When I see discussions about the utility and futility of activities surrounding Learning Objectives and Success Criteria, or WALTs and WILFs, I reflect on the fact that I had a substantial teaching career before the National Curriculum became a reality in 1987.
Someone recently entering teaching might think that it had always been as it is currently described, yet the LO/SC phenomenon is relatively recent. There can also appear to be a school of thought that before teachers were told what to do, they just did their own thing and as a result, it was all chaos.
I know there were some horror stories around, but most teachers in most schools got on with the job in hand, as they always have.
For the first five years of my career, I had fewer than 38 children in my Primary class only in one year and that was a class of 37. There was no such thing as a teaching assistant, technology was the Banda machine, with two colours when the school felt flush and I have vivid memories of the arrival of the overhead projector and the single BBCB computer into the school. Resources were limited and we had to make or find most of what we needed.
During these years, the integrated day was the norm, for many lessons, often with five different activities occurring at the same time, with a main focus group for teaching, with others perhaps pursuing ongoing activities, such as a long-term story with redrafting embedded, an art activity, science investigations, maths practice activities. Learning activities were deemed to be high or low teacher demand, so they were balanced to enable the teaching to occur and for independence to be developed. Each task had a purpose which was articulated to the children, so they were clear about the task and how it needed to be accomplished; even if over a number of lessons.
It is interesting to think that children in my first classes will now be approaching their 50th birthdays.
Planning took place over different timescales, lessons had aims and objectives and children had task achievement and personal targets. I often used the analogy of a book with different sections, which needed to be opened in front of the children; telling a good story.
So what’s different with Learning Objectives and Success Criteria? They seem to mean so many things to so many people that they eventually seem to lose their meaning. The act of being seen to be sharing them has taken over, in places, so these things become structural, formulaic and ritualistic, rather than enhancing learning.
Learning needs to be seen over a timescale, long, medium and short, with the analogy of opening a book of ideas/maps for that year.
Long term; essentially the chapter headings of the areas to be covered during the year. This can be produced as a Contents List at the beginning of the year. Like any good book, you have some idea of where the story is going. It’s even better if the author is sharing the book, as they are the creator and have the background understanding of their own thought processes. There will be overview plans for coverage needed and the anticipated improvement in learning for each learner.
Medium term; the sub-headings of the chapters, each sub heading providing the basis for the week by week development of ideas. Again there will be anticipation of progress within the context of the shorter term context.
Short term; what will be covered during the week and each day. I would, if I was currently a head, leave this level of planning to the teacher, unless I had concerns about the teaching, as I’d already be aware of teaching and learning issues from the medium term plan, discussions and book and classroom scrutiny.
A diagrammatic interpretation of this is below, in a presentational form, although on a personal level, I’d probably indulge in a series of interlinked “spider diagrams” to explore the potential for linkage between topics, especially at Primary. That’s just how my mind works.
Some box ticking may be necessary, but I’d currently put Learning Objectives and Success Criteria into the possible box ticking category, especially as they are regularly required to be written down at the start of an activity. If they are inappropriately phrased, they become meaningless to the learner and can only function as an aide memoire to the teacher, although that too can be debatable.
If they do need to be written down, they should possibly form the handwriting practice element of the week, so that they have additional purpose.
Let’s play “what if”, with LO and SC;
SC would become the essential aspects to be covered or the scaffolds to produce a complete piece of work. Sometimes schools call these “Steps to Success”. These are structural statements, which if carefully phrased can also embed guidance on the expected use of available time to ensure concentration on specific areas. Success criteria can become de facto mark schemes, partial guides to the teacher for commentary.
My experience of visits to schools for audits for National Award schemes inevitably raises the question of the children’s personal learning targets and where they are kept. Often they are inside or outside the exercise book cover. Schools are often surprised to be challenged to consider where they are once the book is open. They effectively become hidden, from both the teacher and the learner, so play little, or no, dynamic part in learning development, yet they are deemed to be key to individual success.
LO and SC can be effectively supplemented with personal targets, so that, within a defined activity (title=LO) with stated steps to be taken (SC), individual targets can provide the detail for discussion within the lesson and afterwards in evaluation and marking.
For revision, of course, children could make their own contents list and index, for fine tuning.
It is the interplay of the three elements that enables learning conversations, oral and written to become purposeful and have impact.
Children need a clear picture of where their learning is going, to be able to fully participate, otherwise they are left watching the others, trying to make sense of things, with the effect that that behaviour can become an issue.