The Power of Co-Construction…Learning WITH…Not DOING TO

From last week…

  • Co-construction is a vehicle that enables students to own the learning.

 “Collaborating to develop criteria, sometimes referred to as coconstructing criteria (Gregory et al, 1997), helps students and teachers to reach a common understanding of the criteria by which performance will be judged. By directly involving students in the development of criteria, teachers help students to deepen their understanding of what success looks like. The process invites students to share their initial ideas and understandings about the characteristics of successful performance. As learning progresses, teachers guide students in exploring and refining their understanding of the criteria by having them continuously reflect on and apply the criteria as part of their learning activities.” (Edugains Video Viewer’s Guide Learning Goals and Success Criteria)

 “It is important to note that developing learning intentions or success criteria with students is most definitely not a democratic process. The teacher is in a privileged position with respect to the subject being taught and knows more about the subject than the students do, and it would be an abdication of the teachers’ responsibilities to let whatever the students feel should be valued be adopted as the learning intentions.  The advance of developing the learning intentions with the students is that doing so creates a mechanism whereby students can discuss and come to own the learning intentions and success criteria, making it more likely that they will be able to apply the learning intentions and success criteria in the context of their own work” (Wiliam, 2011, Embedded Formative Assessment, pg. 59).

 “An important technique for helping students understand learning intentions and success criteria is asking them to look at samples of other students’ work and to engage in a discussion about strengths and weaknesses of each….” (Wiliam, 2011, Embedded Formative Assessment, pg. 65).

Some teachers wonder why a class should spend time looking at other students’ work when they could be doing their own work, but as many teachers have discovered, students are much better at spotting errors and weaknesses in the work of others than they are in their own. Once students have pointed out such errors or weaknesses, they are more likely to avoid repeating them in their own work.” (Wiliam, 2011, Embedded Formative Assessment, pg. 67).


 As promised...

The concept of co-construction has entered into conversations on a regular basis this week – whether it was with leaders, during professional learning (especially during the Pedagogical Leadership in Early Years session where we discussed the revised Kindergarten Program Document and the new Communication of Learning that will replace the report cards for Kindergarten in 2016) or in my research.  It almost seemed serendipitous as I was preparing to write this blog; however upon further thought, it is really because co-construction has become a defining characteristic of our education system today – learning is done “with” the learner, not “to” the learner – thus co-construction plays a key role in formative assessment and assessment for/as learning.  Growing Success tells us that,

The use of assessment to improve student learning and to help students become independent learners requires teachers and students to acknowledge and enact a fundamental shift in how they perceive their roles in the learning process.  In a traditional assessment paradigm, the teacher is perceived as the active agent in the process, determining goals and criteria for successful achievement, delivering instruction, and evaluating student achievement at the end of a period of learning.  The use of assessment for the purpose of improving learning and helping students become independent learners requires a culture in which student and teacher learn together in a collaborative relationship, each playing an active role in setting learning goals, developing success criteria, giving and receiving feedback, monitoring progress, and adjusting learning strategies.  The teacher acts as a “lead learner”, providing support while gradually releasing more and more responsibility to the student, as the student develops the knowledge and skills needed to become an independent learner.   (Growing Success, pg. 30).

I think that it is important to acknowledge that while I have not written about learning goals/learning intentions, this should not be taken to mean that this strategy is not of the utmost importance – it is – as learners need to know where they are heading and the purpose behind the learning.  As educators, we are getting better at identifying what learners need to know and be able to do by the end of a period of instruction, and have been working on writing these learning goals in “student friendly” language.  What needs further exploration is how to co-construct these intentions with learners; to identify the area of focus, to engage diagnostic tasks (conversations, explorations, inquiries) with learners to explore what they already know about that particular area of focus, and then to begin to co-construct where the learning then needs to go. Remember, this isn’t about determining the tasks; it is about determining the learning that needs to take place. The formative tasks are the vehicles to achieve the learning goals and thus will be developed in response to the needs of the learners.  Remember, the Wiliam (2011) reminds us that “the development of good learning intentions is more craft than science and will always depend upon the creativity of teachers” (pg. 61). My reading also has me thinking about how to increasingly make these goals visible for learners and how we can link (again visually) both short term and longer term goals so learners see the progression towards the overall goal…so that we can repeatedly draw the learners attention back to these goals throughout the period of instruction. What might this do to the level of engagement and thus of independence?

As promised, I have returned to research around the specifics of “how” to engage in co-construction with learners. Throughout the literature that I accessed, we are reminded that co-construction needs to be explicitly taught and modelled for learners – and that scaffolding of the process is essential for learners to be able to engage in this complex process.  In order to do this however, we need to be very clear about what we want to accomplish – what learners are expected to know and be able to do by the end of a period of instruction – what the learning actually is. I stress learning as I do believe that we need to deeply understand that we are on about learning, and not the task – which is a difficult shift in education today – as we have been task driven for many years. Without the clarity of knowing exactly what the learning is, this process falls down and we may get distracted by “the task” not “the learning”.

An example – as a teacher, I was on about persuasive writing, thus I planned writing tasks that required my students to persuade. Today, I understand that the skills of persuasion permeate every aspect of our lives – this persuasion is important in our world and is thus a Big Idea.  Thus in teaching this today, I would be backward planning using the skills and knowledge that learners need to have in order to persuade – not just in writing – but in an integrated way.  Learners would be able to demonstrate their skills in this area through a multitude of vehicles (according to their strengths – thus differentiation occurs) – including writing forms, art forms, oral reports, etc. Should my backward design include goals around how we use persuasion in a poster? How about in an editorial piece? Absolutely, if these were areas of need for my learners and they were evident in my curriculum. Should there be an anchor chart that reminds learners of the structural components necessary for success (like they need to have 5 paragraphs)? Absolutely, as this chart provides learners with prompts to remind them of the necessary components; keeping in mind that writing the five paragraphs does not necessarily guarantee success as the learning goal is to persuade!

This is why backward planning using both long and short term goals (and big ideas/essential questions) is so essential. We know that we need to deeply plan the learning, ensuring that our short term learning goals build up to the long term goals – recognizing that, in many cases, once learned, the short term learning goals actually then become success criteria for the long term goals. If we plan long term, learners then begin to see how their learning is connected and perhaps even authentic. It builds upon the previous learning. Learners can understand why they are doing what they are doing. This leads to increased engagement.   But more on this piece next week!

Thanks to the Video Viewers Guide from Edugains, the following structure was offered to co-construct success criteria with learners. The following has been adapted from the guide for Success Criteria and Learning Goals.

 Stage One:  Generating Criteria 

The process of co-constructing criteria begins with having students brainstorm a list of possible “look-fors” for a learning task or goal. Teachers would begin by sharing the learning goal with students, and would have presented them with a task or a concept (i.e. what does it mean to persuade, conduct a scientific inquiry, etc.).  They begin the brainstorming process by asking students to think about what success looks like (e.g What does it look like when we do this well?  or  How do we know that we have learned to ______?).  If students have prior experience with the knowledge or skills being addressed, you might simply ask them to think about what success looks like. Giving students time to think and discuss with peers prior to brainstorming as a whole class (eg using a Think-Pair-Share strategy) may help those who need extra time to process their thinking. Providing anonymous samples of student work or mentor texts is another way to initiative students’ thinking about success criteria.  By examining stronger and weaker samples, students are able to identify the characteristics or traits that embody successful performance.

Another way to develop criteria with students is to ask them to think about and make jot notes about the criteria as they are working through a task or assignment.  This is a particularly effective way of generating criteria when:

  • Students have limited prior knowledge or experience with the learning
  • Students are identifying criteria for a skill that they are developing over an extended period of time and will be using repeatedly (eg a problem solving skill, an inquiry skill, persuasion)

At the end of the task, ask students to share their notes on what the criteria might be. Post these criteria for ongoing reference, review and revision.

 Stage Two:  Organizing the Criteria

Once students have generated ideas for criteria, the list needs to be organized so that it is manageable for use in providing feedback, self- and peer assessing and goal setting.  By grouping like or related criteria into categories, students are better able to internalize the characteristics of successful performance of the learning goals (through the task).  Clustering “like” criteria under a single heading can help students to identify aspects of their work that need improvement, while at the same time prioritizing and limiting the number of criteria they need to attend to. Organizing the list helps students to remember, prioritize, and internalize the criteria.  It can also increase students’ commitment to the instructional goals (Rolheiser & Ross, 2001 in Edugains, Video Viewers Guide for Success Criteria and Learning Goals). When crafting the language for the criteria, it is important to use specific descriptors of effective performance. Growing Success (Chapter 3, pg. 18) suggests appropriateness, clarity, accuracy, precision, logical, relevant, significant, fluent, flexible, depth, and breadth.  We must remember that students need to see a degree of effectiveness (as opposed to a checklist of “yes” and “no”) in order to actually enter into peer and self-assessment, and to support a growth mindset (focused on continual improvement). Otherwise, the thinking may be “good enough” and the learning cycle has stopped.

 Research confirms the benefits of involving students in defining the success criteria for a goal or task. By collaborating with the teacher to define the criteria, students begin to develop an understanding of what quality means in the context of their own work. Wiliam (2007) emphasizes that simply sharing criteria with students is not enough because “the words do not have the meaning for the student that they have for the teacher”.

Until next week...why not try this process out?  If we follow Growing Success, we know that these processes work for all learners, adult and student! Take a risk and share your experience…eventually share the impact!

5 responses

  1. I appreciate how the process of planning is being explicitly scaffolded for teachers. In our school learning we looked at the significance of rich tasks and the impact on student achievement. As our learning is wrapping up for the year I am seeing the necessity to revisit the process of learning in terms of the assessment continuum. I also am seeing how crucial the planning is but cannot stand alone without the learning goals and success criteria. I was in a classroom this week and observing a review for a unit test. What came to mind for me was what have students learned and how are the learning goals and success criteria visible for the students. We are at the summative stage in which students need to draw on the learning. They need to be able to bring their learning together and apply their learning in a variety of contexts. I do believe that we need to do more work in this area so their is an automaticity of student learning. Thanks for bringing the thinking and research together as we continue to consolidate our learning.


  2. The complexity can be mind boggling. I’m very interested in LSHS’s collaborative inquiry because it approaches planning in the secondary panel with collaboration and co-construction. The consolidation of planning and assessment still needs focus – our work is never done. I’m wondering what the feedback from teachers will be around how their work changed their thinking about learning in their classrooms. Great work!


  3. I think for many years planning and assessment were almost viewed as two separate tasks. It has become quite clear that planning and co-creation is imperative to engaging our learners and showing a vested interest in achievement. The assessment cycle must be interwoven in our planning and this is where the deep thinking occurs. In my final thoughts I think about the complexity of teaching graphic and how all pieces of the puzzle need to connect at different times for different people.


  4. I think co-constructing success criteria and setting goals looks differently in an inquiry based classroom. The ownership that the students take is very impressive. For example, our grade ones have started a relationship with the residents of Wilson Memorial Hospital. This all started when they made healthy veggie-snails to sell at recess, as a healthy alternative to a bake sale. They raised money and had to decide what they would do with this money . They have taken ownership of this and have set goals for their visits and have been doing all sorts of prep work and follow-up for their visits. It has evolved into a cross-curricular monster. Math…Literacy…Health…Social Studies….and on and on. Authentic Learning at its best = buy in and engagement from students. And back to my original point – they are involved in the assessment cycle ! Kudos to the teachers and students. (this is just one example of the value of authentic learning)


  5. […] couple years or so, I have also learned the importance of involving students in this process.  Co-constructing criteria with students gives them a sense of ownership and accountability.  Having discussions with […]


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