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Reader Point of View: the Critical Feedback Circle
At DreamYard Prep High School in the Bronx, I recently observed Jeremy Nadel’s Art Majors’ class as they presented their artwork and offered feedback to one another. Because feedback is so integral to improving and reaching proficiency, it was an extraordinary experience to see the students so well-versed, serious and appreciative of the feedback they received. It was noticeable how strengthened and intact the feedback left them, even when it was “cool” feedback. Below is Jeremy's description of the process. - Sara Garcia
As the visual arts teacher I help students conduct their own Critical Feedback Circle. Students gather in a semi-circle to present their work one at a time, articulating how they chose a character to portray, the figure's posture, the story behind the painting, what they think went well, and what could be improved with their artwork, as it is in its current state.
During a recent feedback circle with the class we discussed “Figures in Action," a figurative painting project. Rudy, an 11th grader, answered the question “What went well?” by saying “I didn’t like anything about my painting - nothing went too well.” As it turns out, Rudy’s peers had a lot of "warm" feedback to share, mixed in with some "cool."
The use of the term “warm” conveys empathy and low-stakes criticism, as opposed to the traditional term "positive feedback.” The protocol for warm feedback is for students to articulate how they liked or appreciated their peer’s artwork. Student responses such as “it’s cool,” “pretty,” or “awesome” are acceptable starting points – but they must say how the artwork is cool or successful using terms discussed in class.
Similarly, in “cool” feedback students learn to use more constructive comments than “it looks like garbage,” or more negative descriptions. In both warm and cool feedback our discussions circle around terms and concepts used in class, such as composition, variety of shapes, patterns, and use of color.
Rudy, the 11th grader who initially could not point to anything that went well in his work, reacted so positively to the process that at the end of the feedback session he wrote:
In my point of view I loved getting feedback. My classmates’ feedback suggested ways I could improve and where I did well in general. This was a good feeling – it made me believe in myself more. I really need this… it carries me forward in my life as a student artist.
Here are a few more reflections from the students’ feedback circle:
Gladys: Getting feedback from my peers was a really big help because I was able to know what improvements I can and need to make in my artwork. Constructive criticism always helps an artist improve and learn. That’s what happened to me…and I had a good time.
Alexis: The critical feedback was a very productive experience for me because it enabled me to see my art through fellow artist’s eyes.
Student artists keep all Critical Feedback Circle notes on file in their portfolios. Here the notes work as a guide for ongoing or future projects, building a student-based resource. As an educator, my takeaways from the feedback sessions include a sense of group esteem amongst my students, the building of empathy, and supporting student growth. I have seen that these feedback sessions nurture student confidence, paving a path towards artistic identity and a clear vision of power and artistic freedom.
Jeremy Nadel was a 2010 recipient of the New York City Art Teacher's Association Award (NYCATA/UFT) for High School Art Teachers. He lives in Brooklyn, NY and can be reached at email@example.com.
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