Using the “F” Word in Art Class

Using the "F" Word in Art Class

I teach K-3 and getting students to think through their artistic choices can be challenging. We will talk often throughout the school year about giving and receiving criticism. That’s the “F” word in Art: Feedback. And, yes, for many students it is a dirty word!

Some automatically look sullen and aghast (As if!). Others look intrigued and hopeful (Bring it on!). Regardless, it is a critical discussion for students to be a part of. Whether it be in our families or on our jobs, we will work with others, and we will need to learn to give and take feedback.

Yes, some prefer “feedback” to “criticism” but, let’s be honest, it’s all the same. What people are really reacting to is the spirit and tone of the delivery. Giving feedback (or constructive criticism) is a learned skill, and I choose to teach it to my students from First to Third Grades.

The Importance of Feedback

The spirit and tone in which feedback is doled out definitely shapes the next part of that conversation. Yes, I’ve had students become tearful but usually I’m confronted with a confused, somewhat sad look. I get to the heart of the issue with questions like:

  • Would you please tell me how you are feeling right now?

Sometimes I have to tell kids that I will come back in a few minutes to speak with them. That breather gives them a chance to collect their thoughts and calm down if they are upset. And, yes, I’ve done this with 7-year olds!

  • What did you hear Mr. Phillips say to you about your work?

Oftentimes, students are misunderstanding what you are saying to them. Getting them to restate your comment goes a long way towards helping them see feedback as a good thing. Sometimes, though, it can require more prodding.

  • What do you like most about your artwork?

Simple questions like this get kids to open up. You may not think what they believe to be good about their work is good at all. But, it’s not about you right now. It’s about them thinking and speaking reflectively about what they created.

  • I think this area here (select as many as you like) is very successful because … (fill in the blank).

Walking along side kids as they learn means giving them a language for speaking critically about their work. That means using art terminology and adult speak. I avoid fluffy language like, “Oh, what a beautiful piece. Those are my favorite colors!” A kid’s piece may contain my least favorite colors, but I bet I can find something that is successful in how the objects were arranged, or how they used the media in some small way.

In the final analysis, my goal is always to get kids to reflect on this: how can you expect your work to get better if you are not willing to consider the choices—both good and bad—you have made? Isn’t that the heart of learning?

Think about it … and then give me some feedback.

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