Art Professor as God

Critique process has changed a lot since the makers of Six Feet Under went to school…. the art professor/art star strutting around dropping pearls of wisdom to his protege’ is amusing, but not terribly useful. There’s a lot to love here, however, and heck, why not do something that might surprise students, like, “everyone get on the floor…. now!”

Six Feet Under art school clip 1

Six Feet Under art school clip 2


Critiquing in small groups

A critique strategy I like to use once students have the basic idea of the process down, is to form them into small groups to evaluate each others’ work. I’ll either form them, or allow them to self-form into groups of three, and give them time to round-robin their work. For guidance, I might write questions they should address on the board. I’ll also instruct that each of them will be responsible for presenting one of their peer’s work to the greater class.

This can be a nice technique for helping them to converse more deeply about an individual project, to help them develop their presentation skills and to allow the quiet student to feel more comfortable expressing themselves in a smaller group.

The First Critique

My current critique practice, especially in my intro classes involves teaching students how to critique. I try to make each successive critique a step towards effective critique, which may take an entire semester to develop.

Several years ago I started having students put their first projects up on the wall randomly and instead of critiquing each student in their turn, I ask students to pick out the images they find most effective, no ownership attached. What results is a shorter critique session (so far no one has fallen asleep!), more attention paid to what’s working with successful images, and a greater incentive for students to be involved and pay attention at each stage of the process. I expect the students to be doing the bulk of the talking, my responsibility is to round out the critique, or provide indepth feedback that they might not yet know how to express.

Now that I am teaching a digital photography curriculum in intro, I have the students drop jpg copies of all their photos from the first assignment into a general folder. I project them as a slideshow and students yell stop! when they see an image of interest that they want to talk about. In this way, we emphasize that critical learning is for everyone’s benefit, not just the individual maker of the image. I have found that students are more likely to ask or answer questions about technique this way, especially as the images are so large and immersive when projected.

Managing Groups

You’ve set your groups up as well as you could, but you are still worried about whether or not they will function well?

Having your students read Barbara Oakley’s article “Coping With Hitchhikers and Couch Potatoes on Teams” will give them (and you) some fantastic tips about how to manage those students who see group work as an opportunity to slack off.

Evaluating Group Work

One of the biggest reservations that teachers have about assigning group work revolves around the issue of grading. How does one do it fairly? What if one or two members of a 5-person team end up doing most of the work?

One answer is to allow the students a say in the grading process. Knowing before the project even starts that they will be asked to fill out a self-evaluation and a peer evaluation form at the end of the project, and being aware that that evaluation will be factored into the final grade can be a huge motivating factor for keeping all students engaged and working productively.

Here is an example of such a form. I take each person’s scores (if they are in a 5 person group, there will be 5 scores per person), add them together, and average them. This final average becomes their “group participation” score on the rubric that I use for grading the project. How heavily you weight this aspect of the project is up to you.

Teaching Students How to Critique

One method for teaching students how to critique or analyze artwork effectively is to model a critiquing behavior and ask students to emulate it. Steps to follow are:

1.     Model the behavior.

2.     Students practice the behavior.

3.     Feedback and discussion of the experience.

Ex. Choose a work of art and analyze it out loud, explaining during each step why each step is important. Then have students pair up and choose an artwork to analyze, using the steps and procedures you had modeled for them. Prepare a handout that outlines the various steps you expect them to make while analyzing/critiquing work in order to make this easier. Discuss with them afterwards the pros and cons of analyzing artwork in this way.

Using Student Questions as Learning Tools

Student questions are often the most important drivers of learning. A question indicates the desire to “know”, as well as an interest in the subject of the question. Teachers can harness the power of questions in a variety of ways. Here are three:

Variation #1: Ask students ahead of time to bring to class one or two questions they have based on their homework reading. Have them frame it as follows: “I have always wanted to ask …..(fill in the topic)….?” Have them submit the questions on a card at the start of class and use them to lead discussion. They can also post them on Blackboard in order to get responses from the rest of the class.

Variation #2: Have students write down a question at the start of class. Address them throughout the course of class period.

Variation #3: With 10 minutes of class time remaining, have students write down one question that they still have about the day’s topic. You can also have students formulate questions in pairs to do this. Answer those questions at the start of the next class period.