How cherubs handle constructive criticism

A teacher and a student look at the student's laptop together.

Elizabeth Link (right) and instructor Karen Springer (left) edit Link’s piece together. Photo by Jessica Langer

Taylor Schmitt was ready for the tough professional editing from the instructors, wanting to learn as much as possible at the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute.

“I told myself that I want to improve myself as a writer and as a journalist,” said Schmitt of La Grange, Illinois.

Like all cherubs, Schmitt was assigned to one of the eight instructors. She wrote her first article, looking forward to what her instructor thought.

“People coming should know that you will get a lot of criticism, but they do it well,” she said. “They know what constructive criticism is, and that lets the students apply it well.”

Each Saturday, cherubs attend a one-on-one conference with their instructor to discuss their articles and better ways to enhance their reporting and writing. In contrast to high school, Schmitt said, the program allows writers to create multiple drafts, and the instructors give her criticism she is able to apply to her writing.

“They gave me a great opportunity to get to know my instructor and have an in-depth conversation about journalistic practices,” Schmitt said. “They put the focus on improving. That sets this program apart. It’s less what you did wrong but how can you improve.”

Jacob Fulton of Columbus, Ohio, said the corrections from his instructor opened his eyes. Starting with his first article, instructor Lauren Harris discussed the gaps in his story, ones he never recognized. Those edits made it easier for him to be aware of his common mistakes and correct them.

The instructors take the time to reach out to students beyond the schedule, said Lyn Wu of Shanghai, China.

“They see our problems and point them out,” she said. “They wouldn’t hide what they notice to be problems, and they are willing to meet with us if we have more questions.”

Wu entered the program unable to condense her sentences, but she said she now writes concisely and understands journalism.

“Your instructors are your instructors for a reason,” Fulton said. “They have been doing this longer than you, and even though it is kind of intimidating when you get the first paper back, it’s going to be rewarding at the end when you see the improvements you’ve made.”