MCCESC Teaching & Learning

December: Teacher Clarity

What is Teacher Clarity?

Learning should not be a mystery to students. Yet, many times it is. Have you ever heard a student respond to the question, "What are you learning?" by describing the task that they are completing? Instead of saying, "I am learning how to solve an equation," you hear, "I am completing this worksheet." The student that says I am learning how to solve an equation is more clear about the purpose of the learning. When the learner knows what he or she is learning, great things can happen. This happens when learning is organized and intentional. When teachers are very clear in their expectations and instruction, students learn more.

Clarity describes a set of teacher behaviors that are vital to engaging and empowering all students in their learning process by helping them clearly understand what they are learning, why they are learning it, and what they are expected to know or be able to do to demonstrate what they have learned (Hattie, 2009). In his book, Visible Learning, John Hattie researched factors that affect student learning. Hattie found that the average effect size of all the interventions he studied was 0.40. A learning effect size of 0.40 equates to a year's growth. Teacher Clarity has an effect size of 0.75. Implementing teacher clarity with fidelity results in almost twice the effect of one year of schooling.

Fendick (1990) defined teacher clarity as "a measure of the clarity of communication between teachers and students in both directions" (p. 10) and further described it across four dimensions. Each of these components contribute to student learning.

1. Clarity of organization - Learning tasks, assignments, and activities should be linked to the objective and outcomes of learning.

2. Clarity of explanation - Information is relevant, accurate, and comprehensible to students.

3. Clarity of examples and guided practice - Lesson information is illustrative and illuminating so students can link concepts to application. Guided practice should move students towards increasing levels of independence with less support from the teacher. The questions, prompts, and cues offered to students should scaffold their understanding and deepen their knowledge.

4. Clarity of assessment of student learning - The teacher is regulary seeking out and acting upon feedback he or she receives from students. Formative evaluation is key to teacher clarity. It is how teachers are able to be responsive to learning needs.

Douglas Fisher & John Almarode: Teacher Clarity Webinar

What am I learning?

To begin the clarity journey, one must first begin with what is to be learned. Teacher Clarity is dependent on an understanding of the standards. How can we expect students to master a standard if we do not have a deep understanding of the standard ourselves? In order to understand what we need to teach, we need to look closely at what the standards are asking of our students. A simple glance at a standard is not sufficient to teach the standard. Deconstructing the standards and identifying the content and skills that students need in order to meet the the standard is imperative in order to translate clear learning expectations to students.

A useful method to deconstruct a standard is to analyze the standard's nouns and verbs. The nouns in a standard represent what the student needs to know - the concepts. The verbs in a standard speak to the skills the student must demonstrate to make the concepts and content useful.

A learning intention for a lesson or series of lessons is a statement, created by the teacher, that describes clearly what the teacher wants the students to know, understand, and be able to do as a result of learning and teaching activities.

Larry Ainsworth compiled a list of criteria for effective learning intentions.

Learning intentions are written:

  • As the learning destination - "Where are we going?"
  • As a summary or general restatement of the standard
  • As a global statement without specifics
  • In age-appropriate, kid-friendly language but retain the rigor and intent of the standard,

and include:

  • No specific details from the standard
  • Key terms and vocabulary
  • No references to specific context

There are various ways to state and communicate a learning intention to students. Here are a few sentence starters you can use to state your learning intentions to students:

  • We are learning to...
  • Students will be able to...
  • I am learning how to...
  • We will be able to...

Why am I learning this?

As teachers, we have all heard questions like, "When am I going to use this" or Why do I need to learn this". Relevance is an important aspect of teaching and learning and part of teacher clarity. As teachers, it is our job to help our students see the relevance in the content that we are teaching. Providing students with the why is a critical component to their understanding and motivation. Relevance can help students realize how useful all knowledge can be. The why can center on what is needed for next steps in learning, how the knowledge will be used in future learning, making connections in learning, and how the knowledge may be used in the real world.

Consider the learning intention below:

Learning Intention: I am learning how to partition shapes into parts with equal areas.

Which of these relevance statements is most effective for students to engage with the content?

1. You will need to know this for the upcoming test.

2. When we make fractional parts, we want to be fair and have each part the same size.

Statement two keeps the focus on growth and new learning. This statement also foreshadows transfer to new learning to build relevance. For example, the student could transfer this new learning with a real world application of eating a pizza with friends. Students could use their knowledge of fractional parts to divide a pizza into parts of equal size to share with friends. Telling students that they need to learn something for an upcoming test is not motivating, but getting an equal share of pizza is!

How will I know that I have learned this?

According to the Teacher Clarity Playbook: A Hands-On Guide to Creating Learning Intentions and Success Criteria for Organized, Effective Instruction, "Success Criteria let students in on the secret that has been kept from them - what the destination looks like."

Success criteria provide a clear answer to the question: How will I know that I have learned it? Or How will we know that we have learned it? Success criteria describe the evidence students must produce to show they have achieved the learning intention. Success Criteria help students and teachers monitor progress toward learning, in turn making learning visible for both teachers and students. Success criteria are not tasks to be completed. They are skills students can do to meet the learning intention. Success criteria should avoid things like "do your best" or "try hard." Instead they shoud be clear and actionable. Success criteria are often written as "I can" statements.

Let's look at an example:

Task: Finding the density of three mystery substances

Learning Intention: I am learning about the relationship between the mass of a substance and the volume that mass occupies.

Success Criteria:

  • I can determine the mass and volume of a given substance.
  • I can graph the volume of different mass values of the substances.
  • I can explain the relationship between mass and volume form the graph.
  • I can calculate density of a substance from the graph.

Effective success criteria should do the following:

  • Be actionable
  • Focus on the learning, not the task
  • Specify what students are to do to demonstate learning
  • Identify details needed to achieve the learning intention
  • Use specific terms from the standards and maintain the rigor of the standard
  • Appear in student-friendly language
  • Often include more than one statement per learning intention
  • May include other details not included in the standard, but necessary to achieve the learning intention(s)
John Hattie Learning Intentions and Success Criteria

The Value of Learning Intentions and Success Criteria

Reasearch shows that students who regulary receive learning intentions and success criteria information in the classroom are:

  • more focused for longer periods of time
  • more motivated and active in their learning
  • better able to take responsibility for their own learning
Teacher Clarity: Effective Teaching Using Learning Intentions, Success Criteria, and Self-Reflection


If you have interest in learning more, please reach out as we can schedule opportunities within districts, online, or in-person at our agency.

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Members of our Teaching & Learning Department have been trained in Teacher Clarity and can provide professional development for you and your building/district.

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