Why Your Next Critique Should Be A Gallery Walk

Have you ever held a critique and noticed some students receive no feedback? Are you looking for a way every student can receive useful feedback from both you and their peers?

Here is a critique method where students and the instructor provide written feedback to everyone: The Gallery Walk.

It makes perfect sense to model a critique off of a gallery walk because, after all, the gallery walk is a reference to seeing art! The goal of this critiquing method is for students to create their own focus question and to receive lots of feedback. Peers and the instructor provide constructive, focused, and anonymous feedback. Gallery walks can generate feedback at any stage of the process, from rough sketches to finished pieces. The execution of the gallery walk comes down to three parts: generating questions, setting up the scene, and implementation.

Generating Questions

First, students need to have a quality focus question. Questions may differ depending on the stage of the process the critique is occurring. It is crucial for many students to see several example questions before choosing their own. Some questions can lead to a direct change in the art piece. Some questions might have implications for future work. Strong focus questions do not have “yes” or “no” answers.  Here are some possible focus questions:

  • What do you think is the message of my piece?
  • What does the symbolism say about me?
  • What do you feel is the biggest strength in my composition?
  • How could I use my negative space differently?
  • What do you think I can improve most for next time?

When when discussing focus questions with students, a couple different scenarios may arise. Some students might not choose a question and remain stuck. For students who do not gravitate towards any particular focus, ask them to use “What ideas or feedback do you have for me?” Other students might want to ask several questions. Once a student asks more than two questions, the feedback becomes too shallow. While one question is ideal, limit students to a two question maximum for quality feedback.

gallery walk questions

Setting Up the Scene

Next, students need to write their questions for others to see and respond to. One way to do this is to give students an index card, a piece of tape, and one sheet of binder paper. Have students write their focus question on the index card and tape the index card to the top of the binder paper. Feedback will be written on the binder paper by peers and the instructor. Place the index card and binder paper beside the art that is up for analysis. At this stage, all other materials should be off students’ desks.

gallery walk set up

Students require some clear instructions before being released to walk around and write to each other. The number one thing to address is the positive purpose of the critique. The goal is to make each other better, not to make people feel bad. Students are not out to insult each other. Make sure students know that they are not to make hurtful remarks or write anything off topic. Sometimes students will feel the need to write things that have nothing to do with the focus question or with art in general. Make sure students understand their job is to stay on point with their responses.

One last issue to address is the nature of the walk. Students might start strong and write great feedback for the first five minutes. Then, all of a sudden, a group forms in the back corner and engages in off-task conversation. Tell students that they have 10 minutes of writing time. If a cluster forms, encourage them to jump around to a less-populated table or piece and cycle back later. The goal is for students to write one comment for every student piece in the room.

student leaving comment

It also helps to remind students they are resources for each other. The art room is a collective of creative individuals who push, influence, and inspire one another. Genuine feedback is a gift and it helps everyone develop.

Implementation

Now that students are ready to give some quality feedback, it is time to start the walk! Music is a fantastic way to motivate students and keep them moving. Some calm, yet upbeat, melodies can help students get into the feedback groove.

As the instructor, it is essential to join in this activity with students. As you cycle from table to table, you are better able to notice the comments being offered. If anything comes up that needs to be addressed, you can stop the music and make sure the class is aware of something that needs to change. When students see the instructor participating in the same activity they are asked to engage in, it automatically raises the stakes. Sharing your ideas alongside students is a powerful experience.

teacher leaving comment

The length of the activity is important. After 10 minutes, students start to fatigue. In an ideal world, each student would receive feedback from every other student. In reality, this usually does not happen. If students receive feedback from half of the class, consider the gallery walk a success! One strategy is to stop the music about halfway through the allotted time, give students an update on where the least amount of feedback is, and ask them to concentrate on that area.

The gallery walk critiquing method is powerful. Students think a bit more deeply about what they want out of a critique through a focus question, and they participate much more willingly through anonymously written feedback. After the time is up, have students return to their seats. Ask them to read their feedback and listen to how quiet the room gets. Then have one or two students share some really good feedback they received. The more students practice this method, the better the feedback will become.

If you’re looking for even more unique assessment ideas, be sure to take a peek at Assessment in Art Education where participants walk away with a comprehensive toolkit full of authentic assessments to use in their classrooms.

What other critique styles are successful for you?

If you have used the gallery walk method before, describe your experience!

Matt Christenson

Matt is a high school visual arts and mural design teacher in San Francisco, CA who strives to cultivate maximum creative potential in all students.

Related

  • Jessica Miroglotta

    I was thinking about new peer critique possibilities for my Art Foundations students this week, and this looks the a winner. Very excited to try this out with them.

    P.S. Matt, did you go through the Boston University online Masters program? I think we were in the research project class together!

    • Matt Christenson

      Hello Jessica! I’m so glad this article could provide an idea or two just in time…and yes! We were in the same BU program! Great memory. So nice to hear from you. I hope you and your students are doing well!

  • Denise Tanaka

    fantastic! Always looking for fresh, new ideas to mix up my critiques with my 8th graders…thanks!
    Denise

  • Crystal Bayes

    I love this idea, I’m just trying to wrap my head around doing this with Elementary. I am used to teaching 9th-12th grade Art and this year I have switched to PreK-6th. I am having a blast and I want to prepare them for an amazing High school experience. I’m just having trouble breaking the lessons down into smaller bite size pieces for the younger ones.

  • Leo Barthelmess _ Staff – RHS

    I normally do gallery walks with large classes such as my Beginning Art students and we normally discuss the criteria of the project and use that as our writing points. With my upper levels we usually sit and speak with each other questioning and commenting about the content and structure but I think we can do a gallery walk this way with them so they can gather their thoughts before hand and have some one on one time with the art before a group discussion.

  • Shelley Menhennet

    I teach primary school students and do what I call a ‘studio walk’ in most sessions -sometimes in the middle and sometimes near the end of a session before we pack up. The students leave their work, wherever it is up to, and walk around all the tables to look at what everyone else is doing. This always generates informal positive discussion which can lead to more formal discussions if necessary. In fact, my students complain if we don’t do a ‘studio walk’ regularly! This can take as little as 5 minutes in a session but is so worthwhile. The ‘gallery walk’ is when we go and look at visual arts displays of other grade levels work, in the main hallways of the school. I try to do this once a semester with each grade. I usually have preprinted note paper available so they can write to a particular artist if they want to, and most do. The students love receiving this ‘fan mail’ from other students, most of whom they don’t know, in a school of 1000 students.

    • Matt Christenson

      Hey Shelley! This is great. I love that you have the studio AND gallery walks happening. Thanks so much for sharing!