Practice Makes Progress: Critiques in the Science Classroom

This past summer, our faculty summer read was Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know by Adam Grant. I found the book engaging and insightful in all spheres of my life. In it, he discusses a video entitled "Austin's Butterfly: Models, Critique, and Descriptive Feedback" from EL Education. In the six-minute video, Ron Berger tells the story of how Austin, a first-grade student, received kind, specific, and thoughtful feedback from his peers through a critique of his drawing of a butterfly. His final drawing, after six drafts, is stunning.

I had seen this video before, but Grant's discussion of it made me decide to implement a critique practice into my science classroom this year. I first used the process with observational drawing early in the year. After completing a first sketch of a shell, fossil, or praying mantis, I showed the video to my classes and introduced the critique process. I opted for critique partners instead of groups, and guided my students through two rounds of critique before producing a final draft. We were all pleased with the results!

Two notebook pages with pencil sketches of a praying mantis and a fossil.
Student work samples showing improvements from peer critique.

In the months to come, I expanded our critiques to include written products and claim and evidence sentences. While it does add time to lessons, I've found that students enjoy the process and the end result is worth the time. As one of my third grade students wisely observed,

"A critique leads to something beautiful." - Third grade student

Have you ever used the critique process in your classroom? What benefits did you observe? Where there any challenges? Any advice for teachers getting started?

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