As a Storyteller, Teaching Artist, and Performer, I believe in giving and getting Critiques, not criticism. I don’t care how you dress it up. Constructive Criticism is always lauded as, well, constructive. It’s not. Criticism is a negative word. It’s telling you what you did wrong, or wrong in the eyes of the critic. It may be just their perception, a bad lunch or hangover, or just a dislike of you..but it’s still criticism. They may be right, but it tears things down and usually causing defensiveness and bad feelings.
Critiquing is meant to help grow, to learn, to question, to bolster and move things to the next level. There can always be a next level if one is open to good critiques. I first learned of a new approach to this when I was going for my Masters in Oral Traditions. I was introduced to a book by Doug Lipman called The Storytelling Coach. It’s tag line reads: “How to Listen, Praise, and Bring out People’s Best.” I read it cover to cover and best of all, our cohort leader Robin Moore (a GREAT storyteller) brought us into how to positively critique each other through Doug Lipman’s approach to story coaching.
We learned that instead of the usual “That wasn’t good” and other negative or cutting comments that so often are heard in peer assessment, that the first thing to say was “I liked..” or “I appreciated…”, which was welcome and expansive. All the person getting critique could say was something very simple: Thank you. Not very hard. The next step was to ask questions to draw out thoughts, why something was said or done a certain way, mainly observational questioning. Again, the only answer to come was “Thank you.” Then the critique could go either in suggestions from the audience (and the teller had the choice to hear them or not)..if they were given, again, just Thank You. The other section was for the teller to ask the audience of things THEY were questioning themselves: was the character defined enough, did this piece flow, etc.
I was already working in the NYC schools and immediately began to use this method in all of my classes for student peer to peer assessment. It was not easy at first, because they had been so used to saying negative comments to each other. I’d carefully remind them of first ‘I Like”…and I kept them on that path. I’ve done it from second grade on up, and once they get used to the process, it’s a much less cantankerous situation. Praise and thank you, building up instead of tearing down.
In the NYC DOE Theater program, we were also introduced to another version of this through Liz Lerman and her Critical Response Process. You can order her book on this through Amazon or her own company’s site. I learned this process along what I already knew from storytelling, and I have used it ever since in all my Teaching Artist sessions, with all ages. I plan to use this in a new venture that I’m hoping becomes a reality (well, two new ventures).
Selling the idea of positive peer assessment isn’t always easy to make happen. I just know I will continue to use it, as I have witnessed the amazing potentials it has to offer.
How do YOU tell someone what you think about their work?