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Success criteria and effective practicals

Expanding on the learning objectives (or intentions) by showing students ‘what success looks like’ can support students in making progress. John Hattie explains the importance of having success criteria, in addition to learning objectives, in the video provided here:

John Hattie: Learning intentions and success criteria

As you watch the video, consider how Hattie’s suggestions apply in practical science.

In the interview, Hattie explains: “If I said to you I’m going to teach you what Australian-rules football looks like, but I’m not going to tell you what the rules are, and I’m not going to tell you how to score, and I want you to go out there and play it…… many of you would give up quickly, trying to get a game like Australian-rules – it just looks random. Unfortunately for a lot of kids in school, that’s what learning looks like …..”

The basic premise is that the students have the same idea as their teacher about what is going on in the classroom, and what they should be learning as a result of doing. Many students are not going to know this unless it is clearly signposted - learning intentions (or objectives), and success criteria provide this direction.

For example, in step 2.7, we saw Emma discussing how she would structure a practical lesson to ensure students achieved the learning objective:

  • to be able to display experimental data in a graph.

Students can be supported in understanding what they are aiming for in the lesson by providing success criteria:

  • Your graph will have a title and labelled axes, a suitable scale, at least five points plotted and a line of best fit.


Take one practical which you have planned to teach, and consider what success criteria would support students in understanding how they can achieve the learning objective for the lesson.

You may find it helpful to use stems such as:

  • What I am looking for is for you to set your conclusion out in three paragraphs: the first will describe the pattern you found in the data; the second will explain this, using the scientific ideas we talked about (illustrated with a diagram); the third will state whether the hypothesis you investigated were supported or not from the evidence.

  • A good scientific drawing will have the following features …..

  • For top marks you will ensure that you work within 10cm of the Bunsen burner at all times …..

  • To be successful your group will have tested five solutions and ……..

  • You should be aiming for a slide which has just enough stain ……

In the comments below, share the practical you are undertaking and your success criteria.

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching Practical Science: Biology

National STEM Learning Centre