Monday, 28 May 2012

Success Criteria in Maths


Our school have been looking lately at success criteria, and we were interested as to how they might be used in maths. Other departments use them more routinely and successfully than we do, so I observed an English teacher during a ‘success criteria’ part of a lesson to see if we can apply in maths what other departments are doing. I’ve written a fairly seminal reflection here that may guide discussion.

The learning intention was “Analyse the discourse and grammatical features of complex text.” Key words were identified, defined and broken down (e.g. lists of grammatical features given). Student input was sought, and reframed by the teacher. The question was asked “How will I know that my analysis is effective and worthwhile?” Kids spent about ten minutes discussing, in groups and as a whole class, how they would know. They came up with:

  •          I can do this analysis in different contexts
  •          Others can read my analysis and know about the text being analysed without having first read it
  •          My analysis will identify the audience/context of the text
  •          I can deconstruct complex text using my skills.

During the discussion there was a lot of recapping of previously learned material, e.g. mentions of implicit/explicit information in text, literary devices. I got the feeling that the kids were already fairly familiar with what needed to be done, which indicated that the learning intention cumulatively built upon previous lessons.

It certainly felt like an effective use of time, focusing the kids on exactly what needed to be done.

I wondered how this could be applied to the last maths I remember teaching before revision: “Sketch cubic graphs including all key features.” Modelling what was seen, I would ask the kids, “So what are the key features?” Shape. Intercepts. Turning points. Shape? Well, let’s see what the basic cubic looks like by trying some numbers in y=x^3. Intercepts? X=0, easy enough. Y=0, need to factorise. How?... This feels like it would have been more or less what I do anyway, but without referring to the parts as success criteria. Where in English there seems like a large pool of skills from which to draw, in maths it is far more rigidly defined – these are just the things you have to do to answer the question, and if you don’t do them, you won’t get to an answer. (And we would accept different routes to the same answer, and hence ‘process criteria’ wouldn’t be appropriate). In English, you might have what looks like an answer, but actually doesn’t do everything you would want.

So, discussing the learning intentions sounds like it gives a structure to the lesson and identifies what needs to be done, but I’m not sure I would make explicit success criteria. They seemed useful in English because, after producing a piece of text, some serious reflection needs to happen for the student to know they have done what they should have. In maths, once you have done it, it’s fairly obvious.

The structure here would not be appropriate for e.g. the first lesson where children see matrices. “Understand what matrices are and what operations can be performed with them.” What’s a matrix? Don’t know. What can we do with them? Don’t know. OK, listen carefully whilst I tell you… And it’s quite possible that there are English lessons where the content is too unfamiliar for the kids to discuss success criteria.

So at the moment I have no plans to get into success criteria as a routine part of my lessons. But I would be interested to know if other people have different experience of this.