One of the most important things that I teach fourth-grade kids is to take critique and then to act on the feedback. This is a hard thing for adults to do. Regardless of our age and where we've taken our skills, career, etc., we really love getting positive feedback and shy away from criticism. Here is the thing: if we're going to improve what we do, if we're going to take our work to the next level, if we're going to up our game, then we need honest critiques of our work. Then, we need to take action.
Of course, this is true for our elementary students. Establishing a classroom culture where critique is valued takes some work. First, students need to be taught to critique work...not students. When students focus on giving feedback on work rather than giving an appraisal of a student, the feedback is easier to accept. Modeling and in-the-moment coaching helps to guide students who are giving feedback. Next, students need to be taught the difference between a fluffy compliment or a vague criticism and specific feedback. The goal of specific feedback is to guide the student so that he or she knows exactly what can be done to make a piece of work better.
Critique is something that happens regularly in our fourth-grade classroom. Before sharing work, I remind my students that they're going to get feedback that will guide them in improving their work. I remind them that EVERYONE in our classroom is working on something. I remind them that their classmates and their teacher will give specific feedback because we care deeply about them and their learning.
Today the students were challenged to make sense of two collections of data. The students in a pre-school classroom and the students in our own classroom were asked to grab one handful of snap cubes and then to count them and record how many they could grab. The fourth-graders were asked to use one representation to share the results of the grab in each of the two classrooms. First, and perhaps because the students knew their work was up for critique, each representation was high quality. The students presented their representations and then hands began to take to the air. One by one, the presenting students called on their classmates to speak and listened to each critique without explaining or getting defensive. In the end, my question is always: given the critique, do you know what you'll do differently next time? The students always walk away knowing specific things they'll do to correct their work.
Critique helps to grow our practice. It certainly has the potential to guide us as teachers. Of course, if done well, it can do the same for our students. Today, we critiqued math. Tomorrow we'll critique writing. In the end, we're looking to elevate our game. I think we're on our way.