I used to have a poster in my room with a title something like "Bad
Critique Language: R.I.P." There were two or three large tombstones
on the poster with phrases that they couldn't use, including "I like
it" and "it's good." That helped some. However, unless students
know what to say, telling them what not to say just makes for a very
quiet critique. Here are some things that have helped me:
I have had critiques where students began by listing verbally what
they see in a work. Sometimes this alone can lead to interesting
discussions because students may disagree about what's actually there.
Do you know the classroom management idea called dipsticking? (It's
where every student's name gets put on a popsicle stick and teachers
choose popsicle sticks at random to try to be more equitable.) I've
adapted this strategy for critiques. I would have the students names
in one jar with their names on small pieces of paper. In another jar
I would have the 3 or 4 criteria on which their works would be
graded. Then I would pull one name and one criteria and use it to
frame a more direct question about a work. For instance, "Lauren
(name pulled), what comments do you have about this piece's movement
(criteria of assignment)? Does it have movement? How so?"
I have improved using critiques in the classroom by reflecting on how
it is that I learned to be a meaningful part of a critique. I
realized that most of this was learned in art school when I heard
upperclassmen and professors talk about work. Students need to be
able to think critically and communicate their ideas--that's really
what we're after. Since then, I've wanted to ask other local artists
or art teachers who are free during the period of my critique to sit
in and to participate. This gives students, especially middle and
early high school art students, examples of critique dialogue.
And, in general, I must say that I am an advocate for working critiques.
Dept. of Curriculum and Instruction
University of Maryland College Park