Are you willing to “Crucify your Baby?”

Hang around V21 and you will here…

“Are you ready to crucify your baby?”

“I’m ready to crucify my baby.”

Visitors and new students whip their heads around with a look of shock and horror on their faces. Then they turn and look at me incredulously. I just smile and say “Good!”

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Yep, that’s how we do feedback in my art room. We acknowledge the fact that it is going to feel like someone is tearing your baby apart. And by giving it a name, we can laugh a little as we struggle to improve.

If you want to be a better artist,  you have to be willing to take hard criticism of your artwork. No one wants to find out that other people don’t like their creation.. their masterpiece! So in my art class, we have a saying for this difficult, but very necessary process. It’s called “crucifying your baby.”

New people to my world are horrified. Outsiders are uncomfortable. Students in other disciplines that find their way into my world for an extracurricular event are unnerved. But that’s okay. My students understand, and after the first encounter enjoy being part of the “club.”

Feedback with Colourful Comments Symbol

With that said, the crucifying comes with parameters, strict expectations and modeled behavior. I have learned over the years that the absolute best way to teach students how to take criticism of their work is to first require them to criticize mine!

For example, this painting of my daughter Lexi has lived in my classroom as a work in progress for over a year. As I work on it in class, I use the progression and development as an opportunity to teach students to discuss and comment critically about a piece. Just from glancing at it, I see every flaw and every incomplete area. But my goal is to teach students to look for those areas and to be able to communicate their thoughts and how they would fix the problem.

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Early in the year, I start off by choosing a student to come up to my easel while the rest of the class watches. I tell the student about the piece and that I know there are problems. I point out a few areas that I don’t like that I need to fix and then I ask him/her what areas he/she saw that needed work.

My conversation starter is deliberate. In order to get students to see that I want the criticism, because I want to improve, I  have to show the student that I could see the problems and voice them as well.  By doing so, I model the example of how to state problem areas. If I get in a hurry and forgo this vulnerability with the students, then their criticism is superficial and their ability to take criticism often suffers.

In the end, while the “crucifying your baby” process sounds scary and is a memorable moment in the art room, students that want to improve get daily opportunities for feedback and quality criticism. On the flip side, students that don’t want to improve,  don’t. I used to force student to go around the room and take turns giving feedback, but I have learned that a student that doesn’t want to improve isn’t willing to take criticism and always has an excuse for why or what they did. So instead of forcing criticism, we now have a code phrase and students that are willing to embrace the opportunity thrive.

As an educator and an artist, I am always looking for ways to improve. I am always looking for ways to reach further and climb higher. I am willing to crucify my baby.

The question is, are you?

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This blog post was part of the #Edublogsclub Prompt #11 on Giving Feedback.

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