Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes
The Optimism of Critique
At the conclusion of 8th grade, our students produce and present a writing portfolio of the works they consider to be their best. Students have to write a justification for their choice, and one of their choices has to have a piece of work from sixth grade that was refined in eighth grade. Before their parents and their teachers and each other, our students have the opportunity to explain their reasoning, and to share the many drafts that went into making each work optimal. The portfolio is representative of the critiquing process that we introduce in kindergarten.
There is an interesting connection between our efforts at Wornick to teach the idea of critiquing work and the Jewish New Year concept of teshuvah. Both ideas promote the value of assuming responsibility – one for our work and the other for our actions, and both assume the possibility of improvement.
We intentionally teach children self-reflection. In kindergarten, we introduce the protocols of critiquing work. The general protocol is to acknowledge the positive, respectfully ask questions and make constructive suggestions. We use the language “I notice, I wonder, and I appreciate” in our protocol. This effort helps students learn to self-correct, to recognize that excellent work requires perseverance and refinement, and to support their peers in achieving their personal best. Above all, critiquing teaches students to consider what counts as “best” work and to assume responsibility for producing their own best work. At the same time, as students learn the value of helping each other, they are learning how to contribute constructively to a better community.
This concept of self-correction and the Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur concept of teshuvah are interconnected. Teshuvah literally means to turn oneself around. It is frequently translated as repentance, but it really connotes the sense of evaluating oneself against a particular standard of behavior and then redirecting one’s efforts in that direction. According to tradition, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah (the month of Elul) and the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are times of introspection and, ultimately, for recalibrating…to reset our GPS for the journey of the coming year.
Just as our critique of class work culminates in the production and celebration of the finished work, so too there is a celebratory aspect to this holiday season. Both processes, while capable of degenerating into morbid seriousness, are actually acts of great optimism. Both proclaim that we do such work because we know that we are all capable of something better.
As we enter this holiday season, I wish you all a Shana Tova that brings us all to greater heights in work and action.
G’mar Tov (the traditional greeting on Yom Kippur)
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