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Clarity about the learning

For students to progress confidently and be responsible for their learning, it is essential that teacher and students have shared clarity about what is to be learnt. They need to be clear about the big picture of the learning, and the day-by-day learning steps towards it.


For students truly to be able to take responsibility for their learning, both teacher and students need to be very clear about what is being learnt, and how they should go about it. When learning and the path towards it are clear, research shows that there a number of important shifts for students. Their motivation improves, they stay on-task, their behaviour improves and they are able to take more responsibility for their learning.


Absolum, M. (2006). 'Clarity in the Classroom'.


Essential componentsClassroom resources | School story | Professional learning | Readings


Essential components

The essential components of clarity are:

  • learning intentions
  • relevance
  • examples and modelling
  • success criteria
  • checking for understanding.

When there is shared clarity in the classroom, both teacher and students are able to describe:

  • what is to be learnt – using learning intentions
  • how the learning intention relates to the “big ideas” or global intentions
  • how the learning is relevant
  • how students will go about the learning
  • how students will know it has been learnt – using success criteria with reference to exemplars, examples, and modelling.

When these are in place, what exists is a partnership between teacher and students, where:

  • planning reflects student needs 
  • learning intentions and success criteria are jointly constructed 
  • learning intentions capture the depth of learning at an appropriate level for each student 
  • the teacher has sufficient depth of understanding of the specified curriculum and its progressions of learning to work with any student to identify his/her next learning step.

As fundamental to the success of the learning and teaching process, the teacher frequently checks students’ understanding of the intended learning and whether it meets the students’ expectations and needs.

Classroom resources

These resources to support the development of shared clarity can be used to help teachers explain and create effective learning intentions and success criteria.

School stories

In this story, Independent learning for new entrant students, Rebecca McGarry, new entrant teacher of Orakei School, shared learning intentions, clearly modelled the learning and co-constructed success criteria with her students. Doing this with new entrant learners can be challenging, but Rebecca persevered and through trial and error she discovered what worked for her learners.

This story, Clarity about the learning gives students confidence and NCEA success, explains how students' NCEA results improved after their teacher inquired into his own teaching capabilities, particularly around being clear about the learning.

Professional learning resource

These slides may be used for teacher professional learning and development relating to shared clarity about learning.

PowerPoint icon. Shared clarity about learning (PowerPoint 1 MB)

References and readings

Absolum, M. (2006). Clarity in the classroom. Auckland: Hodder Education. pp 76–95.

Clarke, S. (2001). Unlocking formative assessment: Practical strategies for enhancing pupils’ learning in the primary classroom. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Duffy, G. (2003). Explaining reading: a resource for teaching concepts, skills and strategies. The Guilford Press, New York. pp 102–108.

Marshall, B & Drummond, M.J. (2006). How teachers engage with Assessment for Learning: lessons from the classroom. Research Papers in Education, Vol 21, no 2, pp 133–149.

Rust, C., Price, M. and O'Donovan, B. (2003). Improving students' learning by developing their understanding of assessment criteria and processes. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 28, no. 2, pp 147–164.