The relevance of critiquing to making art can be understood by considering the insights of Alexis Wiggins, a high-school teacher, who was asked to become a learning coach whose job was to improve learning. Her principal suggested she be a student for two days.
I was to shadow and complete all the work of a 10th grade student on one day and to do the same for a 12th grade student on another day. My task was to do everything the student was supposed to do: if there was lecture or notes on the board, I copied them as fast I could into my notebook. If there was a Chemistry lab, I did it with my host student. If there was a test, I took it (I passed the Spanish one, but I am certain I failed the business one).
She was surprised by what this process uncovered.
Key Takeaway #1
Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.
I could not believe how tired I was after the first day. I literally sat down the entire day, except for walking to and from classes. We forget as teachers, because we are on our feet a lot – in front of the board, pacing as we speak, circling around the room to check on student work, sitting, standing, kneeling down to chat with a student as she works through a difficult problem…we move a lot.
But students move almost never. And never is exhausting . . .
Key Takeaway #2
High school students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90 percent of their classes.
. . . I was struck by this takeaway in particular because it made me realize how little autonomy students have, how little of their learning they are directing or choosing. I felt especially bad about opportunities I had missed in the past in this regard . . .
Key takeaway #3
You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.
I lost count of how many times we were told be quiet and pay attention. It’s normal to do so – teachers have a set amount of time and we need to use it wisely. But in shadowing, throughout the day, you start to feel sorry for the students who are told over and over again to pay attention because you understand part of what they are reacting to is sitting and listening all day. It’s really hard to do, and not something we ask adults to do day in and out. Think back to a multi-day conference or long PD day you had and remember that feeling by the end of the day – that need to just disconnect, break free, go for a run, chat with a friend, or surf the web and catch up on emails. That is how students often feel in our classes, not because we are boring per se but because they have been sitting and listening most of the day already. They have had enough.
— excerpted from “I Have Made a Terrible Mistake” by Alexis Wiggins.
Alexis Wiggins put herself out in the audience and made huge discoveries about how to teach. Though she had taught for years, these insights were not available until she tapped into the experience of being a student.
Participants in art workshops are primed to make parallel discoveries. Writing students, for instance, make discoveries as readers of work by others that had eluded them while writing pieces of their own. The problems that hamper their own writing are invisible to them until they encounter them in work by others.
Stepping out into the audience as an artist—it can be enormously instructive.
Thank you for reading.