My research began with collecting different literature on art education, critique, and education in general. Some of the articles, books, journals and videos came from courses within the graduate program and others came from additional research specific to my research topic and data collection. My research fell into a handful of subtopics under the umbrella of the use of critique. The major four being how do students develop skills applicable to life outside art classroom, the relational aspect of critique, settings for good critique, and planning for critique to engage all learners.
My research question was “How does the use of critique in secondary level art rooms evolve over time?” Art educator, Karen Cummings, writes about how the relationships between her adolescent students evolved during the year through the use of critique. Her article, “So What.” “Who Cares?” “Whatever.” Changing Adolescents’ Attitudes in the Art Classroom”, is applicable to any secondary level art room. While reading her findings she may have very well been observing my own art room and students. “A sense of comfort and familiarity encouraged the students’ honesty and openness as the year progressed. Their behaviors at the beginning of the year suggested uncertainty about their artistic abilities. They were apprehensive when confronting others; they seldom verbalized dissimilar views and oftentimes perceived criticism as failure. Even in times of disagreement, my students were encouraged to think critically and deeply about the decisions they made by the words and actions of their peers (Broome 62).” Through the use of practice, gaining familiarity, and creating relationships with fellow peers and myself, my students create more in depth critique with more authentic learning and engagement.
When planning my methodology and developing my philosophy of education and what I wanted my students to take from my art room into their future endeavors led to my research question that has been constantly evolving. Initially my research began with the question “how does the use of in class critique benefit students?” I ran into an ethical dilemma with this because I was not comfortable with using one of my classes as a control and having my other class benefit from class critique. My research then was pushed to questioning how do critiques evolve themselves throughout the year with the same group of students.
To accomplish this I would need to collect a large sample of data over an extended period of time. I was following the ethnography methodology. This methodology is the study of culture, which in my case, I connected to the study of my classroom culture that affects the critiques being held in class. This research approach requires participant observation, interviewing, field notes, audio/visual documentation as well as artifact collection and archival study. “Ethnographers usually begin their study with pre-fieldwork motivated by the selection of a problem or curiosity toward some aspect of the lives of the people they wish to study (Beach,2005; Delamont, 2008; Hammersley & Atkinson, 2007).” Which in the case of my classroom and students, it was the use and evolution of critique. This type of research requires the prolonged engagement in everyday contexts to gain a deep understanding of the culture that you wish to study. In the school setting my prolonged everyday engagement would take place from September to June. I realized I had to find a way to collect my data during each critique. I conducted interviews with my students during our critiques and used an audio recording app on my iPad to record our conversations together. As long as my student’s photos were not being used and they weren’t identified by their full names I was given the green light by the administration. I explained that I felt that the skills being cultivated during critiques were real life skills that students would be taking with them and using in their daily lives.
Through my data collection and research I have found trends in how do students develop skills applicable to life outside art classroom through critique. I have researched the relational aspect of critique and how through continuous application, there are stronger relationships between my students and myself, my students and their peers, and my students and their own work. Through trial and error and researching other educators I have developed classroom settings that cultivate a successful critique. One of the most important lessons I have researched and put into practice is planning for critique to engage all learners in my classroom.
Through the data collection from my students using voice recordings and written responses to posed questions I was able to capture the change in student’s attitudes to critiques. My findings correlate to Karen Cumming’s journal on her own students and their change of attitudes to critique through the course of the year and practice. As a sample, When asked the same question, “Do you like them [critiques]? Why or why not?” The student’s responses from October to May changed dramatically. Student W wrote in October “Not really, I don’t like people to judge my paintings” to Student S. in May writing “I like them, the critiques produce new ideas and help the creator explore different options to make their paintings their own.”
I believe this practice of critical reflection and analysis though this course and final paper has positively transformed my teaching. I am constantly asking students for feedback and then using that feedback to plan our next lessons and curriculum. I believe that this process has also pushed me to include much more student choice than previous years and curriculums. I think it’s a combination of this new practices and also becoming more confident in my teaching. My understanding of art education from being in undergraduate school to becoming a full time teacher has been night and day. I now have hands on experience that I use as reference points when planning new lessons and assessments. I am learning what works and what doesn’t work for my specific classes and students.
I have learned this past year that you have to evolve and adjust your teaching strategies and methods to fit each of your classes and students individually. There is not a “right” way to teach. How you teach is individualized for each student because each student is an individual with different needs and learning styles. I have taken what I learned about art education and used it to inform my teaching but then adapted to my current students. I have seen first hand how much more engaged my students are in what they are learning when they get a say in what they are creating and how we are using critique.
I have found through this I also form connections easier with my students because I learn more about them through their artistic choices and it sparks more conversation between us. When students feel that their opinion is valued they are more willing to share them. Also, when students have a say over their art they are more invested in the work and it provides for more authentic engagement. I am going to continue to nurture this process that was started through my research as I have more years teaching. Through my research and my graduate program I have become a stronger educator.
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