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Critical Engagement

Critical engagement refers to two main categories of active learning and engagement: how you read and how you act/interact in the classroom.

Critical Reading Strategies 

Being a critical (i.e., effective) reader calls for engaging your critical thinking skills while you read. This means moving from memorization to analysis, evaluation, and synthesis.

According to Salataci and Akyel in their article "Possible Effects of Strategy Instruction on L1 and L2 Reading," when we read, we use bottom-up strategies. In other words, we process information first at the sentence level, focusing on “identification of the meaning and grammatical category of a word, sentence syntax, text details, and so forth.”

To be critical readers, however, we must move from this bottom-up processing to top-down thinking. How do we do this? First, think about what you already know. Then, put the new information into context. Using a KWL chart is a great way to inventory what you know and how it fits into a broader context.

Activating background knowledge will improve your recall, allow you to approach the content more critically, and will help you to formulate the right questions and critiques while you read.  

While you read:

Stay engaged

  • Set aside enough time to read
  • Limit your distractions

Create connections

  • Text-to-Self. How is this text contributing to your personal understanding of the subject matter?
  • Text-to-Text. How does this text relate to other things you’ve read on the subject matter?
  • Text-to-World. How does this text fit into the broader context of the subject matter


  • Vocabulary
  • Theories and models
  • Field jargon
  • New concepts


  • Credibility of source
  • Currency of information
  • Accuracy of information


  • What is the author really saying?
  • Click Here for Tips on Notetaking

Classroom Engagement and Critique

Although not all classes will require you to critique the work of your peers, you will spend a good deal of time at MCAD not only describing your own work in a critically engaging manner but also critiquing the work of your peers in a face-to-face crit. And even in the classes that do not involve formal crits, you will need to be critically engaged with the material, to think critically about reading and class discussion, and participate in a critical dialogue with your instructor and your peers. The Learning Center has devised 5 basic elements of critique to consider each time you engage in dialogue about someone else's work (and your own, too!):


What is the artist trying to communicate?


To whom is the artist trying to communicate their idea? Does the artist assume a certain knowledge or aesthetic preference from the audience?


How well made is the piece? Does the style relate to the concept?


What is the value of the idea presented in the work? Is the main idea compelling?


How well is the piece presented? How or where is it shown? How does the manner in which you can view the piece affect your experience?

The following three videos are meant to introduce you to the world of crit and help frame the expectations of a critically engaged student in art school.