As a teacher, I gave up worrying about what I can’t change or control long ago. I focus on what is within my power to control or influence. And frankly, I believe there is a lot of room for me to make a difference in the lives of children. 

In my teaching life, no one has ever said, “You must do THIS in exactly this way”. Don’t get me wrong, they HAVE said, “You must do this” but the how has been up to me.

So what’s a teacher to do when she or he is given a set of criteria created at the school, district, provincial, or territorial level and told to use it? 

Because we work as part of a team, honour our professional obligations, and know it is a research-based practice… we use the criteria.

But it doesn’t stop there. Because we understand that criteria are most effective when co-constructed with the learners who will use it, we involve our students in the process. We make this external criteria our own. 

We understand that learning criteria are most effective when co-constructed with the learners who use them. We need to involve our students in the process. Tweet this

In one school district, a small team of teachers and the district’s math consultant created criteria for math problem solving. This criteria was then shared district-wide, with the expectation that it be used in all classrooms.

The teachers at one of the elementary schools  knew that along with the provincial curriculum, this criteria described quality and proficiency in mathematical problem solving. They also knew that for criteria to be most effective, students needed to be involved in the process. 

Their first step was  to create a clear learning destination for the students, describing what they must know, understand, do, and articulate in order to fully meet the criteria.

Next, samples were used to make each target clear to both students and teachers. These samples came from a variety of sources – student work from a previous year, a recorded conversation of a pair of students describing their solution during a math meeting or congress, and the teacher modelling his or her thinking (notice I said thinking, not steps or solution) during a problem solving demonstration. 

As the students observed each sample, the teacher paused periodically to ask, “What do you notice?” and recorded student responses, beginning the process of co-constructing the criteria in the students’ own language.



In this way, the external criteria was not only used in the classroom, it flourished in the classroom because it was owned by the learning community. The students, guided by their teacher, could use the criteria to self-assess, learn the language of mathematics and assessment, and set goals for improvement.

To learn more about involving students in their own learning, check out these resources:

If you enjoy reading about teachers in the role of reflective practitioner, you might also like:


Anne Davies, Sandra Herbst, and Brenda Augusta

Anne Davies, Sandra Herbst, and Brenda Augusta

Anne Davies, Sandra Herbst, and Brenda Augusta are educators, consultants, authors, and presenters who are highly sought after, both locally and globally. Their energy, passion, and expertise have helped teachers, leaders, schools, and systems to move forward with competence and confidence. Learn more about the team here...


Like most education professionals, we have a burning desire to make a difference in the lives of learners. We started as teachers and leaders, but saw the potential to drive greater transformation by creating and sharing methodologies with other educators.

Learn more...



Toll free: 1-800-603-9888
Phone: 1-250-703-2920


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This