The critiquing process should guide students to perceive their work with some objectivity, internalize the feedback of others, and use that information to help them improve
Criticism has a bad reputation. We’ve all felt the pain of criticism poorly provided or unfairly delivered. Criticism in these scenarios tends to be personal and hardly helpful. Criticism, however, does not have to wound us. There are all sorts of criticisms meant to provide a framework for evaluation or assessment of any number of concepts–from aesthetics to morality, from the scientific to the political to the religious, and there is even a criticism of criticism, otherwise known as critical theory. In my time as an art student, artist, and art teacher, I’ve participated in a variety of critiques. The varied critiques pull out an emphasis on the process and a focus on the work, not the individual(s). The structure protects the evaluator and the recipient from misguided assessments. The critiquing process should guide students to perceive their work with some objectivity, internalize the feedback of others, and use that information to help them improve. This process takes thoughtful, intentional planning to create.
Clear expectations were central to student awareness, recognition, and understanding of learning outcomes.
When we approached a learning unit, I discovered how important it was to clearly state learning expectations at the beginning, no matter the students’ level of experience. Clear expectations were central to student awareness, recognition, and understanding of learning outcomes. Students were fundamentally able to discern what made an assignment outstanding, competent, or failing to meet minimum standards depending upon what was taught, practiced, and clearly expected in the final product. End results, just like the components of a yearbook containing page spreads, interviews, layout designs, captions or sport photography, were constructed from parts to achieve the whole. Spelling out those component parts and qualifying the degrees to which these could be accomplished were essential. These were listed in advanced organizers for student planning, and assessment rubrics were used for both peer reviews and grades for the gradebook. Students knew exactly what was expected of them. Students could choose the effort they wanted to put forward. The ball was literally in their court. We all understood that some weeks were more congested with assignments than others but the work still needed to be done.
In the example of the advanced organizer, How to Write Photo Captions Well, students operated from a clearly defined reference point which concisely specified the learning activities that engaged them in this topic. Also, this was exactly how they were graded in their guided practice and final products. Additionally, assessment rubrics offered precise indicators where additional support was needed for students whose work required more development.
Teachers/advisers of the yearbook will have many ways to provide and track grades. I know some advisers require their staff earn X number of points per week. Assignments and/or events are earmarked with points. A weekly form with explanation of participation and results are submitted online so that a time and date stamp is clear. It is a very objective process. The assignment/event chart changes as needed. Some assignments remain on the chart for a while earning a certain number of points per week, while others are quickly there and gone. Accumulating points per week is the goal–not the number of assignments. Some assignments just take more time to complete.
Critiquing the work of peers is a prerequisite aspect of imaginative work.
Of course, peer critiques are the most relevant of all critical feedback. Critiquing the work of peers is a prerequisite aspect of imaginative work. This happens at all levels of creative endeavors across the industry. Again, students need to be assured that the Peer Critiquing Process is a safe, non-threatening experience. I moderated this learning experience by first creating a safe, non-threatening environment wherein creative risk-taking is accepted. I taught the core meaning and value of Criticism. For example, in a layout, we practiced identifying the interesting aspects of some graphic design examples. We proceeded to play and create our own examples and perform a quick gallery walk to identify similar interesting features in our own work.
Critiquing was a process. As students grasped and understood the expectations, I added depth to the critiquing process. Critique has at least 3 components: Description--what is seen; just the facts; Interpretation--what is the story; what is being communicated; and Informed Judgment--how well is the story being communicated? The criticism skill set included: application of image, design, and body copy as well as effective communication through image, design, copy, and a developed sense of what worked best. Therefore, our critique process was only about the work itself and its intention within a designated format – a school yearbook made by peers for peers.
Leading students into the practice of Critiquing work can begin with a simple exercise: PATS (Praise, Ask, Tell, Suggest). Or its variation TAG (Tell, Ask, Give a Suggestion), which follows similar directions. PATS is a Post-it Note Activity based on the Assignment Criteria and shared with students by everyone in the class. This is NOT anonymous! Each post-it note comment is signed by the author. This heightens the expectation for integrity in the work that’s done, and how staff responds to one another's work. When you are face to face, most people take a moment to think about how to say what they want to say. With that as the premise, we practiced how to approach each concept. Certainly, this was something for which I explicitly provided some thoughts. For example:
Why did you do that? Sounds a bit harsh.
How did you know to focus on the interaction between the two students in the photo? The more specific you can be with your question, the less aggressive sounding and more genuinely curious your question sounds.
The purpose of prompts is to initiate ways students can communicate with each other.
I recommend you use a different post-it note color per PATS component. I posted a color key of sample post-it notes and prompt samples on a board to keep students on track during the learning activity. The purpose of prompts is to initiate ways students can communicate with each other. Again, the goals for the assignment are the basis for this activity. It is strongly advised to post the goals for the assignment where it can be viewed by the students during the course of the activity. The PATS prompt samples should be directly related to the assignment goals. Basically, the yearbook staff looks at everyone’s work and creates a statement or a question (PATS) which 4 different peers will then use in their critiques. Remind your staff to be mindful of those who have not received a post-it. My class was an intentionally inclusive class. We looked after each other and made sure to include one another. Everyone should receive post-its.
Practice and repeat critique activities often, as this moves staffers naturally into a higher-level dialogue about the work.
Reviewing the critiques can be formal, with written commentary, or oral. But do take time to hear some of the rationales for the comments made during the critique process. I would often require a reflection of their individual receipts, as well as the overall process, to be submitted for a grade. Again, I provided my students with specific questions relevant to both the assignment, their mastery of the assignment requirements, their peers’ thoughts about their work, and their perception of movement in their personal growth. Practice and repeat critique activities often, as this moves staffers naturally into a higher-level dialogue about the work. Practice makes the work better.
Remember: It’s always about the work.
If there is any way United Yearbook Printing can ease the work of the yearbook for you and your yearbook staff, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We are glad to assist you in any way possible.
Contributor: Lucy McHugh comes to United Yearbook Printing from a 39-year career in public and private school education. She was a former visual art teacher and yearbook adviser. She received a Bachelors of Science in Art from Columbia College in Columbia, SC, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nebraska in 2000, and in 2014 earned a Certificate in Catholic School Leadership from Loyola Marymount University. Lucy enjoys her family, making art and gardening.
Editor: Donna Ladner obtained a B.A. in Education and a minor in English from California Baptist University, and a M.S. in ESL from USC, Los Angeles. After she married Daniel, their family moved to Indonesia with a non-profit organization and lived cross-culturally for 15 years before returning to the U.S in 2012. Donna has been working as an editor and proofreader for TSE Worldwide Press and its subsidiary, United Yearbook since 2015.