Teacher Clarity to Maximize Student Ownership

by Mandi Olson

As students attend school each day they should know what they are going to learn, why they are learning the content, and what success or mastery of the content looks like.  For students to develop ownership in their learning it is essential for educators to communicate the lesson intent and success criteria to the students they teach.  This is more than just a learning target, in fact, it is teacher clarity that provides teachers with the understanding of the skill level of the content standards they teach and gives students an understanding of the relevance of the content they are learning. 

Researcher, John Hattie, examined and synthesized more than 1,000 meta-analyses which comprised more than 50,000 individual studies, to determine factors that affect student learning and achievement.  In his book, Visible Learning, Hattie ranked 138 effects that influence learning outcomes and he continues to add to his research as his original list has grown to 195 (Hattie, 2017). This research is helpful to educators because if almost any change in education will have a positive effect, why not focus on those that will have the greatest effect on student learning?  A year’s growth, calculated by Hattie, is 0.40.  So from his rankings of 195 effects on learning, educators can examine those influences that have a greater chance of increasing student learning and begin to use them in their teaching practice. 

Teacher Clarity, with an effect size of 0.75 has the potential to greatly influence student growth and achievement.  Teacher clarity also “serves as a catalyst for the other effect sizes to become possible” (Hattie, 2017).  How can teacher clarity be used to support student learning in the classroom? Teacher clarity involves learning intentions and success criteria so that students understand what they are learning, why they are learning the content, and what it looks like when students have mastered the content.

Learning intentions are what teachers want students to learn, these include, skills, knowledge, attributes, or values. Learning intentions can provide a useful guide to teachers about what they are teaching. Learning intentions should be explicitly stated to students so that they understand what they are learning and why they are learning it. These valuable intentions of learning also help set the stage for how teachers will assess student learning and determine what the teacher has taught well.  

Another component of teacher clarity involves success criteria. With an effect size of 0.88, success criteria give teachers a powerful tool to create an impact on student learning. Success criteria are specific details to help students understand the criteria a teacher uses for judging their work or performance.  Success criteria provide directions for students so that they understand what success looks like in their learning.  While each student has the same success criteria, targeted feedback can be individualized to help students with specific areas of their learning struggle.  

An example of a learning intention and success criteria for an upper-grade science class is as follows:

Learning Intention: We are learning to: Construct an explanation supported by evidence; 

So that we can: understand the role of the natural greenhouse effect in Earth’s energy balance, and how it enables life to exist on Earth.

Success Criteria:

Students will:

  • Use data about atmospheric composition and temperature ranges to compare the greenhouse effect on Earth, Venus, and Mars.
  • Develop a model to show how energy interacts with matter in the atmosphere to maintain Earth’s energy balance.

As teachers utilize teacher clarity to have a greater impact on student learning, students will more fully understand what they are learning, why they are learning the content, and what success looks like.  This process allows students to be more engaged in the learning process and more able to meet the learning expectations teachers have designed for them allowing them to have ownership in their learning. 


Hattie, J. (2017, May). How to Empower Student Learning with Teacher Clarity. Corwin. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://us.corwin.com/sites/default/files/corwin_whitepaper_teacherclarity_may2017_final.pdf. 


Mandi Olson

Mandi Olson Mandi Olson, Ed.D, is an elementary educator who currently works as an instructional coach in Utah. She utilizes her fourteen years of knowledge and experience to support others as they further develop their educational expertise. She will provide practical insight to help teachers navigate the complex roles and responsibilities of an educator.