Bringing Success Criteria to Life

Bringing Success Criteria to Life

Writer: Jeremy Bennett, Lead Practitioner in English

At CAL (Co-op Academy Leeds) we are encouraged to ‘teach backwards’ from desired outcomes and equip students with the necessary knowledge and skills to demonstrate their learning.

Personally, I tend to start planning my schemes of work, or series of lessons, by poring over the relevant GCSE mark schemes and thinking about the key skills that students will need to be successful. I have become increasingly aware, however, that the mark schemes can seem ambiguous and even perplexing to students (let alone teachers!) without examples to demonstrate ‘what a good one looks like’.

For instance, here are two extracts from an English GCSE mark scheme:

Students might be forgiven for asking the question: “what is the difference between ‘some sustained attempt to match purpose’ and ‘generally matched to purpose?” I wanted to help them to make sense of these semantic conundrums, so that they could improve the way that they self-assess and redraft their work.

Like many teachers, some of the liveliest and most productive CPD that I have encountered has been during standardising and moderation meetings, where teachers and examiners argue and ‘wrestle’ over differences between work of differing levels of quality. However, if even experienced teachers can, at times, find mark schemes confusing, where does that leave our students?

How can we support pupils to think more meaningfully about success criteria without overloading their working memories and leaving them baffled?

I have recently read about teachers using annotated exemplars to exemplify and deconstruct aspects of success criteria, and decided to try this out with my students.

Here is a paragraph from a first draft of an advice letter that one of my Year 7 students wrote recently:

‘So I know it can be depressing watching your parents fight but this can’t stop you from being outstanding in your work. I suggest you to find a quiet place where you can study for your exams because it’s very important you pass them.’

As part of an action-research project, I used ‘Foxit Reader’ (PDF viewer) to annotate an exemplar of another attempt at the same task to support students to think about the knowledge and skills that were needed to produce work of a higher quality. Here is an example:

The students then answered the questions:

After this, they filled in a tick sheet to self-assess their work (the ticks in the SA2 column are the teacher’s quality assurance of the student’s self-assessment, following their redraft):

Finally, they redrafted to improve the quality of their original paragraph:

As you can see, the student whose work I have chosen followed the steps successfully and the process enabled her to improve the quality of her work. Rather than working with a mark scheme alone, which might have been a little ‘dry’ without exemplification, she was able to think more meaningfully about the success criteria, whilst answering questions on particular aspects of the example. She was then able to apply this knowledge to her own work whilst redrafting it.

After seeing the impact and potential of using annotated exemplars, I now want to continue to use them to demystify mark schemes, and support students to improve their work.