Critiquing and revising is an art in which Hillside’s middle school students often engage. In this stage of Project Based Learning (PBL), students learn to first critique in order to improve their projects, provide feedback on others’ projects, and reflect on their learning. Students then revise for the final step, a presentation to a public audience. As this process begins, students engage in personal reflection by asking themselves if they met the guiding question, followed their personal timeline, and supported their group in the overall group work portion of the project. Through this step, they develop an understanding of the difference between self-criticism and objectively critiquing one’s work. While there may be instances when our best efforts are not put forth, these do not define who we are as learners, and more importantly, as individuals. Once students reflect on their own project, and process their own self-evaluation, they are ready for the next step.
Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.
— Aristotle (384-322 BC)
Having healthy and safe class dynamics provides the opportunity for peer critiquing. The art of critiquing, or giving constructive feedback, is accomplished through collaboration with classmates. During this step, information, thoughts, and intent are shared with peers to refine the authors thoughts and position on a topic. For example, in a recent Social Studies project, students, working in pairs, categorized items that settlers would have used in the settlement of Jamestown, then ranked the items in order of importance. They then reviewed the findings of two experts who had independently ranked the items, which resulted in differing conclusions. When the experts were interviewed, they acknowledged that had they collaborated with one another, they would have come to different decisions based on combined efforts. The dynamics of 21st Century Learning definitely support the adage that, “Two heads are better than one!”.
The final step in this process is revising. Revising is not “changing your answers because you got them wrong.” The art of revising involves gathering additional information, input, feedback, and new revelation on your work, then determining which adjustments to make regarding your project. It is having the humility to know there is always room for improvement, that others have valuable insights and ideas, and, most importantly, knowing what to do with the feedback. During our February Expo, the 7th & 8th grade Social Studies class presented a partially completed travel guide to the Philippines. Students interviewed Expo attenders on the partially completed book, asking for chapter critiques and input on additional elements or deletions that would compel them to purchase a finished guide. Students then charted the feedback, while keeping in mind their guiding question or main objective, and sifted through the critiques. Some critiques were put to use and changes were made, other critiques were not. It was quite a process of objectively considering each suggestion and determining if it would help to better answer their guiding question. In the revision process, it is still the author’s choice to accept the critiques and change their work, as ownership of one’s project is of the utmost importance.
The critiquing and revising process of our PBL projects has become the beginning of celebrating our work. There is an exciting hum in the classroom as everyone is sharing what they have accomplished and learned. Not only are students critiquing and revising, they are teaching their peers! As they are teaching core content, they are revising, or adjusting, how they are presenting their information so it can be better understood by their audience. Hillside Academy encourages students to continually develop the art of critiquing and revising not only for their educational benefit, but for valuable and critical life skills.