Years ago at a conference on education for the ceramic arts, I was introduced to the work of dance choreographer, Liz Lerman, during the keynote lecture. Lerman introduced a process they had developed to facilitate the giving and receiving of feedback. This method known as Critical Response Process (CRP), is defined as, “a facilitated, four-step method that emphasizes the values of dialogue and inquiry and the opportunity for artists to exercise a degree of control in the criticism directed at their work” (Lerman and Borstel, 16). Though designed with creative activity in mind, CRP can be adapted to a variety of disciplines that practice feedback, be it peer review or response, workshopping, or critique.
At the moment I was introduced to CRP, I was beginning to articulate bewilderment towards the nature of the feedback I was receiving and had been taught to give. I often left critique feeling confused about what my next steps might be, estranged from the work I had presented, and powerless throughout the process. In describing implementing CRP as a writing center director, Meredith McCarroll, writes, “I want to focus on the work that we can do as a pedagogical community to teach effective workshopping in a way that shares power, evokes productive responses, and empowers the creator to revise a piece of work” (McCarroll, 242). ” In my practice of the CRP, I have found it to open spaces to become curious about other possible solutions and outcomes rather than creating an expectation that the work in question needs to be defended.
CRP is composed of three articulated roles (the artist, responders, and a facilitator) and four steps 1) Statements of meaning, 2) Artist as questioner, 3) Neutral questions from responders, and 4) Permissioned opinions. Within the remainder of this blog, I focus on what I found to be the most challenging and yet rewarding aspect of CRP, the formation of neutral questions. A neutral question is an “informational or factual question” that is free of personal values (Lerman and Borstel, 21). When asked neutral questions, I find I am guided towards my own voice rather than imposing the aesthetic values of someone else onto what I make. As a student, I am accustomed to a system in which someone tells me what to do, if something is good or bad, works or does not work—a new discomfort emerges when asked neutral questions, as I articulate my own opinions of what I have made.
Early in the semester, I practice neutral question forming with my students in low stakes situations. We begin by discussing definitions of neutral and opinionated questions. I will then provide an example of something made by someone outside of the classroom. I will often share a scientific poster that was intentionally designed poorly. I invite students to first record what they notice about the presented object or text. They next identify what in their list has an opinion embedded in it. For example, “the color palette is chaotic” is a common response to the poster I present. After sharing their opinions, they work in pairs or small groups to translate the opinions into neutrally stated questions. The previous opinion might be translated to, “What ideas do you want to communicate through your choice of colors?” When working in groups, rather than individually, this task often evolves into a conversation as to whether or not a question is free from all opinions. The above question, for example, suggests something is being conveyed through color while the maker might not have considered their use of color. When regrouping and sharing our questions as a class, I ask students repeatedly if they have a particular intention in asking their question—is their question free of an expectation other than inviting dialogue and inquiry? In asking a question, am I trying to provoke a defense, “How do you expect the reader to comprehend this passage?” or, am I opening a generative space, “How are you hoping the reader will experience this passage?” (Lerman and Borstel, 23).
Years after my introduction to the CRP, a peer said to me, “I want to leave critique feeling like I want to make more.” This is a problem CRP moves away from and yet, despite my own efforts to implement CRP, my peer’s statement felt radical. I too want to leave critique feeling inspired, invigorated, and deeply curious. As a facilitator, I seek to maintain spaces in which there are many possible outcomes. The CRP has helped me reevaluate my own sense of authority in the classroom and find a way to rigorously cultivate a sense that there is no wrong way to arrive at an outcome.
Are you interested in the CRP or forming neutral questions? If you want to learn how to apply these frameworks to your classroom, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for a consultation.
Claire Miller is a graduate student instructional consultant in the CITL.
Lerman, L. and Borstel, J., 2003. Liz Lerman’s Critical response process : a method for getting useful feedback on anything you make, from dance to dessert. 1st ed. Takoma Park: Dance exchange.
McCarroll, M., 2019. Writer as Choreographer: Critical Response Process in the Writing Center. Writing In and About the Performing and Visual Arts: Creating, Performing, and Teaching, pp.241-250.
Joan K Middendorf
Claire, I can see this technique being applied in numerous fields as a way; it’s less threatening, yet invites feedback.