Watch the Teaching Basics video on Leading a Critique
Structuring a critique
The basic method of conducting critiques has three parts: it begins with a focused group critique and is followed by individualized critiques, which take place while the rest of the class is working on an assignment. This approach uses precious class time efficiently. It allows teachers to address key or common issues in a short amount of time, so students don't get bored. The instructor can then address individual issues in one-on-one or small-group consultations, while the rest of the class is working productively.
A good critique will address all of the following:
- what was done correctly
- areas for improvement
- why the improvements are needed
- how to make improvements
Preparing for the critique
Have a clear plan and structure for the critique.
What a critique looks like depends on the specific goals of the critique and the type of environment the teacher wants to foster in his or her classroom. Critique questions should be drafted to reflect those goals. And finally, it is crucial to plan out the format — the timing, the groupings, who speaks first, what the non-presenting students are doing — so that the maximum number of students reach the goals you set out.
Managing group critiques
Review assignment criteria / rubric at the start of the critique.
Posting and reviewing assignment criteria before beginning a critique reminds students of the expectations for the assignment. It engages their critical faculties by focusing them on the essentials you will be discussing and provides a clear structure for the critique.
Learn more: Using Rubrics for Critique & Grading
Connect the feedback to the stated criteria.
By consistently tying the feedback to the criteria, you keep the critique focused on the stated expectations — and students learn to adhere to these when giving feedback, too. It also gives them specific things to look for and discuss, instead of getting lost in non-specific “likes” or “don’t likes.” This makes the feedback more useful and relevant to each student.
Make Suggestions in a Tactful Way
It's never easy to hear critical feedback. But basing your comments on your own perspective helps to ground your critique in your specific observations, rather than on blanket judgments. And asking the student questions about her intent and choices brings her into the conversation and allows her to thinking with you about the success of her work.
Learn more: Making Suggestions in a Tactful Way
Structure the critique equitably, spending roughly the same time with each student.
One of the complaints students sometimes make is that they feel shortchanged in critique, so they don't understand the grade they received or how to improve it. In any critique, some work will require considerably more or less time than others, but it’s critical that every student feels they have gotten a fair share of the instructor’s time and input.
Learn more: Efficient & Effective Critiques
Point out the common class successes and weaknesses observed.
During and at the end of critique, call students’ attention to shared qualities you observe in their work; i.e., what most did successfully and where many need improvement or attention. This reinforces their sense of belonging to the group and gives them a "yardstick" for their progress relative to their classmates. Noticing these commonalities also helps you determine what areas you need to review or explain further to the class.
Facilitate student involvement.
Ask students questions during the critique to encourage them to think more deeply about the feedback being given. Asking them to articulate how they might revise their work based on the feedback lets them demonstrate that they have understood and can apply the principles discussed.
Later in the semester, when students have gained more experience with the critiquing process, try structuring the critique to include more student participation. For example, model the critique for a single piece; then ask students to form small groups to critique each other's work.
Learn more: Encouraging Student Engagement
Giving feedback to individual students
Explain what was done correctly and identify areas for improvement.
Students may not yet have developed a trained eye for discerning excellence or problems with work, and it isn’t enough to say “I really like this” or “This doesn’t work.” They need to know precisely what the strengths or shortcomings of the work are in order to maintain good habits or correct mistakes. This is an important part of developing a professional eye related to their own work, as well as the work of their peers.
Explain why the improvements are needed and show students how to make them.
Why something doesn’t work may not be immediately obvious to students, nor do they yet know how to fix what’s wrong. As a professional, you have developed that eye. In a critique or when giving feedback on homework, take the opportunity to coach students in how to make needed improvements to their work.
Learn more: Connecting Assignment Criteria to the Critique
Confirm that students understand the feedback given.
Students need some sort of mechanism to help them remember and process the feedback they receive. So tell them to take notes on their feedback, and ask them to verbalize or summarize what they heard. If what they say makes sense to you, you can be confident they took in the intended information.
Learn more: Using Critique Notebooks