Usually, I get constructive criticism when I want it the least and need it the most. 

"Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to an unhealthy state of things." Winston Churchhill 
"Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing." Aristotle
"I like criticism. It makes you strong." Lebron James

one segment of the Art Show "Sculpture" section - photo taken after the event

two stories:

Last week, I went to work in my classroom on a Saturday to get ready for the annual art show. I spent several hours that day putting together a nifty slide show, a sort of "year in pictures," if you will, of kids creating art and having fun in class.  

At the show, the students loved it and so did the parents, one of whom requested a copy. When I asked my principal whether or not I could share this with the parent, he responded by reminding me to double check the "no media list" - the students who failed to turn in a media release form. 

Truth be told, I was exhausted. I had worked for hours on that presentation (not to mention the show itself) and when I read his email, anger flared up immediately. How dare he!  I knew I had already checked that list (although it had been awhile), and none of the kids in the pictures were on it. Good grief! I immediately typed a snarky reply (the first of my career), the gyst of which boiled down to the fact that, "I am a professional, I know what I'm doing!" I asked him to please answer my question, and he did - the answer was "no." 

A little while later, I apologized. He was right to remind me to double check. I knew I had flown off the handle unnecessarily and I decided to take another look at that list. Was I absolutely, positively SURE none of those students were on it? 

The first version I found was from December, and sure enough, there was a student in one of the group shots who was listed! This kind of thing could have gotten me in BIG trouble legally. I had just snapped at my principal in response to him simply looking out for me. Can we say, "eating humble pie?" I am normally very, very respectful to those in authority but this time my pride got the best of me. This is one of the things that I tell teachers all the time - submit to authority, do what your principal tells you to do. You don't know what that administrator has going on, so just comply. I have to say that every one of the administrators I have had genuinely had students' as well as teachers' best interests at heart. 

It turned out that this particular student had turned her form in, so I was not in any danger of getting sued, but, sheesh! It did create a bit of a freak out for me! (The list I saw was an old list that had later been updated - none of the students in my pictures were on the newer list - whew!)
"I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses." Johannes Kepler
another shot of the sculpture section, where you can see the television slide show in the back

The day before the art show, my friend and colleague, Kristie, who teaches art at a neighboring middle school, came to judge the show. She kept saying things like, "That kid could have won first place, but he got in a hurry with the background......this student did such a wonderful job with the pastel background, but he was too scared to make the car bigger....she has a terrific canvas painting, but the paint is so thin that canvas is still showing through......" 

My response was a bit of an eye roll because all the things she was pointing out were listed on the evaluation rubrics that I write for each project. I just kept nodding and saying, "I agree..........." I did enjoy Kristie's comments - we think alike! I wasn't offended in the least by her critique, but it really opened my eyes to the fact that I must not have done a good job at communicating the lesson objectives to my students! Either that, or the kids chose to ignore me and my advice....

Why is it that the kids didn't listen to my suggestions? They resist outside influence from an adult because they "know what they're doing," right? They like the art piece, so why should they change anything just because the teacher says to? It is a challenge to allow the students the freedom to make decisions, and still teach them appropriate technique. I have found myself backing off from being too pushy with the students, I don't want them to lose their confidence. So, the quality of the work suffers. What a quandary! Some kids always, always listen to me and take my advice to heart and others resist ANY kind of suggestion, saying, this is "MY art and I will do it MY way." 

Abraham Lincoln once said, "He has a right to criticize who has a heart to help." I loved our art show - there were many (very) strong pieces and I am so, so proud of my students. However, next year I need to do a better job of motivating my students (gently) to listen to this expert opinion and do the extra work to make their artwork as fine as they can make it. I got weak this year, I wimped out. In a lot of cases, I admit that I didn't have the confidence (or energy) to push my students to be the best they could be. It is such a balance, though! 

"Malcolm Gladwell, in The Physical Genius, tells how doctors are screened before being admitted to neuro-surgery training. The best candidates are those who say, ''I make mistakes all the time. There was this horrible thing that happened just yesterday and here's what it was.' They were the best. They had the ability to rethink everything that they'd done and imagine how they might have done it differently.' On the other hand, the candidates who claimed that they could not recall their own mistakes could not be admitted to the profession because they turned out to be failures. Nothing else was found to be a good predictor of success as a brain surgeon." Marvin Bartel: "Eleven Classroom Creativity Killers" (Thank you to art teacher Saundra George, who shared this with an online group.) 

"I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism."Charles Schwab

"I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it!" Pablo Picasso
How do you motivate your students to achieve excellence without discouraging their confidence? 

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols 


Hilary McLean said...

I could so relate to that feeling of wimping out, but whenever I examine why I hold back, I return to the same conclusion.

I'm pretty sure I was one of those that resisted feedback. The feedback would show up in later artwork, but at the moment it was given, I felt stubborn. But then, later, I would see the truth of it. But it was important that I remained the one in charge.

When teachers were too heavy handed with feedback and direction, at first I liked the attention, but later I would feel disconnected from the work because it felt like their work, not my own. So I think it's important to phrase things so that kids stay in charge.


I feel like this year I did not push the kids as hard as I have in the past. It could have been my energy level or it could have been a fear of not giving them enough freedom of choice. After all, the child is the artist! Would you give us an example of what you mean by "phrasing things so that kids stay in charge, Hilary?

Hilary McLean said...

When I get to know kids who I've learned don't want to hear it, or I just get a vibe from the student that they are feeling protective of their work, I ask them if I can give them some feedback on their work. If they say yes, I ask them to tell me what they're going for. Then I tell them what distracts me from that, that my eye goes straight to the less skillfully done areas. If they seem like they are afraid to ruin it, I tell them if won't affect their grade if they take the risk, and to take a picture.That is for the more TAB-y projects, where I grade for participation and their written reflection. When we are doing skill building activities, I am more pushy and direct, and I warn them ahead of time, sort of frame it.

I try to differentiate between projects where they can be expressive and completely in charge. But I also recognize the value of criticism, so I'm working on finding ways to find that balance. It's so hard!

Amanda Miller said...

They step back to look at finished work when they are happy. First step back is Socratic and usually guides them to the right issues. Second they are "done" so if needed I offer direct suggestion. Anytime after that I have them grab three people to step back with them and 9/10 the kids see the same things I do. I feel like too many time adults forget that sandwich and how to couch the critical comments as a praise by referring to the kids work or a peer rather than the actual skill so it's achievable. "I can see right here where you were able to get a gorgeous dark black....it could be pretty great over here too" or "John has some pretty excellent forms happening on his paper...you two kinda remind me of each others style right now...Take yours over there and see if you can spot any differences or inspiration" "this looks so much like a Picasso (Google images)....yeah he's pretty awesome what do you see they have in common" vs. Add more value.

Michele Andrade said...

Students learned about the history of perspective through p.p. and after practice, did a mini lesson called Shapes in Space. I then broke the students into three tiers (beginner, proficient, and advanced) based on their mini lessons. Depending on which level they were, the students were given a list of objects or requirements they needed to include in their final museums. The students always do their very best because they all want to be level 3 (the advanced level). any pencil (graphite or colored). ... I try to get my students to create a smooth surface, hiding their "line direction" by either coloring in circles, or coloring one direction and then going back over their work again in another direction. This technique takes time, but they really appreciate the results in the end. I believe neatness can be achieved by all students so on projects like linear perspective, I really push for it. It definitely makes a difference in these projects. Colored pencil is also my forte, so I give demos and let the students use the professional pencils which gives them the confidence to do good work.