As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been teaching a homeschool art class this season. We’re doing it for multiple reasons with social and educational at the forefront, but I’ve realized that there’s an unexpected bonus to the class that I didn’t expect.
Teachers often point to socialization (of a specific, group project kind of thing) as a key issue with homeschooling. They argue that homeschool kids are missing out on some important lessons because they’re not in a traditional group setting. They have a point. Sometimes.
Homeschoolers get that group setting in different ways. They do classes, work in extracurricular activities like robot clubs or sports, and so on. We fill in the gaps because we’re keenly aware of what our kids need and what they might be missing. In this case, however, I’m not sure even public-schooled kids often have an opportunity like our class. I learned this particular model in college, but I’m sure high schools probably do something similar too. I doubt many elementary-level classes do critique routinely, simply because it takes a good chunk of time.
As part of our class structure after the kids are finished working on the art project, we gather together for a dedicated critique time. This seems to be an art-specific term, so I’ll define it for those who haven’t experienced it:
Art critique is a form of public positive feedback primarily from peers, but also instructors. The rules of critique as I know it are simple: the artist doesn’t talk until everyone else does, and no negative “I hate it!” kind of comments are allowed. We focus on how to make the work stronger, how to get the artist’ point of view across in a clear manner, and we always speak about what we like about the piece.
It’s simple but difficult. For our class, we have a rule that you have to say something positive to balance anything critical. That helps keep feelings from being offended, and students from feeling like they failed the project. We all have difficult days, we all struggle at times, and we all need to hear something positive about our work.
Critique keeps us motivated and provides a vital kind of feedback for what is usually a very subjective genre. How do you define “bad” art? For us, it’s art that doesn’t convey what the artist tried to say. And even then it’s not “bad,” it’s just not as strong as it could be. Critique is a positive way of thinking. And it’s a great reminder that not everyone thinks the same way you do or likes the same things that you do.
Critique is also a powerful teaching tool. If one student does something that works well and I can point it out (and why!) to the rest of the class, then they learn a lesson without even knowing it. Likewise, if one student tries something that doesn’t work, the rest of the class learns from their experience.
For homeschooling purposes, critique is critical. It allows students to have the experience of taking constructive criticism in a neutral, non-threatening setting. It helps them grow and develop their art skills, and it helps them feel positive about their work. And more importantly, it helps them learn how to actually give constructive criticism.
That’s a skill that involves tact and kindness. It’s a tough thing to do when you think that your fellow student screwed up and that you could do SO much better, and you’re dying to share that with them. They have to learn to hold their tongue and be kind, while simultaneously giving feedback that will help their fellow student improve.
In other words, it’s a very neglected kind of life skill that we parents often model but don’t always actively teach.
I’m super proud of my students. For the most part, they’ve settled into this positive kind of thinking and kept the “it’s stupid” comments to a minimum. They respect each other and they love commenting on the things they like about each other’s work. It’s amazing to watch a 6-year-old thoughtfully define what they think could make a piece of art more effective. I know this is a particularly difficult task for them because most of these students haven’t consistently worked in a group setting like this. Not only is critique new, but the class setting is new. They’re awesome kids!
Learning to take and give constructive criticism is a lost art. I know many adults who struggle with this, who take any form of criticism personally. That has massive repercussions in a work setting because we all screw up. We all make mistakes. We all need to learn from the experts and take advice on how to do better. I’m hoping that our small, simple art critiques will build a good basis for my students and help them learn this critical life skill.
Most of the time I’m scared I’m messing my kids up for life. This is one of those rare times when I realize that hey! I’m doing something right! It’s a nice feeling 🙂