The Art Of Criticising

How well do we prepare students to critique each other’s work?

Certain pieces of work lend themselves to being displayed on a classroom wall so that others can see them e.g. posters, mindmaps etc.

When work is there for the world to see then it naturally invites inspection and feedback. Being honest with others about their work is essential if they are to improve and make progress so giving children the chance to look and say is important.

A gallery walk imitates walking in an art gallery and stopping to look at each piece of work and it is a powerful way for children to learn the art of critiquing.

When you stop and look at a piece of art then you begin to see things that perhaps at first glance you didn’t even notice. The observations skills of some art critics are quite something and they read into pictures and add layers of interpretation that are sometimes mind-blowing.

Trying to emulate the observational skills of Andrew Graham-Dixon are ambitious but we can start with a model of thinking for children to stick to when looking at each other’s work and that’s Ron Berger’s sharp and smart rules for critique.

  • Be kind
  • Be specific
  • Be helpful

The goal of doing a gallery work isn’t just intended for art but works across any subject. For example, to see how this would work in an English lesson then see Andy Tharby’s blog. Looking at each other’s work builds accountability, there is a shared commitment and a realistic sense of how our work compares with others.

A gallery walk means diving into other’s work and exploring their coral reefs.

The idea is that children adopt these simple rules and create their own focus question(s) being soft on the individual but hard on the content. Peers and teacher can then provide constructive, focused and professional feedback and this invariably will involve multiple drafts where the goal is ‘beautiful work‘.

Focused feedback is a gift and helps everyone develop their work and thinking. A class should be a critical place of learning, a supportive environment of creative individuals who push, influence, and inspire one another.

How to do a Gallery Walk…..

Step one: Post the work (five minutes):

Each child or group attaches their work to the wall.

Step two: Silent gallery walk (five minutes):

Children view all the work posted in a silent walk and make notes identifying strong examples of a particular focus (e.g. use of evidence, use of adverbs, purpose and organisation etc) 

Step three: What did you notice? (five minutes):

You lead a discussion but at this stage children can comment only on things they noticed and identified (so no judgments or opinions…yet!)

Step four: What is working? (fifteen minutes):

You lead the class in a discussion about which pieces of work and invite discussion adhering to the Berger rules. 

Getting feedback isn’t easy because it can be painful and hurt. Some children are particularly vulnerable to criticism because they are on the receiving end of amateurish feedback that focuses on the negative. Although there isn’t a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach that will work for every child, the gallery technique combined with Berger’s mantra is certainly worth implementing.

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