Susan Riley | July 2013

3 Ways to Move from Critical to Critique

How much do you like feedback?  I think all of us would like to think that we welcome feedback as an opportunity to grow.  But I don’t think we’re being truthful with ourselves.  In reality, deep down we all fear critique.  Inherently, a critique means that there is an area we need to develop, and that implies we’re not perfect.


And yet, we know that the only way we and our students can grow, learn and achieve is through regular and constructive feedback.  Without it, we all stagnate and never push forward from good to off-the-charts.  And our global economy is too competitive to settle for average anymore.  But still, we fear feedback because we’re afraid of someone else’s critical eye.

This is where artists have an advantage.  Artists are trained to not only receive and provide feedback, but to thrive on the critique of others.  Every time there is a performance or an exhibition, it is an opportunity for an artist to improve their craft.  There is so much to be gleaned from an audience: did you make a connection, did your art have an effect, was it what you intended, what could have pushed the performance to the next level?

What is very clear, however, is that we are not training our students (or our teachers and administrators for that matter) on how to use effective critique strategies to provide meaningful feedback.  Instead, critique often equals being critical and this is not helpful.  Here are 3 ways to move from being critical of others to providing critique that moves the work forward.

Use Questions

The first step to helpful critique is by framing it in the form of a question.  This tells the person you are reviewing that you are trying to learn about and from their work.  This makes it feel less like a personal attack and more like you are simply trying to understand the work from your perspective.

Try “why did you choose this sequence?” or “did you consider using _____ as a sequence?” rather than “there wasn’t any cohesion and it was hard to follow”.

Be Specific

Second, look at the presentation in the context of the whole body of work and isolate the area of feedback. This provides the person with the understanding that your critique is specific to one section and not everything that they’ve done.

Try “While the organization was sometimes lost in the piece, the overall presentation was very imaginative” rather than “Organization in this piece was missing”.

Exponential Positive

Third, people always hear and cling to the areas for improvement and dismiss the positive.  Think about it: for every 90% that’s good, you only remember the 10% that was less than stellar.  Help people overcome that by providing two positives for every needs improvement that you share.  While they still may focus on their area of need – and they should as this is what helps them grow – they will have a better opportunity to also recognize the positive pieces that they bring to the table.

Try “Your piece was so exciting.  Did you get caught up in the moment? The speed was a little fast.  But the technique you used to keep up with that tempo was impressive!” rather than “You rushed through your piece a little, but it was exciting to watch”.

A Visual Reminder

Need a visual reminder to help you and your students remember these three easy ways to providing helpful feedback?  Just click the image below to download it for future reference.

3 Ways to Move from Critical to Critique, Education Closet

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan