Criticism and Critical Interpretations

"Amber, I'm your best friend, right?" Kurt said hesitantly.

"Yeah, I guess you are my best friend," Amber said in a somber voice.

"Well, don't get me wrong ... but what you said to Fitz last night was really mean. I can't believe the words that were coming out of your mouth."

"'C'mon, none of the words were all that bad! Besides he had it coming!"

"Maybe the words weren't that bad; it was more the way you said them. I think you really hurt his feelings. You know, Fitz really is a nice guy. I think you should apologize."

"Well, maybe I was too hard on Fitz last night. I was just upset. I guess I should have used different words, and said them in a better way."

Two of the most important verbal pragmatic functions are represented here: the ability to criticize others appropriately (without being demeaning or too bossy), and the capacity to interpret criticism effectively (without becoming too defensive, overly sad, or over-rationalizing). Failing to develop these key functions may cause a student to have short-lived relationships and limited personal growth.

Key neurodevelopmental functions involved in providing and interpreting criticism include response inhibition (i.e., not reacting impulsively, not saying the first statement that comes to mind, attending to key points while giving and receiving criticism, etc.), expressive language ability (i.e., communicating in a manner that promotes understanding), and self-monitoring (i.e., determining if one's language is appropriate and effective for a given situation).

Here are some strategies to help students develop their ability to criticize appropriately and interpret criticism effectively.

Helpful Hints

  • Set up classroom or homework activities such that the teacher is the only one providing constructive criticism. This will allow you to model appropriate language, etc. Be sure a student knows (in advance if possible) that you will be discussing his/her performance.  
  • Make it easier for students to respond appropriately to teacher feedback by helping them start making corrections (e.g., do two problems together, write the next sentence together, etc.).  
  • As students learn to accept constructive criticism from the teacher, have them practice giving suggestions and receiving feedback from peers during guided cooperative activities. In general, design more cooperative activities and reduce the emphasis on competition. Explain that constructive criticism is meant to be helpful, not threatening. Be sure criticisms are tactfully conveyed to and by students.  
  • Help students improve their ability to see situations from different perspectives by suggesting that they ask, "How would I feel if someone said that about me?" Help students learn to plan their comments and criticisms carefully, e.g., by asking themselves, "How can I say this so he will not be too upset?"  
  • Provide opportunities for students to improve their communication repair and conflict resolution skills. For example, have students practice recuperative strategies (both receiving and delivering negative feedback) in role-play situations and structured opportunities around school.