Learning Targets and Success Criteria

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A learning target is a short-term goal or statement of intended learning. When paired with success criteria, it gives a clear direction for the progress of the teacher and students. In this article, Diane MacKinnon shares her experiences working with learning targets and success criteria. 

Knowing Where You’re Going

by Diane Young MacKinnon

Although I’m a proud Boston Red Sox fan, I still feel the need to quote Yogi Berra, who played famously for the New York Yankees for 18 seasons,

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” This is certainly true when it comes to teaching and learning.

Over the past three years of my principalship at my current school, my faculty, staff, and I have worked relentlessly to build a strong and positive school culture. Most students truly love coming to school! They feel safe, protected, and that they belong to our school community.

However, when it comes to an interest in improving and a motivation for academic success, there is not a whole lotta’ love going on.

Benefits of Learning Targets and Success Criteria

When I began to research “student lack of motivation”, I came across the importance of setting learning targets and success criteria. Research shows that learning targets and success criteria allow Students to be more focused, more motivated, and better able to take responsibility for their own learning.

After researching more, watching videos, and reading several articles, I knew we needed to make the path to learning as clear as possible for our students. However, in order to “clear the path”, teachers needed to “know where they were going” so that students could do the same.

Prioritizing Standards

During our professional learning time together, we began with each grade level identifying the “Priority Standards”. These are the Common Core Standards that absolutely, positively, must receive the most attention in order to have the greatest impact on learning in order to prepare students for the next grade level.

Teachers located the nouns and verbs in each of the priority standards and identified all of the learning intentions of each standard.

Learning Targets, Verbs, & Learning Intentions

For example, in 2nd grade, one of the writing standards is:

[thrive_text_block color=”blue” headline=””]2.W.1 Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply reasons that support the opinion, use linking words (e.g., because, and, also) to connect opinion and reasons, and provide a concluding statement or section. [/thrive_text_block]

So, since there are four verbs in the standard, we identified four separate learning intentions. We wrote the learning intentions as a target followed by success criteria. For this standard, this is what the learning target with success criteria would look like in student-friendly language:

LEARNING TARGET: I can write an opinion piece.

SUCCESS CRITERIA: (or what students are expected to do in order to meet the target)

  1. Introduce the topic.
  2. State your opinion.
  3. Give reasons that support your opinion.
  4. Be sure to use linking words like because, and, also when writing about your opinion and reasons.
  5. Write a concluding sentence or paragraph.

Clear Communication with Students

The key to setting clear intentions for learning is that the targets and success criteria must be shared verbally with students, visually posted within the classroom, and referred to often. By doing this regularly, teachers can clearly articulate the priority learning targets and what success looks like when the goal is achieved.

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targets and success criteria must be shared verbally with students, visually posted within the classroom, and referred to often.

Hopefully, this leads to students having greater focus, motivation, and responsibility for their learning. If done clearly and regularly, students will know exactly what is expected of them in order to be successful, and students will “know where they are going”, so they end up exactly where they need to be in order to be prepared for the next grade level.


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