George Lucas Educational Foundation

Schools That Work | Practice

Two Rivers Public Charter School

Grades pre-K to 8 | Washington, DC

Critique Protocol: Helping Students Produce High-Quality Work

Your students can improve their work by recognizing the strengths and weaknesses in the work of others.
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Student: Wait, should I clear out this?

Jodi: I numbered the lines in your tribute poems. When somebody is giving you feedback, they can name the specific line number.

Student: I like stanza one, because it has really strong figurative language.

Jessica: Because our students participate in critique protocol, they have the opportunity to really understand what quality looks like, and to define for themselves their expectations for achieving it.

Elaine: Starting as early as preschool, the culture of revision and of learning together is better is what sets up students to be very proficient in their ability to receive critical feedback and to give critical feedback.

Anne: I have a couple of your friends' work.

Sylvia: Today in class we looked at our work to see if we could fix anything.

Anne: What are our rules when we are critiquing and making our friends' work better. Yes?

Student: Don't be like, "I hate your work."

Anne: Very good. We should always be…

Student: Kind.

Anne: Yes.

Jessica: The rules of critique—be kind, be specific, and be helpful—apply to all of the work we do with critique.

Anne: First we're going to look at Jessica's work.

We looked at one student's work. The task itself was to use measurement descriptions to order a number of animals, like insects and arachnids.

So she read that it was half the weight of the rose-haired tarantula.

We looked at her work and we talked about, wow, how is this really strong?

What did Jessica do?

Student: She drew pictures and she labeled them.

Anne: Interesting.

Jonas: You can learn more about it and you're teaching others about what you learned.

Anne: What could she do to make that even clearer?

The way that I think about a critique is it's back and forth. I'm going to give you some feedback on how you can make your work more clear, but I'm also getting really good ideas from you.

Student: She could put…

Anne: Things that are…

Student: Lighter on the top, and write the things that she needed to write up there.

Anne: It shows them that, no matter what, people should learn from their work. You can learn from other people's work, and there's always the potential to make it even better.

And what are the measurement words?

Students: Lighter and heavier.

Jessica: I think there are a number of ways that you could approach critique. One is to use a high-quality piece of work and have kids observe it and make comments about it. And then there's peer-to-peer critique.

Student: I feel like we need to add a little bit more rhyming scheme to it.

Marcus: I've been doing critiques since my first year at Two Rivers. In seventh grade, you're on a deeper level of critiquing. You're like, more specific.

Jodi: Marcus, what are we doing today?

Marcus: I can give and receive feedback to improve my peers' tribute and my group's tribute.

Jodi: Okay, so think about the guiding question of, how can this poem show and describe rather than just tell?

Having a very detailed, concrete structure really makes sure that students sit with the work and analyze it.

Wynne: So my tribute poem is on the real story of slavery. My poem's in draft three. We're getting critique right now so we can move onto draft four and eventually, I believe, draft five will be our final product.

Student: I still think throughout the poem, you should give like, more detail about like, who she was, because--

Marcus: I know that by the hard work I'll end up with a really high quality piece, because my friends are here to help me.

Student: We need to make a stronger ending.

Jessica: You're asking them to do a lot more work. You're asking them to keep thinking, and you're basically changing the idea of what it means to be done with something.

Student: It adds flow.

Student: Okay.

Elaine: Our students work very hard here at Two Rivers to ensure that their craftsmanship is really on point to best convey their ideas. And their ability to participate in critique just gets better and better.

Jodi: See, you just came up with a great suggestion.

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Starting at 3 years old, students learn the critique protocol at Two Rivers Public Charter School, a pre-K to eighth-grade Expeditionary Learning (EL) Education school in Washington, DC. By analyzing and identifying high-quality aspects of a piece of work, students can apply those high-quality attributes to their own work. The critique protocol can be done as a whole class, in small groups, or in pairs.

How It's Done

1. Identify the critique norms. Two Rivers Public Charter School uses the critique protocol rules—be kind, be specific, and be helpful—developed by Ron Berger, the Chief Academic Officer of EL Education. To engage your students more deeply with these rules, Jodi Arellano, a seventh-grade English teacher, suggests asking and then facilitating a discussion around the question, “Which rule is the most challenging to follow?”

2. Model identifying strengths. To build your students’ comfort with critique, start by mentioning the strengths of the work you’re critiquing. “It’s not about sugarcoating things,” explains Arellano. “It is about taking the time to recognize the efforts that the person you’re critiquing has made in this piece.”

3. Have your students analyze exemplary work. The work can range from an essay to a math answer to a scientific drawing. “What are the attributes that make one piece high quality versus another? Help your kids analyze those attributes so that they can own them and then use them in their own work,” explains Jeff Heyck-Williams, the director of curriculum and instruction.

4. Choose what work to show your students. Build comfort around giving and receiving critique by having your students critique your work—showing them that they can even help their teacher improve. Bring in high-quality examples from people outside of the class: older students, college students, or professionals like Maya Angelou or Jackson Pollock. Highlight a student’s work. “Pick a piece of work that is going to help your kids move towards a vision of high quality,” advises Heyck-Williams. “It doesn’t have to be an exemplar, but it does have to have elements that when kids look at it, they can see the difference between what is quality and what is not.”

5. Choose your critique focus. “You can’t effectively facilitate a critique session if you don’t have a vision of what you want your kids to get better at,” says Heyck-Williams. Arellano has her students focus on showing versus telling for one critique cycle and then rhyme schemes for another when working on poems highlighting the abolitionist movement. “The key to critique is that it’s about the kids articulating those attributes and therefore owning them in a way that they wouldn’t if a teacher just gave them a rubric,” explains Heyck-Williams.

6. Have your students identify takeaways from the critique. What will they apply to their own work?

7. Repeat. Do multiple critique cycles. As your students create multiple drafts—and see their work improve—they’ll realize the value of critique and revision. Filmed by EL Education, “Austin’s Butterfly, a true story about a Presumpscot Elementary School first-grade student who was tasked with making a scientific drawing of a tiger swallowtail butterfly, shows the impact of feedback and revision on creating high-quality work.

Watch Austin's Butterfly 

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