Teacher assisting a student with an assignmentWhen I was a student in school, we turned in our work (yes, written on parchment paper with a quill pen, haha) to the teacher and that was the end of it. We didn’t get it back until it had been graded. Sometimes we did write rough drafts of essays in English class, and some teachers would labor over their corrections and comments in the margins, while others would simply write “More detail” or “More examples” or some such general request on top. When I was a teacher, I would mark up my students’ papers in the dreaded red pen and hope they heeded my carefully-worded feedback. So that was critique and revision back in the day.

Today, at least in a PBL classroom, things are different. Critique and revision is not just a private transaction between the teacher and the individual student, but a much richer process. It’s important for producing the high-quality public products that are a hallmark of Gold Standard PBL, which is why we made critique and revision one of the Essential Project Design Elements. I discussed the why and how of bringing students into the process in a recent hangout with three members of our National Faculty, Veronica Franco, Erin Gannon, and Dave Philhower.

Veronica pointed out two other important reasons for including the robust use of critique and revision in PBL, emphasizing how much learning happens when students give and reflect on feedback, and how empowering it is for students to be able to contribute to each other’s work. But it takes time to nurture in her early-elementary age kids, since as she delicately put it,

“some students are glad to share their own opinions, but struggle to receive feedback.”

Students need scaffolding for the process, including the right words to use when giving feedback, such as

“Maybe next time you could…” and “Have you tried…?”.

Erin noted that, in a school that is just beginning to use PBL, her students are not used to looking at their work with an eye toward improving it: “It’s one-and-done.” As a first step in building a PBL culture, she asked students to keep their work in a notebook so they could return to it. She and her students also create a two-column chart of “helpful” and “hurtful” language as a scaffold for a culture of critique and revision that feels safe.

Dave credited the influence of Ron Berger of Expeditionary Learning, who talks about a culture of excellence and craftsmanship. Berger’s mantra of “kind, specific, and helpful” feedback, which btw is used in BIE’s professional development work, supports the social-emotional component of the critique process. Dave recommends that teachers informally model the process of giving feedback, including the use of desired language, when working with small groups in the classroom, before all students engage in the process more formally.

Watch the hangout to see the images shared by our guests of various projects and the artifacts of the critique and revision process. Here are some highlights from their stories:

  • Have students practice giving critique about things like the classroom environment and class meetings before they critique actual work. Veronica does this to teach her students a “plusses and deltas” protocol, and also uses exit tickets to collect feedback.
  • Celebrate occasions when students successfully receive and use feedback.
  • Post a collection of student work – anonymously – on the wall so students can practice using a rubric and crafting feedback. As a touchstone to remind her students how to give feedback, Erin shows the “Austin’s Butterfly“ video from Expeditionary Learning, in which Ron Berger models a powerful critique process with young students.
  • Start with a visual piece of work to give students practice in critique and revision. Give students clear, specific constraints for the work to guide feedback, such as text size, number of images, appropriate colors, etc.
  • To build their expertise and learn to use critique protocols, teachers can practice with their colleagues in professional development sessions. Dave showed pictures of teachers and administrators visiting classrooms to look at “project walls” created by teachers and using a protocol to give feedback.

Do you have examples of processes for critique and revision to share from your PBL work? Please add a comment or questions below.

John is an education consultant and writer. He was the editor in chief at PBLWorks for many years.