As instructors we can:
- Be aware of the roles we play during critiques.
- Create class activities and script questions appropriate for our role.
- Be explicit about the roles we play. Provide tools for students to respond appropriately.
- Expect students to be mindful of their roles, as well. If they play the role of friend, they may think that saying “I like it” is an appropriate response.
The role of a teacher during a critique can take many forms: parent, coach, boss, mentor, creative director, cheerleader and many others. Which role do you favor? The role we play during critiques can make a difference in how deeply our students internalize the skills they'll need to succeed in their professional lives. Some roles suit our teaching styles better than others. Some roles suit the needs of our students better. Other roles speak to the realities of the art and design world. The trick is finding the balance.
The Nurturing Parent
For example, if we play the role of Nurturing Parent, we might say, "Sweetheart, anything you do is wonderful so long as you’ve tried your best." The feedback from a Nurturing Parent may not be enough to help students meet the outcomes of critiquing, especially if we're already struggling with students who think anything they do is brilliant. Then again, feedback from a Nurturing Parent may be ideal for new students who lack confidence, or have trouble thinking creatively. A Nurturing Parent can also be very effective in the early stages of a project when the goal is to generate as many ideas as possible.
By contrast, if we assume the role of Harsh Critic, our feedback may be too subjective or negative for our students to assimilate effectively—again limiting the likelihood that they’ll meet the outcomes of critiques. On the other hand, Harsh Critics do exist in the real world, and we don’t want our students to crumble at their first encounter with one. If you decide to take on the role of Harsh Critic, offer your students advice on how to cope with such criticism including how to distill useful kernels from a "rant" against their work.
Some instructors may play the role of a Creative Director; after all, a Creative Director mirrors the real-life relationships of the workplace. But beware that if you're doing all the talking and your students are furiously writing in their notebooks, you may be dictating their next steps instead of teaching them to identify weaknesses and craft solutions on their own. If we always critique as heavy-handed Creative Directors, students won't gain experience identifying and solving design problems on their own. As the Creative Director, we may paradoxically be creating students who don’t think for themselves.
If you seek out students' perspectives, encourage them to talk to each other and intervene when necessary, then you have assumed the role of Coach or Mentor. Coaches and Mentors don't fit as neatly into the roles of the workplace, but if we think of critiques at the Academy as the handrails students need until they are ready for the workplace, Coaches and Mentors are exactly what students need to meet the learning outcomes.