R – I’ve believed my entire career that it is essential for all students to be able to critique works of art. The reason is that in our culture and society, the arts have a tendency to be boiled down to either “I’m talented or I’m not”, or “I like it or I don’t like it”, and both mindsets bastardize what it’s actually all about. The alternative metal band, Breaking Benjamin appears far more often on my iTunes playlists than any classical composer. That doesn’t mean I think they’re better.

The nut I’ve never successfully been able to crack open is how to approach the assessment of this standard from the Maine Learning Results:

D. Aesthetics and Criticism: Students describe analyze, interpret, and evaluate art (dance, music, theatre, and visual arts).

a. Describe, analyze, interpret, and evaluate art forms by applying grade span appropriate arts concepts, vocabulary, skills, and processes as referenced in Standard A: Disciplinary Literacy.
b. Analyze and evaluate varied interpretations of works of art using evidence from observations and a variety of print and/or non-print sources.
c. Demonstrate an understanding of the difference between a personal opinion and an informed judgment.

A student “doing” this is no accomplishment unless D.a. is in play. D.b. is less applicable to my performance ensembles, and D.c. is the desired outcome. I’ve already written a blog post on my approach toward my two seasonal concerts, where a critique and revision occurs as a class/ensemble. I schedule two identical concerts at least a few days apart for this reason and it’s really become an essential component of my program. But it fails to cover the individual student accountability part, and certainly fails to assess individual student understanding or application in any valid way.

I’ve tried my hand at several critique projects over the years and have never been satisfied with any of them. I took a stab at it again during an inservice day last month and came up with something that is apparently working. I looked for resources online critique 2that others have utilized and I shamelessly stole thoughtfully applied many elements of others’ work. The end product is a double sided, single page handout (you may view and download the pdf here). This is actually a third revision based on the trial runs I did this week with three different ensembles. Same with the lesson plan. I discovered that there was more writing time needed than I had allotted, and I ended up adding a question #10 that allowed students to articulate takeaways from peer pair/shares that followed immediately after. The lesson plan involves the following:

A. Review with your students the course performance indicators that they will be applying in their critique.

B. View a previously selected youtube video of a performance for the students to watch and listen to. Set them up with the info to #s 1, 2 and 3 on the critique sheet first.

C. Play the video twice through. During the first watch, students should be determining which three indicators they will be discussing (one for question #5, two for question #6). They may begin writing if they so choose. Between the first and second viewing, give 5 minutes of silence for students to begin writing their critique. During the second viewing students should continue writing. At the conclusion of the second viewing, provide between 4 and 10 minutes for students to finish writing. They should only have completed #s 4. through 9.

D. Students are to break into groups of 2 (an odd one of 3 is fine if an odd number of students). For 60 seconds, only one of those two students may speak. They are to give a general overview of their critique. At the end of that time, they are to take an additional minute and a half to have the other person articulate their general overview, but this time this is allowed to become a dialogue.

D. optional: repeat one more time in different pairs.

E. provide another couple of minutes for students to complete question #10.

F. optional: repeat B through E with a second video of a contrasting group or performance.

I did 5 trial runs of this exercise this week and the students – of all levels – responded positively to it. Moreover, they are concretely demonstrating an understanding of specific course indicators and applying them in a non-performance setting. Individual, academic accountability and measurement of learning/application is in place here. I thought my honors students would take this and run with it, I didn’t expect my general chorus to do so to the same degree. But they did. Game on.

Next week is the week before midterms and I will be doing this as a formal, summative assessment with all my ensembles. It is a nice way to wrap up the term, and requires students to be articulate and analytical as well as musicians. I like that 🙂 If you try this out for yourself in some form, or already do in some other format, let me know how it worked for you!


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