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Teaching Through Critique: An Extra-Disciplinary Approach

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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"After years of facilitating critiques in studio art courses, I asked myself: What happens when this time-honored tradition in the arts is applied to courses outside the discipline? What I discovered was improved student engagement and stronger student work."


The posting below looks at applying techniques from the critique process in art classes to a broader set of project/product-based courses. It is by Johanna Inman, MFA Assistant Director, Teaching and Learning Center, Temple University and is from the February 2015 issue, Volume 24, Number 2, of the National Teaching and Learning Forum. It is #72 in a series of selected excerpts from The NT&LF reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at [] The on-line edition of the Forum - like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. Copyright ©John Wiley & Sons, Professional and Trade Subscription Content, One Montgomery Street, Suite 1200, San Francisco, CA 94104-4594. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis
UP NEXT: Riding Out Rejection - How to Navigate the Choppy Waters of Scientific Publication



Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Teaching Through Critique: An Extra-Disciplinary Approach

Critique is the signature pedagogy in the visual arts (Klebesadel and Kornetsky 2009). Critiques are where the bulk of teaching, learning, and assessment happen in art courses. In the article "Studio Critiques in College Art Courses as They Are and as They Could Be with Mentoring," Terry Barrett (2000) defines critique as "dialogues between instructors and students that engage the different perspectives of the instructor, the student whose art is being critiqued, and the student artist's peers."

Although there are many modifications, most commonly in critique students present or display course work for the entire class to review and discuss. Typically, the instructor's goal during critique is to assess students' skills, knowledge, and progress in the course. When done well, this can be an effective learning activity that fosters classroom community and provides students with targeted feedback of their work.

After years of facilitating critiques in studio art courses, I asked myself: What happens when this time-honored tradition in the arts is applied to courses outside the discipline? What I discovered was improved student engagement and stronger student work. Why critique in a non-art class?

The critique is both a learning activity and assessment that aligns with several significant learning goals such as critical thinking, verbal communication, and analytical or evaluation skills. The critique provides an excellent platform for faculty to model these skills and evaluate if students are attaining them. The critique also employs many evidence-based best practices including:

• Active Learning. Critiques actively engage students in a discussion about their work. This exercise requires them to share responsibility for their learning and improvement in the course.

• Formative Assessment. Critiques work best when students have an opportunity to make revisions based on the feedback they receive during the critique.

• Building Community. Critiques can help build a sense of shared purpose, generate positive inter- actions between students, and foster trust among members of the class.

Does it work?

I only recently began employing the critique in non-art courses and I have found it to be a surprisingly popular learning activity. Additionally, critiques led to increased student engagement and improved quality of work for the following reasons:

• Healthy competition. Students work harder to create a polished assignment when they know the audience is their peers.

• Peer examples. Students have the opportunity to see examples of both strong and weak completions of assignments by their classmates. This range of examples provides them with an opportunity for self-evaluation.

• Thorough feedback. Unfortunately, not all student comments are equally valuable, especially without practice. However, this method allows the instructor to weigh in on their validity and guide the responses towards a more in-depth or scholarly approach. Overall, students bring a range of critical perspectives to the discussion; many which would not be provided in written feedback from the instructor or students in traditional peer review. As a result, students have more to consider during their revision process and often produce a much stronger version.

Getting Started

Before employing the critique in your own class, I recommend selecting an assignment with clear learning goals. Then, make sure that the critique is purposefully aligned with learning goals for the assignment. In my courses, I have successfully facilitated critiques on short papers, presentations, and a mini-documentary video project.

Recommended assignments to critique:

  • audio-visual assignments
  • writing assignments
  • thesis statements
  • presentations
  • role play
  • performances
  • clinical procedures
  • websites
  • interviews
  • business plans

Recommended best practices for critique:

• Provide students with the learning goal(s), a rubric, or specific prompts. Providing students with the learning goals for the assignment or a specific rubric before they complete the assignment and then reviewing it before critique can establish a focused dialogue. Additionally, prompts such as Is this work effective and why? or Does this effectively fulfill the assignment? or even Is the planning of the work evident? generally lead to more meaningful conversations than questions such as What do you think? Asking students to reserve judgment responses in the beginning of the critique is helpful to prevent generic comments such as "I like it."

• Establish clear etiquette and guidelines for the critique. Most students do not have a lot of experience providing or receiving constructive criticism. Establishing proper etiquette and expectations for students can promote community, encourage participation, curb undesirable behavior, and help students understand their role in the critique process. Critique etiquette can either be presented by the instructor or created collaboratively by the class as a community building activity. Either way, clearly outlining students' roles as both receiving a critique from peers, as well as providing a critique to peers fosters trust between students and helps them feel safe enough to take risks.

Example guidelines for receiving a critique:

  • Listen without interrupting


  • Keep an open mind and listen attentively without getting defensive

• Do not take what the critic is saying as a personal attack, but as a suggestion for improvement

• Ask for clarification or additional details; sometimes you might think a peer is saying one thing when they really mean something else

Example guidelines for providing a critique:

  • Critique the work, not the student

• Be objective, especially if the work is not in a style or about a topic that you prefer

  • Don't be vague; give specific suggestions for improvement


  • Be polite; avoid harmful or rude language


  • Facilitate a balanced discussion.

As with any discussion-based activity, if the instructor does not act as a moderator, critique can easily become a dialogue between the instructor and one or two outspoken students. I use a variety of strategies to ensure widespread participation. One method that works well is asking a different student each time to start the discussion of the next student's work. This technique requires every student to speak at least once. I've also asked students to write down comments on note cards before we begin discussion. Another strategy is to ask some students to comment on the strengths of the assignment and others to comment on areas for improvement.

• Devise a time-management strategy. For critique to be successful, time-management is absolutely essential. If one student's work gets more time and attention than another's, it can leave students feeling slighted. This discrepancy can backfire and break down the sense of community among students. I set specific time limitations for review and discussion of work and then stick to them. For example, if one student's work is particularly time-consuming or the class is still actively discussing a student's work when the time is up, I create an online discussion forum to finish the discussion after class.

Additional time-management tips:

• Calculate and allow time for an initial review of the work; students need time to process ideas and generate responses to work.

• Silence is ok; don't fill up silences with your own thoughts - allow students time to formulate their responses.

• If presentation of the assignments is time-consuming, ask students to choose a component of the assignment, rather than the entire piece.

• If you are teaching a class with more than 25-30 students, break the critique up into smaller groups.


Barrett, T. 2000. "Studio Critiques of Student Art: As They Are, As They Could Be With Mentoring. Theory into Practice 39 (1): 29-35. 

Klebesadel, H., and L. Kornetsky. 2009. "Critique as Signature Pedagogy in the Arts." In R. A. Gurung, N. L. Chick, and A. Haynie (Eds.), Exploring Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind (99-120). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Johanna Inman, MFA Assistant Director Teaching & Learning Center Temple University, 1101 W. Montgomery Ave. TECH Center, Suite 112 Philadelphia, PA 19122 Telephone: (215) 204-9270 Web: