It is important to build the model for critiquing in the beginning
journalism program. I do this by having critiques regularly built into the program.
Students never get a grade on a paper when they first turn it in. I read it,
correct it, comment on it, and then return it to the student with no grade.
I expect them to revise it. Often, I have them peer critique their work and
then I will read it afterwards. Sometimes, I read it first; other times, I read
it after their peers have read it. The point of all this is to show them that
revision and critique are an integral part of the writing process. No writer
or author publishes anything without revising it.
Students in the beginning program often revise their papers
five to six times before they get a grade on it and the grade at that point
is usually an A. So in the advanced journalism program, having learned to write
by this method, they expect to revise and revise. No one takes it personally
and they are taught never to make snide comments or say anything derogatory
about anyone. Critique is confined to making the story better, not saying anything
negative about the reporter.
Example of good feedback: A student might not have done the necessary research for the story. It
is weak and poorly written.
Editor: "If you did some more interviewing of the principal,
your story would be better."
Or "You need more facts about what happened at the dance on Friday night"
Bad feedback: Never say: "You did a lousy job on this story. Where was your brain
when you wrote it?"
The feedback can be strong, but it cannot be a personal attack
on the writer.
Teacher models feedback styles
Candid interaction is key to an effective learning community.
The teacher models the feedback and also allows students to critique the program,
the curriculum, the teaching---anything related to the school---without getting
upset or mad. This behavior pattern starts in beginning journalism and continues
through advanced journalism. The purpose is to teach students how to give and
take criticism without taking offense, an important life skill. Having the teacher
as a model is critical; it sets the tone for the program and allows for an honest
give and take.
Feedback to the editors
The editors are the recipients of lots of feedback from me.
I spend hours after school, in the evening on the phone, sending emails, and
at lunch talking with the editors about what they did that was good to reinforce
that behavior and then also talk about what needs to improve. Good editors are
the key to an effective program since they are in charge of the class for the
year. They need to be the best they can be and it takes time for them to grow
into the job. I ask them to read Dale Carnegie's famous book How to Win
Friends and Influence People. While they laugh at the dated examples, they find
that they timeless principles are important. I am constantly reinforcing these
principles. You can find an outline of these principles on this website.
I treat editors the same way that I treat student teachers.
I expect them to have plans for the day, be organized, implement those plans
well and follow through. I talk to them before and after class. As time goes
on, they don't need me as much and can do most of it themselves.