Teach Students How to Design & Critique

Students require meaningful exposure to the design process and it all comes together when they learn how to provide helpful peer criticism.

Photo of Karen Qualey
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This year I realized that kids are not natural design innovators and they require coaching.  I believe the design process needs to be visible to students. They also need to learn how to offer meaningful critique if they are to become a diverse and collective group of creators. The combination of making the design process visible and layering in critique at the right places helped my students view making as a literacy and an iterative process. My students are still at the emerging phases of this literacy, but their resilience has greatly improved.

Learning Attribution:

Critical Making (making as a form of literacy) - Rosann Somerson, Mara Hermano 

Art Criticism (students learning how to provide critique) - Edmund Feldman 

Design Process (process for making) - NASA Engineering, modified by Carlyn Maw

Maker Myths (it's not new, it takes learning, it needs diversity, it's not about STEM) - Paulo Blikstein


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Photo of Moss Pike

Great ideas, Karen; thanks for sharing! I think you're absolutely right that a culture of critique is essential within any organization that values innovation. And I too haven't seen enough work done in helping our students learn how to offer productive criticism (i.e., using a "Yes, and...!" mindset with each other). I've love to hear more about your efforts to work with students on critical skills in our next phase!

Photo of Karen Qualey

Thanks, Moss. My students are still at an "awkward" stage of learning this skill. The visible discomfort they have with practicing meaningful criticism helps me demonstrate that it's all part of learning; encouraging to think about their growth mindset. Challenging kids to embrace discomfort and take risks is the best part of my job. Being right is boring!

Photo of Moss Pike

Likewise! I worked quite a bit with my kids last year to build a "Yes, and...!" culture of critique, which was difficult for us all. I've continued to think about your idea, and I'd love to see its evolution in our "Ideate" phase. What sorts of routines could we design to help kids learn to give effective critical feedback? Can we design a "cheat sheet" with language? Record sample videos demonstrating how to give feedback? I'm very excited to continue this conversation in our next phase!

Photo of Gel Hannan

Thank you so much for this post, Karen! I love it. I find that students sometimes avoid giving meaningful feedback to their peers because they are afraid of hurting their feelings. The resources you've linked in your post have helped me see a way to take them to the next level in giving meaningful and authentic feedback.

Photo of Karen Qualey

Thanks, Gel! It's been a great 2 years of learning for me to get this far - and I know I'm only at the surface! I think you make a great observation that students are afraid to offer criticism in order to protect the feelings of their peers. That's why I love offering them prompts as a scaffold for their learning. I really took a lot of from Edmund Feldman - which I know isn't a new name to most in the arts, but it's worked wonderfully for learners in our fab lab.

Photo of Gel Hannan

I must confess I'd never actually heard of Edmund Feldman until your post but I love his model of art criticism. Thank you so much!

Photo of Bob Weiman


I agree and think your students are so fortunate to experience this process in class! One of the things that most interests and excites me about Teachers Guild (which is a mindset shift for me) is that we can not only model this process as an exercise but we can, as teachers and school leaders, use it to enhance our own practices.

Photo of Karen Qualey

I absolutely agree that we can all benefit from this process. I've spent years teaching the research / information literacy process to teachers and students and I find it to be similar in many ways - it makes so much sense to transition into the design process. Iteration and resilience seem so important for us all.