4-H Judging Toolkit WHY JUDGE AT THE 4-H COUNTY FAIR? ―Fairs bring producers and consumers together and unite rural and urban people in an educational and entertaining community activity.‖ A fair is a unique opportunity for young people to showcase their exhibits. It gives them a chance to apply some of the things they’ve learned in their youth group projects, learn life skills like planning and organizing, measure their progress and skills, meet people, share ideas, and gain some personal satisfaction. Why do youth show at a fair? It’s not for the money. The amount of premium money that youth earn for an exhibit in the non-animal areas is small, hardly enough to pay for materials, certainly not enough to pay for all the time and effort they put into a project. Youth who exhibit in the non-animal project areas aren’t going to get rich at a county fair. They exhibit because they want to show the public what they’ve accomplished and they want to see how much they’ve learned. The 4-H philosophy is ―learn by doing.‖ 4-H believes that young people learn best if they are involved in an experience, not just watching or listening to others. 4-H’ers get involved through their projects. They show their project work at the county fair. When you judge youth exhibits, your responsibility is to: Help youth improve their project skills Help them recognize their own efforts and accomplishments Help them develop standards for future self-evaluation Encourage them to continue in the project Advise them on what they might learn next. Judging is a vital part of the county fair educational process. As a judge you’re part of a teaching team of volunteer leaders, parents and Extension staff. You’re helping support and reinforce the learning that occurs during the project year. Once you start judging, you’ll learn that every county fair is unique. The judging conditions, the number of exhibits and exhibitors, the number and types of county fair classes and lots all vary a great deal from county to county. But the types of judging at county fairs fall into two general categories. You’ll either be judging exhibits with the exhibitors present or without. Danish Judging A tremendous learning opportunity is available with evaluation against standards of excellence is conference or face-to-face fudging. This allows 4-Hers to hear the judge’s comments directly and to ask questions on how to improve. The Danish system of ribbon group ratings is a common example of recognition for achieving standards of excellence in 4-H, and is often used at county fairs and project achievement shows. In the Danish system exhibits are individually evaluated against a set of criteria and are awarded a recognition ribbon signifying the following level of achievement. Rating --Accomplishment Blue—Project meets standards Red--Project needs improvement White -Project needs much improvement Premium monies may also accompany the ribbon award at some 4-H exhibit opportunities. The exhibits are grouped by a rating, but not ranked within the group. In some situations the Danish system is modified to include rankings within the groups, such as livestock shows. Individual Conference Judging At some county fairs you’ll be judging exhibits with individual exhibitors present. It’s called individual conference, face-to-face or interview judging, depending upon the county. You’ll be sitting at a table as each exhibitor comes to you with all of his or her entries. You’ll then have a five to 10 minute semi-private conversation with the exhibitor, evaluating his or her work and placing each entry. The pluses of this type of judging are many. You’ll get to meet the exhibitors, find out how much they know, how much help they have received, what kinds of resources they have access to, why they took the project, why they entered these exhibits, what are their favorite subjects, and much more. You also have lots of flexibility in placing your exhibits in individual conference judging. Judges are not required to follow the Danish formula of so many blue, red, and white. You’ll probably give more blues and reds than you would in Danish judging because youth can tell you what they know and what they learned. Group Conference Judging The very best judging situation for teaching is a combination of face-to-face and Danish judging. It combines the best of both judging systems. Exhibitors on fair entry day are usually very busy. They are often entered in several different project areas. Conference judging time in one department may conflict with conference judging time in another. Most counties choose individual conferences so exhibitors have more flexibility with the judging schedules. If you have questions or are unclear about the judging system used in the county that you’ll be judging, ask the department superintendent before you start. HOW TO FIND IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR PROJECTS Read the current 4-H project literature. Most counties use the 4-H project literature recommended by the State 4-H Office. Review what is in each manual at each grade level of the project. The county may use other or additional project resources. Try to stay up to date because curriculum changes periodically. Get a set of the current 4-H curriculum from your county Extension office. The fair book is your key source of county fair information. It will give you all the specifics you need to know about the classes that you will be judging at the fair. Study it carefully, and then take it with you when you judge. Criteria are the common categories used to evaluate a class. For example, one criterion for an insect collection is an identification label on each specimen in the collection. Standards describe the ―ideal‖ conditions for each criterion. Standards are meant to be flexible, not absolute, guidelines used in the evaluation process. For example, your standards for the insect collection might say that it should have correct information (common and scientific names of the insect), location and date when the insect was collected, and the collector’s name or initials. You may also want all the labels to look alike (consistency), neat and legible. Once you’ve evaluated an exhibit against your set of criteria and standards, you place the exhibit (and tell the exhibitor why, if it’s face-to-face or conference judging). Placings indicate how close the exhibit comes to the standards that you’ve established. Your placings should also take into account the grade, developmental ability, experience and resources of the exhibitor, if known. Merit Awards At the end of a day’s judging, you may be asked to select exhibits for ―Best of Show,‖ and other awards of excellence. Discuss the selection of merit awards with the superintendent before you start judging. Then throughout the day set aside merit award possibilities. At the end of the day, bring them all together and select your merit awards. It’s nice if you can spread the awards around among various individuals in all the grade groups. In other words, try not to give all the top awards to the advanced exhibitors. Try to recognize the good work of the beginners who entered this year. HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOUTH ABOUT THEIR PROJECTS Whenever you make written or verbal comments on a youngster’s exhibit, it’s important to think about the impact on exhibitors and parents. Even well meaning, constructive criticism can hurt, so always be gentle and tactful in your comments. Youth learn more through compliments than criticism. Compliments encourage them to continue learning; criticism just crushes their enthusiasm. Most county fairs today feature face-to-face/conference judging. It’s the biggest change in 20 years. When working with youth in individual conference settings: Use a pleasant tone of voice. Use words that youth will understand. Give youth time to think before you expect a response to your questions. Restate questions if necessary. Avoid questions that can be answered with just yes or no. Ask open-ended questions that start with who, what, when, where, why or how. ―Sandwich‖ helpful criticism or a suggestion for improvement between two sincere compliments. Never use degrading words or phrases that will discourage youth from continuing in the project. Individual Conference Judging Face-to-face evaluation has six distinct phases. There are a number of questions that you can ask in each phase. You’ll have 5-10 minutes with each exhibitor, depending upon how busy you are and how many exhibitors are waiting in line. You certainly won’t have time to ask them all, but try to ask at least a sampling of questions from each phase. Phase 1: Get Acquainted – When each exhibitor sits at your table, you should smile, say ―Hi,‖ introduce yourself and shake hands. As you start to skim the exhibitor’s exhibits placed in front of you, ask a series of get-acquainted questions: What’s your name? What grade are you in school? What got you interested in this project? How many years have you taken the project? How long have you been in this project unit? Which other units have you taken? Have you ever had your exhibits judged at the county fair before? Tell me what you like most about this project. Take the time to make eye contact during this get-acquainted time. Listen carefully to all the comments. Show exhibitors that you’re really interested by your expressions and gestures. (It gets hard toward the end of the day, but try to treat every exhibitor the same . . . like you’re my only exhibitor today and you have my total attention.) When you find out an exhibitor’s first name, use it throughout the judging. If you forget the name or you’re not sure you heard it correctly, look at the entry tag. Phase 2: Share – The second phase is simply a chance for the youth to share information about the exhibits you’re judging. Tell me about this exhibit. Where did you make this exhibit? How did you . . .? When did you . . .? What type of tools or equipment did you use? As part of this sharing phase, make a comment or two about what you’re finding in the exhibit, such as, ―I can see you really like birds (or insects or rockets). Your interest really shows in your exhibits.‖ ― You must have had a good time making this exhibit. It shows.‖ If the exhibitor has given you more than one exhibit, ask which is your favorite exhibit? Why? What do you especially like about it? Which do you think is my favorite exhibit? Why? If the exhibitor has given you just one exhibit, ask, what was your favorite part of developing the exhibit? Why? Phase 3: Process – Answers to the sharing questions naturally lead you into the third or ―Process‖ phase of judging. This is when you want the youth to analyze what they did, to reflect on what’s important. Here are some examples of the types of process questions that you can ask. There is never enough time to ask all of them, of course. By listening carefully, you will find that the answer to one question will give you clues to your next question. How much did your exhibits cost? What problems did you have? What worked and didn’t work? What was the most difficult part? Why is it important to . . .? Where did you find the information on . . .? Where did you get the idea for . . .? What were you trying to communicate with this exhibit? What did you hope people would notice about your exhibit? Do you have someone at home or a project leader or helper in your club that gives you advice on your project? Have you had any project meetings or field trips? (Hint: Try to avoid questions like, ―Did someone help you with this exhibit?‖ It’s an awkward question under the circumstances because the youth might think you’re implying that it’s not his or her work, which is required by county fair rules.) If you could make this exhibit again, how would you change it? Phase 4: Generalize – This is a time for the exhibitor (and you, too) to generalize about what they learned and to connect the learning to other situations. It’s also the time when you start to talk about the best things you see in the exhibits and some ways to improve the things that need work. In all your comments, try to be specific and avoid meaningless or exaggerated praise (―This is a perfect display!‖). Be sensitive when giving comments about techniques that need improvement. Of course, this is the phase in which you give your placings. Try to summarize the main reasons for your placings before moving on to phase five. What did you learn while . . .? Where/how did you learn to make this kind of exhibit? What are some new things you learned by making these exhibits? What was the most important thing that you learned? When did you learn the most? I really liked . . . because . . . I thought this exhibit was really effective because . . . I thought you made a good decision when . . . I wasn’t quite sure about . . . Could you explain . . .? That’s coming along nicely. What if you tried this? What would happen? I would like to see you try this the next time you make your exhibit. What do you think would happen? What are some characteristics that make a good project exhibit? Have you ever tried . . .? What do you think might happen? You might try . . . because . . . Have you thought about . . .? You might experiment with . . . Keep working on . . . See if you can . . . You’ve just about mastered . . . One more time and you’ll have it! Phase 5: Apply – This is the time when you want youth to reflect on what they learned today and how to apply it in the future. Some samples: What are some new things that you learned today? What are some new things you could learn in this project in the future? What else would you like to learn? What are you planning to make or exhibit next in this project? How might you use your new exhibit or project skills to help your 4-H club? Your family? Your school? Your community? How could you help someone else learn your project skills? What exhibits will you enter in next year’s fair? Phase 6: Wrap up – End on a positive note. A smile, a call for final questions, a thank you and a word of encouragement to enter again next year usually work. They leave the exhibitor feeling good about the judging experience. They also leave you feeling ready to meet and greet the next exhibitor in line. WHAT IS EXPECTED THE DAY OF THE FAIR When judging day arrives, report to the fair secretary at least 30 minutes before your scheduled judging time. Seek out the county Extension staff or fair department superintendent. Check out the judging site. Let the superintendent know if you have any concerns about the layout. Be reasonable in your requests for any changes because judging day is hectic. Staff and volunteers want to be helpful, but they can’t drop everything to get what you want. The superintendent is your best friend when you judge. The superintendent’s job is to make your work as efficient as possible. Here’s what the superintendent does for you: Secures able volunteer help, including a recording clerk, someone to get exhibits ready for judging, someone to attach ribbons, and someone to display the exhibits. Establish an orderly and efficient system for checking in exhibits. Prepares projects for judging. See that placings' are accurately recorded. Secure your signature on exhibit sheets and submit the records to the proper authority. See that the exhibits are displayed as attractively as possible. Make the exhibits as educational as possible for fairgoers after your judging is completed. If you’re judging face to face, you’ll receive your first eager young exhibitor and you’ll start your interviews. Review your interview questions before you judge. Take your list of questions with you so that you can refer to them periodically. Some counties will ask you to fill out a scorecard or comment sheet to share with the exhibitor. This slows down judging, but the benefits to the exhibitor of having written comments are worth the extra time. Help from an efficient assistant or secretary will speed up the process. Superintendents or assistants can write as you dictate. How many exhibits can you expect to judge? Again this varies from county to county. If the number of exhibitors is too large for one judge to handle the county has probably hired another judge or two to judge with you. Before you start judging with another judge, spend some time getting acquainted. Compare your judging criteria, standards and philosophies. If your judging styles are very different, try to strike a compromise for the day, so that your judging ―team‖ is consistent and fair in its placings. Make sure you have worked out a plan for dividing the work, selecting merit awards and taking breaks. Don’t feel you have to apologize for the choices of blues, reds, and whites that you make. Your decisions are final. If you have solid criteria and standards that you have employed consistently throughout the day that you can site to back up your decisions, then exhibitors, observers and county staff should be satisfied. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS Q. If I sign up to judge a department, but I don't know all about all the subjects, what do I do? What do I do when I’m asked to judge a project or exhibit that I don’t feel very qualified to judge? A. Be as prepared as you can be. Go to the county Extension office and get copies of the current 4-H literature. This judge’s manual will also give you the basics to get by and the resources to go further. If you do your homework, you shouldn’t have many surprises on judging day. County fairs do not expect you to be perfect or to be an expert in everything you judge. Let the county fair know before you agree to judge if you feel you are not qualified to judge some projects within a department. The county can then decide if it will hire another judge for those projects. If you are surprised and you don’t do as well as you would like, learn from it and do better next time. Q. How do we ensure an orderly flow of exhibits during judging? A. The best advice is to work closely with your superintendent and clerks to develop a system that works well for you. Many times you’ll find that the superintendent is a veteran who has been helping in this department for years and has perfected the flow of exhibits. But if you have suggestions, speak up. It takes good communication to work out the best flow of exhibits. Q. Who should disqualify an entry if it does not meet fair book guidelines: the superintendent or the judge? A. The judge and superintendent share the responsibility. Generally the superintendent or the clerks will spot an exhibit like this when youth are checking in. If you see that an exhibit doesn’t meet the requirements or fit the class guidelines, then meet with the superintendent and together make a decision. The consequences will vary from county to county. Sometimes exhibits are disqualified, with the judge asked to make comments on the exhibits. Q. How can exhibits be marked or checked so they don’t show up at future fairs? A. Sometimes exhibits can be reentered, such as a ―progressive‖ exhibit like an insect collection where youth can add a certain number of bugs each year. Assuming that’s not the case with the class you’re judging and you have suspicions that an exhibit was not created since the last county fair, alert the superintendent. But seldom is that necessary because you’ll find that superintendents do a great job of screening for ineligible exhibits before they reach you. Some departments have adopted techniques to guard against the reentering of exhibits. In the woodworking department at some county fairs, youth are asked to mark the year with an indelible marker on the bottom of each exhibit, or someplace where the date won’t mar the exhibit. Q. How should I judge a simple, under built project made by an older youth in a beginning level project? A. Make your evaluation based on the ability of the youth. Certainly you should expect an older youth that is starting in a project to produce a better exhibit than a 9 or 10 year old. But remember the older youth is still a beginner. Obviously a simple, under built exhibit normally would not represent much effort and therefore would not earn a very high placing. But you need to determine if the exhibitor has a disability and the work represents his or her best. You also need to determine how much the exhibitor learned in making the exhibit. If you find out during the interview that the youth learned a great deal, even if they did not have the time or desire to put effort into making the exhibit, you might place the exhibit a little higher than you normally would. Q. How do I judge mass-produced school or club projects that are entered at the fair? A. It is a concern when it appears that exhibits are mass-produced in a classroom or 4-H club. All the exhibits look the same and there is little effort to show what the youth learned. Remember that you do not have to give all blue ribbons. If you feel the project lacks creativity and deserves a red or white, do it. Q. Should judges have a dress code? Can judges wear clothes that advertise? A. If a county has a dress code for judges, it should be included in the county fair guidelines sent to you before the fair. If there is no code, use common sense. Dress comfortably and appropriately for the departments that you’re judging. Also, keep in mind weather conditions and where you will be judging. Q. How can I be kept current on new 4-H projects and other curriculum changes? A. It’s your responsibility as a judge to stay current on 4-H curriculum changes. Before the fair season starts, go to your county Extension office to get the latest information or a copy of new curriculum. Q. How can I remain upbeat during LONG judging days? A. Each youth that you judge deserves your full, positive attention, even if it’s at the end of the day. Try to maintain your sense of humor throughout the day. Probably the most important thing you can do to stay upbeat is to get your rest before and during judging day. Take your breaks. You’ve earned them. If you’re feeling tired, get away from the crowd during your breaks and rest. Eat a wholesome lunch. Bring some wholesome snacks, like fresh fruit and vegetables or bagels for an energy boost during the day. If you have a favorite beverage, bring plenty of it along. Fairs also have the responsibility to offer you water, lemonade or soft drinks during the day. Remember to dress comfortably for a full day of work. Periodically stand or change your position. Take a few seconds to stretch every hour. Sometimes it helps to change the pace or order that you usually use when you judge to refresh yourself. If you feel ill, tell the superintendent. Q. How can I maintain quality standards in fair judging? A. Be sure you know the rules, do your homework, and stay up to date on 4-H curriculum and programs. Get your proper rest before you judge. Take your breaks so that you can stay sharp and give each youth the attention that he or she deserves. Q. Do county fairs evaluate their judges? Should judges receive a copy? A. No doubt most county fairs do an informal evaluation of their judges, i.e., county fair staff discuss the quality of the judging among themselves and decide if they want someone to be asked back again. They also share this information with colleagues when asked to recommend judges for other county fairs. Some counties may even do a formal, written evaluation of their judges. FACE-TO-FACE JUDGING Q. What percent of the placing or award do you base on the discussion in face-to-face judging? A. A good rule of thumb is that you award half for what you hear in the interview and half for what you see in the exhibit. Q. How do I do an adequate job of judging face-to-face without falling behind? A. Every judge faces this dilemma. You want to take enough time with each youth to do a good job of judging, but you don’t want to fall behind either. As a rule of thumb, you want to spend about five minutes on an exhibitor. But it’s easy to lose track of time. Some judges put little reminders near themselves, like a timer or a 3x5 card that says, ―Stay on time‖ or ―Five minutes.‖ To find out how you stand during the day, periodically ask the superintendent how you are doing with time. Ask how many youth still need to exhibit, and then calculate how much time you still need. Watch the line. Is it getting extraordinarily long and are people becoming frustrated with the wait? The bottom line is: sometimes you have to spend less time with an exhibitor than you would like; sometimes you have to stay longer than you planned to finish the job. Q. How much time should I spend with a youth who obviously doesn’t have much of the basic information that I feel should be learned in the project? A. You must realize you can’t give a year’s worth of information in a few minutes. Help as much as you can but you’ll probably have only five minutes to give to each exhibitor. So give two or three key, basic rules or principles that the youth should know, suggest a good source of information that the youth can consult, and encourage the youth to come back next year. (Note: There could be many reasons why a youth hasn’t achieved at the level you might expect, such as, disabilities, lack of resources, or lack of help. So don’t assume that the youth is an underachiever. Answers to your questions should give you some clues as to why the exhibitor has not achieved and help guide you in your evaluation.) Q. How much time should I spend on an exhibit to make sure the information is accurate? A. Although youth should be able to use terminology correctly and to give correct answers and information, the fact is that the project literature does not cover everything. And in some project areas, such as birds, there are so many possible types that even veteran judges have a hard time making the correct identification. So use good judgment. Correct some of the key information and let the rest go. Suggest a resource or two that the youth can consult to improve their accuracy. You can’t spend too much time on any one exhibit or you won’t finish. The more you judge, the better you’ll be able to sense how much time to spend with a single exhibit or exhibitor. Q. How do I judge the work of youth with developmental disabilities? A. Many times you won’t know that a youth has disabilities. That’s the way the parents want it. They don’t want their child being treated ―special.‖ They want their child to be treated like the other youth in the class. To them, participating is more important than winning a certain ribbon. Sometimes the parents or the superintendent will alert you that a child has disabilities and has had help with the exhibit. Sometimes a note is attached stating how much assistance was given and how much the youth has contributed to the project. In that case it makes sense to ask the youth questions – and give your placing – on the parts of the exhibit that he or she did complete, and not the whole exhibit. Q. What do I do if a parent does all the talking in a face-to-face judging situation? A. It’s great that a mom or dad is there to give moral support to the child, but they should not be answering questions for the exhibitor. Generally superintendents are good at anticipating and guarding against these types of problems if they are chronic. If you have a problem, first try talking directly to the youth, not the parent. Ask the youth the questions. If a parent starts to answer the question, simply say, ―I’d like to hear what (name) has to say.‖ If the problem persists, make it clear to the parents that you don’t want to hear from them. ―I really appreciate your concern for your son or daughter, but I really want to hear from them, and only them.‖ If the problem persists, talk to the superintendent. STAFF EXPECTATIONS OF JUDGES When you are asked to judge a county fair, here is what the county Extension office or county fair staff will expect of you: Stay up to date on new knowledge and trends in your subject area. Attend judge’s training in your subject area if offered. Take time to understand the capabilities and personal likes of the grade levels that you are judging. Respond promptly when asked to judge. If you aren’t available, offer names of others who might be qualified to judge. Read all material provided in advance. Become thoroughly familiar with the local fair book and current project literature. Communicate in advance if you have questions, problems or suggestions. Arrive on time at the fair. Be mentally and physically ready for judging. Dress comfortably, but professionally. Consult with the staff or superintendent to clarify your understanding of local exhibit requirements and standards. Do not assume anything. Ask and be sure. Consult with the superintendent and fair helpers if questions or problems arise. Be assertive enough to handle difficult situations if necessary. Be friendly, courteous and tactful with all staff, volunteers and exhibitors. Use the guidelines on conference judging to involve exhibitors. Identify both the good points of an exhibit and those that need improvement. Offer suggestions for further improvement. Make criticism constructive. Avoid absolute criticisms. Consider each youth individually. Encourage exhibitors to evaluate their own work. Give reasons for your decisions and placings, not opinions. Give clear explanations and factual statements. Be ready to explain placings. Your decisions are final. Don’t let your personal likes or dislikes show when you judge. Be neutral and objective. Be consistent. Don’t give top placings if exhibits are not worthy. Maintain your criteria and standards throughout the day. Work with reasonable speed to accommodate the number of exhibits and exhibitors. Accommodate parents and leaders who want to join your individual conferences, but let them know that the exhibitor must answer the questions. Keep state fair exhibits and county merit awards in mind throughout the judging so selection can be done more easily at the end. Stay until judging is over and you have completed merit award selections. Be willing to judge later than you originally expected. Unavoidable delays may occur. Help other judges if necessary and if qualified. Check out with staff before you leave. Turn in mileage, bills, hours, etc., promptly. After the fair, give staff members any feedback on improvements needed for next year. It’s nice to hear when things go well, too! JUDGE’S EXPECTATIONS OF STAFF When you are asked to judge a county fair, here is what you can expect from the county Extension office or county fair staff: Make several contacts with you before judging: invite you to judge, send a fair book and other information, and brief you before judging begins. Notify you of dates, hours, place, time to arrive, what to judge, how judging is done, what grade groupings and placings are used, and what’s expected for fair exhibits and county merit awards. Tell you what training and resources the exhibitors have had in the project area in the past year. If you’re not familiar with 4-H, send you copies of information on the county 4-H program. Indicate whom you should contact for more information or support before and during the fair. Send you courtesy badges or other entry requirements that you may need to enter the fairgrounds. Have enough time or enough judges so you can do a good job. Have enough staff and volunteer help so you can do a good job in the time allotted. Have an efficient judging schedule and organization worked out in advance. Have area arranged and ready for judging when you arrive. Provide a comfortable place to judge, with good light, sufficient table space, necessary equipment and refreshments. Classify and arrange exhibits, keep records, attach ribbons, and display exhibits. If judging check sheets are going to be used, send you a copy ahead of time for your information. Assist with the writing of comments on the check sheets. The superintendent or other fair employees, however, should not offer advice or suggestions to you on the merits of exhibits. Some county fairs also say that they may not enter items in the department in which they are working. Support you if problems arise. The superintendent should report any irregularities or matters that need immediate consideration to the fair secretary. Maintain open communication with you throughout the day. Thank you for your time and effort when judging day is done. The University of Illinois offers equal opportunity in programs and employment Materials adapted from Wisconsin 4-H. Materials adapted from Idaho State University ―Preparing Yourself to be a Judge, Statewide 4-H Judges Training Video Conference.‖ Selected portions from University of Illinois Extension Recognition for Excellence. Compiled by Sally Hamlin, Extension Educator, University of Illinois Extension.
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