Critique — critical discussion of a piece of art — is essential to an education in the arts. For most people who have attended art school, the image "critique" conjures up is one of a teacher and a group of students discussing a piece of work that one of the students has done.
Upon closer examination, however, there is a tremendous amount of variation in critiques. A critique in an introductory level class might not even address each piece individually, but rather groups of pieces. Another teacher might have students work in small groups and critique each other’s work. In a midpoint review, the student is asked to leave the room while the committee discusses the work in private.
What the 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.
Key questions to ask when planning a critique
What are the goals of the critique?
Critiques can accomplish many goals in a classroom. Prioritizing specific goals helps a teacher draft questions and plan critiquing activities that effectively help students master the key concepts. Consider these questions:
- What should the students be able to do as a result of the critique?
- What do you, the teacher need from the critique?
- What kind of environment do you want to create?
As you think through your goals for a critique, consider the stage of the students' work, the skill, confidence, and academic level of your students, the specific learning outcomes for the course you teach, and the culture of your industry.
Possible goals for students
As a result of participating in critique, students will be able to:
Possible goals for the teacher
As a result of the critique, the teacher will:
Possible goals for the environment
The critique environment should:
What questions will focus the critique around these goals?
Well-phrased, thought-out critique questions guide students’ thinking and lead their eyes and minds to the connections that you want them to make. Craft specific questions that reflect the learning outcomes and key concepts you have identified for your critique. Ask yourself:
- What questions will guide students to address the key concepts and vocabulary of the assignment?
- What questions will elicit the kinds of comments you would like to hear?
- What kinds of questions will elicit what the students need to hear?
Basic Question Types
These questions, when taken literally, require only yes/ no or one-word answers. These questions do not rely on key concepts. These questions provide no support for students who need to hear instructors model the correct use of new vocabulary and key concepts.
Open-ended, broadly-worded questions
Although broadly worded questions may contain a key concept [color], they don’t signal how to think about or use the concept correctly. These may be useful for inviting students into a discussion about art, but as critique questions they are broad, and will likely only elicit useful comments from students who have already mastered the material.
Focused questions about key concepts
These questions direct students to look for key concepts within the work. These questions are especially helpful for ESL students because they model the correct use of key concepts. These questions also prompt students to use key concepts in their answers.
Questions that probe the relationship among concepts
These questions will encourage the most complex responses. These questions model the correct use of key concepts and require that student articulate the relationship among those concepts.
Named for Socrates (ca. 470-399 B. C.), the early Greek philosopher and teacher, a Socratic approach to questioning encourages students to be more autonomous and conscientious thinkers.
Socratic Questions can be used to address unproductive responses during critiques. Instead of rushing to provide your knowledge or opinions, prompt students to elaborate on their responses. Ask Socratic Questions to direct energy away from the teacher and back to the students themselves. Below are examples of generic questions in five of the Socratic Questioning categories.
Questions of Clarification
Questions that Probe Assumptions
Questions that Probe Reasons and Evidence
Questions About Viewpoints or Perspectives
Questions that Probe Implications and Consequences
What is the format of the critique?
A critique should be a dynamic, interactive learning experience for the entire class. But as with any classroom activity, it can become routine. If you are finding that critiques are becoming routine, your students probably are, too. How will you divide the time among students? Here are a few questions to consider:
- Will the critique occur in a large group, small group, pairs?
- Or will you conduct critiques one-on-one at each student’s desk?
- Will it be teacher-fronted or student-centered?
- How will you elicit input from the students?
Learn more: Efficient & Effective Critiques