Conversations in Education
From teacher book groups to conversations in the faculty lounge, Prep faculty and administrators think all the time about how we support our students. In this space each month we’ll provide links, resources and inspiration about teaching at Prep and education in general.
From teacher book groups to conversations in the faculty lounge, Prep faculty read and talk a lot about education. Each month we highlight a few memorable pieces or videos. Our goal is to make the process of parenting, learning and living a little saner, to put things a little more in perspective. These articles will be chosen by Prep teachers and administrators. If you want to share your ideas, feel free to comment on an individual post or contact Dean of Studies Sarah Cooper.
Giving Visual Feedback: It’s a Process
One of the most important aspects of doing art is working within a community. This means finding trust in other artists’ feedback as well as building individual aesthetics. Much of this trust is built through the critique process. As Visual Arts Department Chair Tim Bradley reflects, when he started teaching at Prep about 12 years ago, he noticed that students could speak critically about poetry, literature and historical events but were less sure of themselves when discussing their peers’ art projects. Critiques happened when the work was done, drawing from individual likes and dislikes rather than addressing ideas, craft, aesthetics and cultural context.
Our faculty are highly accomplished artists, which has opened a new phase of art instruction and art appreciation at Prep. Each of us draws from our own experience, perhaps creating the feedback process we would have wanted as art students. We share a goal of giving students better skills at peeling back the layers when looking at art, as well as more opportunities to create work of depth and beauty. Ultimately, these skills translate not just to other classes but in life outside Prep.
Final critiques are not always the norm, sometimes giving way to conversations while students are in process. Teachers engage students where they are while helping them adopt new standards and expectations. It can start with giving students permission to tune out their inner critics, so that they are more willing to channel their feelings, take creative risks and embrace unexpected results. This produces a greater variety of work, which leads to even better discussions. Bradley consulted with visual arts faculty and collected their thoughts on the critique process. These descriptions provide a lively look into the visual arts classroom and show how critique develops an artist’s perspective, among many other essential skills.
Melissa Manfull, drawing and painting
I have found, over the years, that the traditional critique I saw in high school and college is often a tedious process for our students. When I first began teaching, I drew up guidelines and tried to encourage a discussion of each student’s work over the period of several days. Students had trouble engaging in the discussion, which tended to be stilted and uncomfortable.
The purpose of a critique was to get feedback from an audience so that the artist (student) could see how others read their work. It also helped to point out formal problems. After the critique, students were supposed to edit their works based on their peers’ formal and conceptual feedback. Since drawing and painting require a tremendous amount of time to complete, the students would have a hard time editing their already finished work. So, I had to come up with another strategy.
Now we do weekly individual and peer presentations of the work and discuss edits while students are still working on their projects. Sometimes the feedback means they need to start over, and sometimes it asks for just a slight adjustment to the style or technique. The students don't even realize they are doing mini critiques, and questions happen continuously. This way, they think about the choices they are making throughout the whole process instead of at the end. The students also have time once the work is up on the wall to discuss their process, outcome and intentions informally with their classmates, which makes for a more conversational feel.
Ricardo Rodriguez, photography
All of us received early guidance on how to speak, read and write–often before we could even walk. However, visual literacy is assumed to come naturally or as a gift. In my classroom, the critique is a fundamental learning method to learn how to create and deconstruct images, both visually and conceptually. The students learn how to describe, analyze, interpret, wonder and communicate about each other’s images and, as a result, grow as visual communicators.
Critiques are an essential part of the creative process, where students learn how to listen, look and exchange ideas organically. This interplay helps students bond, since they are all exposing their creations and becoming vulnerable. It also helps them to see and find visual solutions by combining everyone's experiences and interpretation of what they are seeing.
A compelling critique for me is one where we all leave looking at something in new and unexpected ways.
Biliana Popova, ceramics
We rarely do a formal critique. Instead, we have many in-process discussions and we generally talk about the project informally once finished. For example, when the 10th grade class made teapots, we spent half a class talking about the outcomes, the fit of the lids, the color of the glazes and the cleverness of the designs. We also did a pour test to see which one performed the best and why. Finally, we made tea and enjoyed that for the rest of the class period. I like that informality, which is more about sharing.
Tim Bradley, photography
Early on in each project, I ask my photography students to show me everything they’ve shot. Often, they are reluctant, but it’s necessary because I want them to reevaluate images that they think are mistakes. Those are often the best—they don’t conform to the easy likeability of an Instagram photo but can provoke thought or show us beauty in an entirely new way. Other than presenting the assignment parameters, this is the point at which I give them the most input, encouraging them to follow through with unpredicted beginnings.
When projects are complete, a student-led critique can be rewarding because, as one of my 9th graders explained, “it’s good to get a set of fresh eyes—people notice things that you didn’t.” Students are remarkably insightful during critiques and can manage much of the conversation on their own. I often pause the discussion to go online and show them the work of artists addressing a concept or design strategy that a student has taken a risk with. It’s a powerful reminder that art connects us all, regardless of time and place.
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