Pop Quiz: Constructing Criticism
I am currently taking an online class on photographic composition. Photography is not my field, it is my hobby. It is something that I do for fun, but it is something that I’d like to do well. Since I want to do it well I read through the lessons and I think about the assignment and I do my best, but I know that I am still learning. When I submit my pictures and I read my critiques I am disappointed by them, and not really for what you might suspect. I get positive reviews and on one level I am pleased about that, but what I would really like is to have someone is who knowledgeable about composition to rip one of my pictures apart. Now I am no masochist and when the time comes and my pictures are harshly critiqued I will be upset and will most likely cry, but my field is science and crying has long been an integral part of my learning process, so much so that when I was getting my masters I actually scheduled in frustrated crying time.
I do not fault the teacher of this course for her gentle critiques, it is after all a hobby level class and the people taking it are in it for fun, but it got me thinking. I’ve been thinking about how I tell my students that their work is not up to par, or if it is good enough how I can get them from good to great. I must admit that for everyday lessons I do also tend to take a gentler approach. My go to technique is what is called the Oreo cookie, which involves sandwiching one negative comment between two good things. (This is a terrible metaphor since everybody knows that the filling of the Oreo cookie is the best part.) I like using this because I do want to encourage my students and not crush their interest. That isn’t to say that I don’t have high standards for the big keystone assignments, those things that will come up over and over again like writing lab reports, those I shred. I pick out every single mistake. I am strict with the style sheet and nitpick over how to reference diagrams, sources, using the proper abbreviations and so on. I try to say something positive, but for the very first lab report it is often the case that the only thing I can say is that “you used the correct sized border and font”. The first time this happens, my students hate it and many do not feel so kindly towards me, but then I say to them that they have the chance to fix it and most do. Then when the time comes for them to write their second lab report there are a lot fewer things to correct and many more things to praise.
So my question today is how do you correct mistakes without crushing the interest of your students? Do you allow students to demonstrate that they have taken your criticism and learned from it?
The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the afternoon (ET).