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  • Meredith Blackerby

Teaching Critique

This is one of my biggest flaws in my art classroom. Critique is such a HUGE part of the art experience, but I find that it gets pushed farther and farther down my list of priorities as the year marches on.

So I made a goal to myself over winter break that I was going to take an entire class, the first class of the new year, and talk about critiquing in the art room. I felt that this would be the perfect opportunity to discuss this subject because the students would be getting back their graded projects from 2nd quarter. What a perfect time to talk about critiquing and self-reflection!

Often times when I see students get back their graded artwork, I watch them take one half-hearted glance at the rubric before ripping the grade off and throwing it away. They obviously have very minimal interest in the feedback that I am giving them on their project.

But when I thought about it, this issue can probably be traced back to my own shortcomings as a teacher. If I have never taken the time to talk to them about how we can USE feedback to improve, then they wouldn't have any reason to want to look at their rubric for more than a couple of seconds.

So as the last days of vacation flew by, I started to think about how we were going to bridge the topic of criticism. It definitely isn't a perfect system, but here's what I came up with...

To start the class, we began with some role playing. I wrote out three different scenarios and then had students volunteer to act them out for their classmates. In each scene there are two students working on a math assignment in class (I didn't relate it to art quite yet). One of the students is struggling to complete one of the questions and the second student notices. In each scene, Student B chooses a different way to deal with the situation.

In Scenario 1, Student B chooses to ignore the problem for fear of coming off as "mean" for pointing out their classmate's mistake. In Scenario 2, Student B laughs at their classmate for not being able to figure it out. And in Scenario 3, Student B chooses to help their classmate by asking politely if they could use some help.

Shockingly, after Scene 1, many students believed that ignoring the problem is the best way to go. We put so much stress on our students to be kind and respectful to our classmates, that they are scared to say something that might offend someone else. But I explained that not all criticism is negative. It is possible to point out someone's mistake without being rude.

And this is where we bridge the gap between math and art. I explained how the feedback that I have given them on their graded projects (from the previous quarter) is not their to make them feel ashamed or upset. It's there to help them improve their craft and do even better the next time.

In order to give some examples for what this might look like, I handed out note cards with examples of different types of feedback. I told them that there are three main types of feedback that we can give another person:

Negative- Telling them that they're wrong, but without offering a solution.

Complements- Telling someone something nice to boost their confidence, but without giving them anything to improve on.

Constructive- Telling someone (in a positive way) something that they could work on in the future.

It became very obvious to the students which type of feedback we should be using. They agreed that we should definitely give compliments to make people feel good, but constructive criticism is the most useful when we are trying to get better at something.

So now we needed to put our new critiquing skills to use....each student was told to pick one piece of artwork for the last activity. They were then given three blank notecards. On each notecard they were told to write two things: one compliment and one constructive criticism. They were then instructed to fill out one card for themselves first and then to trade and critique the artwork for two of their classmates.

I will admit, I lost some of them at this point. I saw a lot of cards with things like "good" scrawled across the entire notecard in giant letters. So we had to take a timeout and I explained that compliments are way better when they are specific. Instead of "good" we should write "the colors that you chose to use look really good". I still had some of them drag their feet about writing more than a couple of words, but for the most part I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout. The students seemed eager to both give their ideas and receive feedback from their classmates.

As much as I would love to do things like this all the time, the time that I am given with my students just does not permit it. The struggle is real, people. With only 50 minutes a week with each class, we struggle to fit even the bare essentials into our class time.

But I am pleased that I was able to (at least briefly) introduce my students to peer-critiquing and I hope that I will be able to carry these skills over into other aspects of our classroom.

What do you do to incorporate peer-critiquing into your class time??

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