At my project-based school, a huge part in students creating beautiful work is having it critiqued. But there is a caveat to the success that makes critiquing worth it. The person giving feedback about the work needs to mean something to the students. The person providing their input must be an expert in the field or be an authentic audience. Parents coming to view the work of the students isn’t enough. The teacher grading the work is not enough and kids giving each other feedback is not enough. Let me explain. I totally believe in having kids critique each other’s work and teacher input is valuable and parents seeing what their kid has done all semester is just as important, but all of those things only go so far when you are trying to get students to push themselves in their learning. Those things are important, but it’s not as meaningful and beneficial and helpful as when an expert in the field comes into the classroom, teaches the class something and then comes back to gauge where the students were with their work.
For example, when my class was working on their spoken word pieces, I rarely critiqued it other than to give a few pointers here and there. Mostly, I would sit with kids and say something like, “This part about when your parents fought and finally got a divorce is amazing and such an intimate look at what your life was like then. Now tell me about how that affected who you are as a person.” I considered my job to be the person who got them thinking about their writing in terms of our essential question - Who am I and what shapes my identity because that is where my expertise lies. It made sense I would be the one to push them to do that. I left it to the experts for critique on poetry writing strategies and structures.
I was lucky to have connections to a community group in the area that works with kids and teaches them about empathy, how to write about their own feelings in poetry form and then how to share as a performance in spoken word, not just to recite their poems. Each week for 6 weeks, this group would come to the classroom, do an activity with the kids and critique their poems. It was so great to have them for when a student got writer’s block or have trouble expressing what they felt in words. I know that not everyone will have an opportunity to get a group to come in like I did, but if you can find someone to visit your students and support with maybe just one visit to share about spoken word, I suggest reaching out to the open mic nights in your area and talk with the people running it. If they won’t do it, I am sure they know someone who would love to come to your classroom and work with your students. We even reached out to the local college and the writing professors there. We also reached out to local poetry slam contestants and winners. Any and all people who might have any connection to spoken word performances were the people we harassed through email and phone calls. The bottomline to what works is finding an authentic audience for your students. Someone who does the same type of writing you are asking the students to do.
6th grade Humanities Teacher, Blogger, Resource Creator, Curriculum Developer