Why is this important?
A critique should be a dynamic, interactive learning experience for the entire class. But as with any classroom activity, it can become routine. And it's easy to spend long segments of class time on critiques, during which students can become bored/disengaged. By using some simple strategies, you can make critiquing more efficient and more interesting for all involved.
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.
- Take some time to make a plan for your critique — don't just wing it. Think through your goals for the critique and the sorts of questions or prompts that will help the class reach those outcomes. Learn more: Planning a Critique
- Before beginning a critique, take a few moments to review the assignment criteria. This practice reminds students of the expectations for the assignment and engages their critical faculties by focusing them on the essentials you will be discussing. This review also provides a clear focus and structure for the critique. Learn more: Connecting Assignment Criteria to the Critique
- It's also important to clearly explain the structure of a critique, so students know what to expect and can respond appropriately. Learn more: Setting Up a Critique
Think through the role you will play during critique. This can take many forms: parent, coach, boss, mentor, creative director, cheerleader and many others. Which role do you favor? The role we play during critiques can make a difference in how deeply our students internalize the skills they'll need to succeed in their professional lives. Some roles suit our teaching styles better than others. Some roles suit the needs of our students better. Other roles speak to the realities of the art and design world. The trick is finding the balance.Learn more...
The Nurturing ParentFor example, if we play the role of Nurturing Parent, we might say, "Sweetheart, anything you do is wonderful so long as you’ve tried your best." The feedback from a Nurturing Parent may not be enough to help students meet the outcomes of critiquing, especially if we're already struggling with students who think anything they do is brilliant. Then again, feedback from a Nurturing Parent may be ideal for new students who lack confidence, or have trouble thinking creatively. A Nurturing Parent can also be very effective in the early stages of a project when the goal is to generate as many ideas as possible.
Harsh CriticBy contrast, if we assume the role of Harsh Critic, our feedback may be too subjective or negative for our students to assimilate effectively—again limiting the likelihood that they’ll meet the outcomes of critiques. On the other hand, Harsh Critics do exist in the real world, and we don’t want our students to crumble at their first encounter with one. If you decide to take on the role of Harsh Critic, offer your students advice on how to cope with such criticism including how to distill useful kernels from a "rant" against their work.
Creative DirectorSome instructors may play the role of a Creative Director; after all, a Creative Director mirrors the real-life relationships of the workplace. But beware that if you're doing all the talking and your students are furiously writing in their notebooks, you may be dictating their next steps instead of teaching them to identify weaknesses and craft solutions on their own. If we always critique as heavy-handed Creative Directors, students won't gain experience identifying and solving design problems on their own. As the Creative Director, we may paradoxically be creating students who don’t think for themselves.
Coach/MentorIf you seek out students' perspectives, encourage them to talk to each other and intervene when necessary, then you have assumed the role of Coach or Mentor. Coaches and Mentors don't fit as neatly into the roles of the workplace, but if we think of critiques at the Academy as the handrails students need until they are ready for the workplace, Coaches and Mentors are exactly what students need to meet the learning outcomes.
- Critique notebooks are a tool that helps students get the greatest benefit from critiques. In their notebooks, students make notes to remind them of what they learned during critiques, whether of their own work or that of a classmate. Instructors can provide prompts to help students focus their notes. The critique notebook provides documentation of the student’s process and growth that the instructor can observe and evaluate if necessary. It reinforces the idea that information and feedback in the critique needs to be incorporated into subsequent revisions of a project or later assignments. Learn more:Using Critique Notebooks
Options for the group critique
Group critique #1: critiquing representative samples
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In order to have a quick and engaging feedback session, select a few representative samples that show high, low, and mid-level work. Critique these few pieces in depth according to the criteria, rather than critiquing every student's work individually in the group setting. It is important to explain what the class, as a whole, tended to do effectively and what common areas for improvement are needed in the work.
Group critique #2: The Thematic critique
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Group critique #3: The Gallery Walk
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Group critique #4: Your Creative Director is Dropping By
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Group critique #5: Cold Turkey Critique
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Other suggestions for group critiques
Think of new ways to keep the whole class active during the entire group critique, not just while their own work is being discussed. For example:
Incorporate "learning snapshots" into your critique — techniques that give you a window on the students' process.
Follow up your group feedback with individualized critiques.
- One option is to check in with each student one-on-one. If you take this approach, set a time limit for each conference — and use a timer to help you keep on track. This approach will help you prioritize the feedback you give, and it will ensure that your time is divided equitably among all your students.
- A similar approach is to do two rounds of one-on-one critiques. The first round of critiques is just a quick, general check-in (1-2 minutes per student) focusing on specific criteria. The second round of critiques targets students who need additional support, so you can spend more time per student if needed. Here are a few tips to make this strategy successful:
- Identify the three most important criteria that you need to focus on and review them with the whole class before doing the critiques .
- Bring a notebook with you and, as you talk to each student, make notes on what they need to improve.
- Let students know that you will come back to check their progress later on.
- Alternatively, ask students to bring their work to your desk in groups of two or three. Having students visit your desk, rather than the reverse, makes the critique feel more official. Also, this approach will shorten the overall critique time, allow students to learn from each other, and give all students a personalized critique.
While you're working with individual students or small groups, ask the rest of the class to work on an assignment to be submitted at the end of class. For example, they can begin revising their work based on the information given during the representative critique. It’s easy for students to become distracted when they're not the focus of your attention. Requiring them to complete an in-class assignment will help students focus.
When presentations are required
In those cases where it's important to have all your students present their work — for example, for a final project critique — try these ideas:
- Have students create a short summary or overview of their research for quick critique. This can be the first 2-3 slides of their presentation PDF. The purpose of this brief is to allow you to very quickly see all the relevant information you need to critique the assignment (the target customers, location, word list, etc.). Then you can jump right into discussion of the student’s designs.
- Instead of having them present, ask students to say just 2-3 sentences introducing their project using their overview slides to help them stay focused. If students ramble too much, skip explanations entirely and just ask the presenting student questions to elicit the information you need to know.
- Talk with students about presenting their work with confidence and avoiding apologies or excuses. Ask students to call each other on their excuses. Learn more: No Apologies!
Use a timer to keep everyone on schedule. To allow you to focus on critique, designate one student or your EAP support teacher as the timekeeper, whose responsibility it is to stop the critique session after a set amount of time (perhaps 6 or 8 minutes).