it, and how to know when they’ve been successful. In this post, I want to share with you some of the ways that Big Ideas Math uses Learning Targets and Success Criteria to empower students to take ownership of their learning. 


Last week, a co-worker shared with me that she gets up at 3:30 in the morning because it’s the only time she has for herself in the day.  Since distance learning has started, she has become a 1st, 2nd, and 5th grade teacher on top of her own career. Another co-worker shared that she had to make an agreement with her middle-school-aged kids that from 9am-1pm they, too, are co-workers and everyone is responsible for taking care of their own work. These are shared experiences as we adjust to widely varying schedules suddenly being contained under a single roof. Educators are accustomed to wearing multiple hats; now we are wearing them simultaneously, stacked on top each other.  


How can students know what they are supposed to be learning? 


If you are new to Learning Targets and Success Criteria, I highly recommend reading the comprehensive descriptions Sophie Murphy wrote in her blog post. In short, the Learning Target gives students the big picture of what they will be learning, and the Success Criteria tell them how they will know when they’ve learned it and at what level. Here are examples of Learning Targets and Success Criteria from Big Ideas: 



Notice the yellow and green squares next to the Success Criteria. The yellow squares indicate surface-level criteria and the green squares indicate deep-level criteria.  


  • If a student meets the yellow criteria, then they know that they have successfully reached a surface-level understanding of the Learning Target.  
  • If a student meets the green criteria, then they know that they have successfully reached a deeper-level understanding  of the Learning Target. 


So often I hear kids (and, even adults) talk about math as though they either get it or they don’t. This is often the result of only being given one image of what “getting it” looks like. The Success Criteria as they are written above give students a way to see that they are making progress toward a Learning Target, even if they do not have a full or deep understanding of it yet.  


How can teachers help keep the Learning Target visible to students throughout the lesson? 


Learning Targets are not meant to be solely stated at the beginning of the lesson. One of the biggest opportunities we miss, as educators, is when we state the objective once and never return to it. How many beautifully written lesson objectives have died in the corner of a whiteboard? 


The power of a Learning Target is in the way that we return to it throughout the lesson. If this isn’t something you’re already doing or do naturally, it can feel a little awkward at first. How do you know when it is appropriate to return to the Learning Target and Success Criteria? What questions can you ask that will truly elicit student’s thinking?  


Laurie Boswell supports teachers with this in the Big Ideas Math Teaching Editions. The target symbol indicates a question teachers can ask or a prompt they can give to tie the activity back to the Learning Target.  


Here is an example from 4th grade. On the left side is the Learning Target and Success Criteria for the lesson, and on the right side is an excerpt from Laurie’s Notes in the Teaching Edition.  



These notes can also make great closures or exit tickets. Another simple closure that can be used to tie back to the Learning Target is to have students share, in their own words, what they are learning and where they are in their learning. 


How can we support students with measuring their progress on their own? 


Big Ideas Math provides Self-Assessments for every chapter in 3rd-8th grade. Middle School students will find these in their Student Journals. Teachers can access the 3rd-5th grade Self-Assessments in the Resources by Chapter book, both in print and online. In the Self-Assessments, like the one you see below, students can use a 4-point scale to rate themselves on their understanding of the Learning Target and Success Criteria.  




These Self-Assessments are also available in the teacher online platform in editable formats. I have worked with teachers that have added additional “Date” columns so students can self-assess on the same Learning Targets over time. I have also met with 2nd grade teachers that have edited these to include the Learning Targets and Success Criteria from their grade. Since all teachers using Big Ideas have access to K-12 resources online, teachers from any grade-level can easily take these Self-Assessment documents and edit them to fit the needs of their classes. 


In a time when many of us are relying on students to be more independent, one of the best ways we can support them is to be clear about:  


  1. What they are learning 
  2. What success looks like 
  3. What they can use to measure their progress along the way 


I hope this has given you a few ideas of the ways that Big Ideas Math resources can be used to empower students to take ownership of their learning. If you have been using Big Ideas Math’s Learning Targets and Success Criteria, Laurie’s Notes, Self-Assessments, or other resources to bring clarity to your lessons and support studentswe want to hear about it! Please share on with @BigIdeasMath on Twitter