Challenging the teacher’s role with a “human form of tuition”

When Liz Lerman is asked to describe how her “Critical Response Process” came about, it becomes clear that the sum of her experiences as a dancer, choreographer, teacher, colleague and spouse has been a key factor. This could explain why she considers the method to be a “human” form of tuition – and why she cites her husband as an important source of inspiration.

What is Critical Response Process?

The Critical Response Process (CRP) is a method for giving and receiving meaningful feedback during creative processes. The participants may assume one of three roles: artist, responder or facilitator.

The method involves four steps. During Step 1 the responders give feedback on what was meaningful in the performance that has just taken place. During Step 2 the artist is able to put questions about the artistic performance to the responders. During Step 3 the responders ask the artist open, neutral questions. During Step 4 the responders may offer clearly articulated input and opinion, and the artist may accept or reject the suggestions.

Lærere og studenter på kurs i CRP prøver ut nye metoder
Teachers and students testing out new methods in the CRP workshop

Peer learning in vogue

The Centre of Excellence in Music Performance Education (CEMPE) is exploring different forms of peer learning on principal instruments. One of these methods is the Critical Response Process (CRP). (Scroll down for more information about the method.) Founder of the method Liz Lerman visited the Norwegian Academy of Music earlier this year to hold workshops.

Husband and trusted critic

As a young dancer and choreographer Lerman began to reflect on how she felt there was a lack of systems for giving and receiving constructive feedback on artistic work.

- For me as a young artist coming up in the world, I was really craving feedback and I was not happy with what was being used. Or what was being abused. And what just didn’t exist. 

It was around that time that she met the man who would become her husband. He was working in theatre. Lerman smiles as she confides that she rarely talks about this, but they first fell in love before starting to explore each other’s work. - I reflected a lot about how I could hear him. Why was it that I could hear just anything from him? So I began to contemplate this question. 

Lerman discovered that the trust between the two was crucial in enabling them to give and receive such meaningful and honest feedback.

Turning dance lessons upside down

Lerman then began to ponder how dance technique lessons were organised: “One teacher – 40 students. I know everything – they listen. I show – they do,” she expounds in order to illustrate her point. Lerman noted how many of the students in the dance lessons were also teachers. They were all talented.

- And I thought: what a waste of knowledge. They are all looking at me, it is stupid.

So she began letting the students work in pairs. They gave feedback to each other and wrote reports. This was the prelude to what would later evolve into CRP.

Finding meaning is more important than method
 

bilde-av-liz

Asked to name the most important contribution of CRP to the learning process, Lerman says:

- In dance we practise the steps, but really, the dance is not about the steps. Dance is about something much more. So in Critical Response you practise the steps. But it’s not about the steps. It’s about the underlying values that are inherent in that, and those values are about making art, being creative, making something. It’s meaningful. There is meaning in it.

A driving force for own learning

Lerman is keen that the students drive their own learning process and that CRP does not allow them to become passive participants. This is corroborated by the voice students participating in associate professor Kristin Kjølberg’s group tuition project at CEMPE. The students emphasise the value of there being equality between students and teachers and the self-confidence that the method instils in them, amongst other things.

– Whether you’re a professor or a first-year bachelor student, you’re on the same level in the process. You find that you’re being heard, and you discover your own integrity, says Thomas Tvedt.

Guro Utne Salvesen and Synnøve Sætre concur: – The method boosts your motivation. You find your own approach rather than follow your teacher’s path or whatever is expected of you within the genre.

Expert versus critic

One challenge of teaching arts in higher education is to strike the right balance between being the expert and being someone who gives constructive feedback. Lerman is anxious that expertise is not lost when using CRP, but it must be balanced.

She says music masterclasses are highly complex in this respect, because they are an obvious mixture of teaching and critique. The master is erudite and wants to share their knowledge. But when do you tell the student something and when do you ask questions to allow the student to discover the answer for themselves? Discovery creates ownership, Lerman says.

For the faculty here, I think a big part of this is, when do you teach and just tell, and when do you go through this other work. And I’m advocating that you have to do both.

“Human” tuition

Much of the essence of the Critical Response Process appears to be interpersonal and centres around how to best facilitate learning by taking the performer seriously and thinking carefully about how you formulate praise and criticism. Lerman is keen for CRP to do away with hierarchy.

– I haven’t found hierarchical systems to be very human. I’m quite interested in human systems, and I think we will do better on the planet, in our art-making, and between human beings, if we could drop some of the hierarchy.

New projects

The workshops with Liz Lerman and Kristin Kjølberg’s project have resulted in two new projects being developed at the NAM. One involves a group of teachers working together to explore performance aspects of CRP. The other is a student-led learning activity based on the same method initiated by voice students Guro Utne Salvesen and Eline Refvem.

Last updated: 4. November 2016

What is Critical Response Process?

The Critical Response Process (CRP) is a method for giving and receiving meaningful feedback during creative processes. The participants may assume one of three roles: artist, responder or facilitator.

The method involves four steps. During Step 1 the responders give feedback on what was meaningful in the performance that has just taken place. During Step 2 the artist is able to put questions about the artistic performance to the responders. During Step 3 the responders ask the artist open, neutral questions. During Step 4 the responders may offer clearly articulated input and opinion, and the artist may accept or reject the suggestions.