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.

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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.

The “Quiet” Student

We are all familiar with that student who never speaks up in class or critique. As a teacher, it can be very frustrating, because it highlights the fact that certain students are verbally participating while others aren’t. Resentment can build in the “talkers”, and the teacher often assumes that the “quiet” student has nothing to say or is disinterested. But look at it from the “quiet” students’ point of view:

“As a quiet person, I have had trouble speaking up in class my whole life. In the past, I did not speak in classes much at all, and I’d feel frustrated because I felt I had more to say than some of the people that talked frequently in my classes.”

The teacher must realize that some people prefer to express themselves verbally, while others prefer to do it in writing. Likewise, some students are comfortable talking in front of a group, while others prefer to do it in a one-on-one situation.

 Therefore, creating a classroom or critique environment where both the “talkers” and the “quiet” students can feel comfortable expressing themselves is vitally important to the overall effectiveness of the classroom or critique experience.

To gain more insight into the “quiet” student and how silence in the classroom can be a tool for learning, read Professor Mary M. Reda’s article “What’s the Problem With Quiet Students? Anyone? Anyone?”

Class Participation- What Exactly IS That?

We all know that “class participation” ranks high on the list of criteria for grading in art and design classes. What is astonishing is how many teachers simply state either in their syllabi or rubrics that “class participation” will count towards a grade, without explaining what they mean by that.

What most of them mean, unfortunately, is that they want/expect the students to speak up in class. And that’s it.

But where does that leave the “quiet student”? You know, the ones who rarely say anything, but who are clearly engaged in the class despite the fact that they don’t speak up. Grading “class participation” solely on whether someone has said something in class is very short-sighted, and can in fact be counter-productive because it encourages students who are talkative in the first place and intimidates those who are less verbal.

Broadening the definition of what constitutes “class participation” can get around this problem and be a fairer assessment of a student’s true engagement with the class. Here are some suggestions for what might be included in that broader definition:

• Volunteer during class.

• Do in-class exercises.

• Have in your possession the proper materials & equipment necessary to satisfactorily complete the work.

• Show initiative throughout the duration of the course.

• Be in class on time and prepared.

• Ask questions and comment on the subjects being discussed in class, both verbally and in writing,

• Participate in field trips.

• Do all homework as required.

Those points would provide a teacher with a far truer picture of a student’s actual participation in a class. So why not list them either on a syllabus or in a rubric to let students know that you value all those things and that they will be rewarded for exhibiting them?