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The Power of Critique and Redrafting

School 21

Grades pre-K to 13 | London, U.K.

Ahmet Ahmet

Leader of Drama at School 21
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The backs of two sitting students are facing a male teacher who is standing, smiling, and looking proudly at a booklet he's holding.

Editor's note: You'll notice British standard spelling throughout this post. It was authored by a U.K.-based educator as part of our Schools That Work coverage of School 21.

Critique allows students to learn from each other and become accountable for their own ideas. It gives them a glimpse of how the real world would respond to their work, and insight into what is working and what needs redrafting. When the culture is right, students see critique as a gift to redraft their work and reach for a better outcome.

Audience Response is a talk protocol that I've created and use in my drama class to empower students in critiquing each other's work and then redrafting their own. My Audience Response protocol is one of many oracy talk protocols that I use in my daily practice, and I believe that it's adaptable for teachers across all subjects and levels to aid students in redrafting their work through critical talk.

Related Articles: Oracy in the Classroom: Strategies for Effective TalkPublic Speaking: Oracy Skills for the Real World

By using a clear and concise response model to students' work, the process empowers them to express their views without directly offending or deflating their peers, and it allows them to receive feedback without reacting defensively.

This is a culture that grows over time. I've found that although students will fixate on trying to get their work "right" at first, after we nurture this approach to critique, they develop a growth mindset about their work and become open to developing it as part of their process.

If you want to develop a culture of critique and redrafting in your classroom, below you'll find the Audience Response protocol, and three tips for implementing it.

Audience Response Protocol

1. One group watches another group's play or presentation of their work.

2. The group watching becomes a critical audience. They keep in mind what they feel that the presenting group should keep, add, or take away.

3. Once the play or presentation is over, you'll discuss the work. The audience sits in a circle with you, and the students being critiqued sit in an outer circle, facing the centre.

4. Using the protocol of keep, add, and take away, the audience responds critically to the play or work they've just seen. They may agree or disagree with each other, or build upon each other's ideas, helping the presenters understand what's working, what's not working, and what they can change. You can also add your own critique during this time.

5. One person from the outer circle will scribe the responses, and the rest will observe what the audience thinks of their work. At this point, it's important that the outer circle observes the reaction to their work without commenting about it.

6. When introducing the Audience Response protocol, give your students sentence stems to help them become comfortable with critical language. Once your students are accustomed to the language and critique process, encourage them to organise their own talk.

7. At the end, those critiqued get an opportunity to first clarify anything that they feel needs clarification, and then express what aspects of their work they will redraft based on the critique received. For example, there's a choral speaking section at the beginning of a play that my students just performed. During the critical response, students spoke out about how that section wasn't working for them. When it was time for the performers to clarify comments from their feedback and address what they would redraft, one student said, "To clarify your point, we decided that we didn't want to speak in unison in that section, and we were overlapping our voices to convey the paranoia of society. We now know that wasn't made clear, so we need to slow it down to get our point across. I loved the slow motion idea. We'll use that."

8. The groups then swap. The presenters become the critical audience, and the critical audience members become the presenters.

3 Tips for Using the Audience Response Protocol

1. It Takes Time to Build a Culture

The first time you try the protocol, it will probably go wrong. Students may find it strange or feel that they can't help but respond out of protocol. As an oracy school, we embed talk protocols in our daily routines. And like any routine, you need to nurture it over time to perfect it. Your role -- especially at the beginning -- is important. Make sure that all students are involved. If your students speak out of protocol, stop and guide them back on track. Over time, you want your students to lead the critique themselves.

2. Hard on the Content, Soft on the Person

You need to model and insist on judging the ideas and not the person. As your students learn to appreciate being critiqued, this approach will come more naturally to them. A negative judgment like, "Sarah, I really think you shouldn't do your monologue. I think you should change that," becomes, "I think that Sarah's monologue should be taken away. It would be better if they added a group scene here to include the reactions of all characters." The critiquer doesn't look the person in the eye and criticise him or her. The critical audience is having a discussion with each other; it's done in a safe protocol with an emphasis on what is best for the piece of art, not the person involved.

3. Use the Feedback

What I learned through creating and using the Audience Response protocol with my students is that they either forgot the feedback or ignored it. I noticed that my students' work wasn't improving and realised that, although I was giving them an opportunity to critique, they didn't know what to do with their feedback. I now encourage them to record their feedback, and I've included their decision-making process on what will be redrafted within the Audience Response protocol. In step seven (see above), students voice three things that they'll commit to change by the next session, and then the critique cycle continues. You can use the Audience Response protocol on the same piece of work multiple times to continue redrafting and developing it.

Critique is embedded into a growth mindset culture. Rather than having students fixated on getting tasks done or being the best, by using critique protocols and nurturing the redrafting process, we can create a culture that builds on the experiential development of making something rather than completing it.

This post is part of our Schools That Work series, which features key practices from School 21.

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