In which I encourage students to ‘level up’

In my previous post [1], I mentioned that we recently had a whole-school INSET session delivered by Andy Griffith [2]. Central to a lot of what he had to say was the idea of ‘levelling up’ – drawing up a set of levelled success criteria, assessing the level at which you are currently working, then identifying steps in order to progress to the next level of performance. The principal focus was on how to level up our teaching [3], but there was also some discussion of how we can encourage students to level up their own performance too. The purpose of this post is to share one way in which I am attempting to level up my students’ expectations of themselves.

For Hattie, the greatest effect size in his entire meta-analysis was to be gained from self-reported grades and student expectations (d=1.44) [4]. Most obviously, this relates to student working-at grades, assessing their own progress against levelled or graded success criteria and using this to set their own targets. However, three or four times a year, we also have to report on students’ progress against ‘The 3 Ps’ of preparation(effort, homework), participation (asking/answering questions, working in groups) and persistence (target-setting, response to feedback) on a scale of 1 (‘highly independent’) to 4 (‘highly dependent’). My idea was to put these levels and associated criteria on permanent display in my classroom so that students could self-report these levels as well as those linked to the learning outcomes:


This is also in accord with Wiliam’s work on assessment for learning, in which he argued that teachers should share the criteria against which we will assess students with the students themselves [5]. Despite students being assessed against the 3 Ps on an ongoing basis, they currently only see the criteria when they are reproduced on their formal progress reports. If we expect certain characteristics of students – indeed, if we want student to expect certain characteristics of themselves – then we need to find ways of building these criteria into ongoing feedback cycles.

So far, I have only used this approach once, with a year 7 class. On the day that they handed in a piece of homework, I asked them to use these criteria to write a self-reported grade for preparation, which I then counter-checked as part of the marking and feedback process:


There were 5 students who failed to bring their homework on time; they were given a Post-It note and directed to write a self-reported grade on the basis of their missing homework:


Hattie also found high effect sizes to be gained from feedback (d=0.75) and meta-cognitive strategies (d=0.69) [6]. As a way of trying to tap into these potential learning gains too, next time I set this class a piece of homework, I will encourage students to reflect on their grade for the previous homework and on how they approached it, and set themselves a target for how they are going to level up (or maintain their level, in the case of those who are already working at level 1).

As a final point, Griffith suggested that we find ways of labelling these levels in order to make them more relevant to students – the example he used was types of curry (“I’m currently working at a Madras level; to move up to Vindaloo, I need to…”). My problem with this – as Willingham [7] and Harry Webb [8] have argued – is that this can have the effect of distracting students from that on which we want them to focus. As a result, in my classroom, a level 1 student will not be a Vindaloo, or a Harrods, or a Sebastian Vettel – they will be a level 1. Or at least, they should expect themselves to be working towards it…


[1] C. Phillips (2013) ‘In which I throw a GCSE Geography class into “the pit”’, (post dated 21 October 2013; site accessed 21 October 2013)

[2] see A. Griffith and M. Burns (2012) Outstanding Teaching: Engaging Learners (Carmarthen, Crown House Publishing)

[3] see Malit Ltd. (2013) ‘Level up your teaching’, (site accessed 21 October 2013)

[4] J. Hattie (2013) Visible Learning For Teachers: Maximising Impact On Learning (London, Routledge)

[5] D. Wiliam (2011) Embedded Formative Assessment (Bloomington IN, Solution Tree Press)

[6] Hattie, Visible Learning

[7] D. T. Willingham (2009) Why Don’t Students Like School? A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How The Mind Works And What It Means For The Classroom (San Francisco, Jossey-Bass); see also C. Phillips (2013) ‘In which I review “Why Don’t Students Like School?” by Daniel T. Willingham’, (post dated 31 January 2013; site accessed 21 October 2013)

[8] H. Webb (2013) ‘Do you remember that advert about the trousers?’, (post dated 6 October 2013; site accessed 21 October 2013)


About carljphillips

Geography teacher. PhD in cultural/historical geography (Nott'm., 2006). SF/F genre fiction fan. Liverpool FC supporter. Libertarian. Humanist. Etc. I blog about the theory and practice of Geography teaching, and teaching in general.
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One Response to In which I encourage students to ‘level up’

  1. Pingback: In which I ask whether SOLO Taxonomy can be used to develop a growth mindset | Forwards, Not Backwards. Upwards, Not Forwards.

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