Co-Construct Success Criteria for IGCSE® Chemistry

Student looking through microscope

By Onn May Ling

Onn May Ling is a science teacher and reviews and develops digital content for Chemistry resources from Oxford University Press.

In one of the episodes of The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, how to co-construct success criteria with students’, host Jennifer Gonzalez interviews Starr Sackstein about looking at assessments through the lens of social emotional learning.

We teachers are always looking for ways to check for understanding through mindful assessments. I find that I benefit by learning from other teachers because there is always room for improvement. Hence, listening to Starr Sackstein’s sharing reminded me of the importance when structuring an assessment to include learners in determining what success looks like from the beginning. I find that to go over an assignment with our learners on what it means by “good enough” is even more crucial during this Covid-19 pandemic where teachers and learners are pushed to adapt very quickly to online learning.

So what is co-construct success criteria? Co-constructing success criteria in a learning environment is about developing a shared understanding or a common language between the teacher and the learners on what it would take to be successful. My learners would not immediately understand most of the assignments that I have given if I am being honest. I would have to repeat or rephrase or even show an example to answer those questions like what am I learning, is this good enough, what grade would I get, or even how is this going to be useful in real life?

How Best to Co-Construct Success Criteria

Success criteria is often described as features or checklists that show what success looks like. Through co-construction of success criteria, we are moulding independent learners to be able to think about their own thinking and learning, in what we call metacognition.

Therefore, let’s look at how do we co-construct success criteria in an IGCSE® Chemistry class:

Creating the spark!

I find that it is important to start off first by encouraging learners to think through the learning expectations at the beginning of a topic or an assignment in order to identify the direction of their learning. This can be done by engaging in inquiry to get them curious, asking questions, and making connections to their prior knowledge. For instance, new additions to the Cambridge IGCSE® Chemistry (0620) syllabus like the content on Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) plastic can be introduced through inquiry-based learning activities. We can get learners to make observations, compare and discuss the different types of plastics in terms of their structure and also their different number series in the triangle recycling symbols.

Besides, there are also some interesting online resources that I like which are the Science Kerboodle animations that often start off a topic with a real life application situation and Gizmos Interactive Virtual Science Investigations that allows learners to practice problem-solving and critical thinking by solving real world problems as a STEM professional. When learners are able to find the connection between learning and real life applications, they will then have a vested interest in their own learning and assessment process.

Reviewing and analysing examples

Now that we got them interested, let’s talk about getting started with their work.

I thought my work was good enough’ is a common phrase among some learners. Solely informing our learners that we expect high quality work is not going to be enough. What does high quality work actually look like? Why not invite learners to work in pairs or small groups to review a series of models, exemplars, or even works-in-progress, just to think through and evaluate what makes high quality work and how work can be improved. Then, get them to rank the collections of exemplars in the order from those that need most improvement to those that are strong examples of proficient work. You will then notice that these collaborative conversations that they are having among their peers will allow them to give the success criteria some thought.

Take paper 5 or 6 questions for instance, why not try giving them a whole example of how a paper would look like with the answers. Allow learners to collect evidence of learning by making reference to the updated details of assessment for the new syllabus where further explanations have been provided on what is expected. For instance, they are required to demonstrate knowledge of how to select and safely use techniques, apparatus and materials.

I find that it is also good to create our own teacher resource folder of all the different types of answers given by our previous students. We can then get our existing learners to compare two pieces of our previous students’ work, asking learners to identify the strengths and areas for improvement. This would be useful for answering paper 3 or 4 structure questions.

Planning for the way forward

Subsequently, with all the collected evidence of learning, they can now organise them into a chart or checklist of criteria that should be included to produce high-quality work. Learners can even make a digital resource folder for themselves that helps them understand the success criteria. This is where they are involved in the planning stage of creating their own success criteria.

I find that when we co-design rubrics or criteria with our learners, we are allowing them to take ownership of their own learning. We can also get learners who are ready for the next step to put their work out there. This would then bring us to the next important thing to do when co-constructing success criteria, getting other learners to share things they like about that learner’s shared work that align to the success criteria. 

Giving and accepting feedback

After having collected evidence of learning, now it is time to communicate the evidence of that learning to others. John Hattie emphasizes on the power of feedback in reducing the gap between learners’ current abilities and the learning expectations. Another important aspect of co-constructing success criteria is to allow learners to engage in conversations that help them to reflect on how they are going, set goals on where they are going and determine where to next.

I find that this could be done in a more effective way when we implement feedback, feed up, feedforward. We can get learners to work in small groups and allow the learner who is sharing work to select the best strategies or suggestions presented by their peers for the next steps.

Co-constructing success criteria is important as it allows learners to have power over their learning. May we continue as educators to apply these valuable practices in our classrooms!

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Explore the range of IGCSE® Science resources by visiting the Cambridge IGCSE® & O Level Complete Science webpage, where you can find out more about the resources available, explore sample pages and request digital inspection copies.