My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

What are critiques for?

Besides improving the quality of student work,being  an opportunity to check (real) progress, reflect upon next steps, and being an opportunity to teach critical ideas to an  audience of engaged students. What is the point of these time consuming assessment tasks?

For me, and for academic success, it's cultural. It's part of how classroom should be to help learning take place.

It's easy to empathise with the novice student who is about to "volunteer" their work for a whole class critique. To them it is a risk to be taken, nominally through the fear of being judged, but also by being aware of the haphazard nature of "peer assessment". The "add more detail" comments adding confusion, instead of clarity only decreasing the merit in taking the risk. However, it must be remembered that if a piece of work is worthy of critique, it will (or should) display the complexity of that students learning. We need to revel in this.

The classroom community is the grease that makes critiques work. This is why we have the protocols, to help manage the risk. Although simply written, these contain several cultural devices which are important in ensuring critiques work for the classroom community.

The first of these is in beginning the critique by seeking "kind, positive or  warm feedback" , obviously important for making people feel that their work is appreciated. Although the big reason for this goes way beyond this simple aim. It's more about looking at the work in an open minded way, finding what works, as well as what has not. Both the strengths and the weaknesses are useful. It is at this point that the critique becomes more about every students work, than it does about the individual work being scrutinised. By highlighting the strengths, students learn what quality work is like, and by teachers endorsing and interpreting these views we provide models of quality that students can then emulate.

This focus also, evinces the value of working with others, showing the dialetic nature of learning. Individuals benefit from the input from their community, but also the individuals can be benefit to their community.

This is why, as teachers we need to teach the procedural knowledge involved in taking part in a critique and offering feedback. We do this by modelling it in our own feedback, being metacognitive during critiques and providing feedback on the feedback being given. It teaches how to speak in a learning community:with respect, tolerance. compassion and focus on high academic standards.

Both students and teachers too often make judgements of others on a superficial basis. How much do we really know about each others strengths and expertise? Do we value these and make it part of our culture? Sometimes, as teachers we do need to prioritise our classroom community before we can address the academic and skills needs of our students. This is a start point.

The final aspect  is more permeating. Critiques should lead to the process of critique becoming less formal. By this I mean it becomes part of how the community speaks to one another and these conversations becomes ubiquitous.  Where students not only offer feedback to peers but actively seek it. They view each others work and offer praise and then suggest ways to improve it without prompt or scaffold. It's how we are as people.  This is the ultimate aim of critiques.