Winter 1987 // Volume 25 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA2

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Judges Are Teachers, Too!


Barbara Sawer
Extension Specialist
4-H and Youth Development
Extension Service
Oregon State University-Corvallis

Judges, in evaluating products and performance, have sometimes been elevated to legendary heights. These oft-quoted individuals ("the judge said...") can affect a member's attitude about a year-long learning experience or influence the direction of an entire program. Yet, judges are often unprepared to serve their most important role - that of a teacher.

Since judging occurs at a "teachable moment," it provides an ideal opportunity for feedback to help 4-H members improve their work. At the same time, judges need to be aware they're members of a teaching team that includes volunteer leaders, parents, and Extension staff. As members of that team, they have responsibilities to support and reinforce the learning that has occurred throughout the project year.

Today's judges have opportunities for active teaching in individual conferences with 4-Hers (interview judging). It's not enough for them to be familiar with subject matter, quality standards, and class descriptions - they also need to relate well to young people, offering constructive feedback and positive reinforcement to facilitate the learning process.

Recognizing the important role these teacher-evaluators play in total programming efforts, we include them in our state training schedule, specifically targeting workshops for judges just as we do for agents and volunteer leaders. Following is a description of a training workshop designed for 4-H clothing judges and offered at four regional locations.

The Program

Twelve hours of instruction were offered over one- and-a-half days. The judge's role as a teacher as well as an evaluator was introduced, then reinforced throughout. Specific content dealt with 4-H clothing project objectives, the purpose of judging in the 4-H program, the process, responsibilities of judges, fashion, clothing construction, and technology.

The importance of providing a positive learning experience during the interview judging process was emphasized. Major points included using a nurturing approach, showing flexibility in applying standards, depending on the age and ability of the member, recognizing more than one acceptable way of constructing a garment, and focusing on future performance ("next time you might want to consider...").

Teaching techniques included lectures, videotapes, slidetapes, and role playing. Small group "hands-on" sessions were used for evaluating garments made by 4-H members at various skill levels. A laboratory format provided "hands-on" experience with serger sewing machines. The principal instructors were the state clothing specialist and the state 4-H specialist with home economics responsibilities. Fourteen experienced judges were resources for these activities.


Attendance at the four workshops varied from 22 to 55, for a total of 151 participants at all locations. All counties but one were represented. More than half (53%) of those attending had never judged before; about a third (35%) were updating knowledge and skills learned in previous judging workshops.

Pre-Posttests Provide Feedback

Pretests were sent when registration was confirmed and posttests were filled out as the final workshop activity. Pretests were completed by 141 participants; 142 completed posttests-about 94% in each case.

Each test consisted of 25 knowledge items related to judging philosophy and skills, as well as clothing subject matter and five attitude items concerning youth and fashion. The posttest also included an assessment of the workshop.

Pre/posttest scores were compared using t-tests with statistical significance set at the .01 level. Although the pre/post comparisons are necessarily correlated, the t-test for uncorrelated means was used. Frequency counts and percentages were also used for data analysis.

Knowledge Gained, Attitudes Shifted

A 21% gain in knowledge was noted when pre- and posttest scores were compared for the 25 knowledge items. The average posttest score of 23.2 was significantly higher than the pretest score of 19.1. Significant shifts were also noted in three of the five attitude items, indicating more understanding of issues relating to youth and fashion.

Nearly 85% of the participants said they learned "a lot," while 15% reported learning "some." None reported learning "little or nothing."

Asked in an open-ended question to name the two most important things they learned, participants listed items that we then grouped by topic and sorted into three categories-judging philosophy, judging skills, and subject matter. Responses relating to skills and subject matter were rather straightforward ("I gained more confidence in my ability to judge," "I learned to use a serger machine," and so on). Responses in the philosophy category were more reflective. For example, participants reported they learned to:
"...think of the 4-Her first, then the project."
" positive, teach, and encourage."
" about the member's feelings while evaluating as objectively as possible."

The largest number of responses (37%) related to subject-matter learning, with judging skills (34%) close behind. Responses in the judging philosophy category (29%) followed in third place (see Table 1).

Since we feel the primary reasons people attend the workshops are to update themselves in subject matter and learn the "how-to's" of judging, we weren't surprised at these findings. We also realize that those attending previous workshops have already been exposed to a healthy dose of judging philosophy. In subsequent workshops, these experienced participants might be more likely to focus their attention on "new" learning. This speculation was supported when we found that 95% of the comments made in the philosophy category came from first-time participants.

Serger sewing, mentioned by 39% of the respondents, topped the list of individual topics, followed by increased self-confidence (25%), tips for interview judging (21%), and new construction techniques (19%). All were from the subject-matter and skills categories.

Three of the four topics in the philosophy category also made what we felt was a substantial showing: providing a positive experience for members (17%), using judging as a teaching opportunity (15%), and using flexible standards (14%). Nearly all these responses came from first-time participants.

Workshop Quality

The workshop was rated "excellent" by 86% of the participants and "good" by 14%. Ratings for the individual sections were high, with participants generally reporting the length of each as "just right." Typical unsolicited comments written in the margins of the posttests include:

"Well worth the time and money - I feel inspired to increase my commitment to the 4-H program."

"I'm a picky judge, but you made me see beyond the exhibit to the member's experience."

"I really wanted to judge even before I attended. Now I feel confident and want to judge even more."

Table 1. Participants' report of "the two most important things learned."

Percentage of
Percentage of
n = 278 n = 142
Judging philosophy
Importance of providing a positive experience for members 9% 17%
Use judging as a teaching opportunity 8% 15%
Use flexible standards for age and experience of member 7% 14%
How project goals relate to judging experience 5% 10%
Total 29%
Judging skills
Confidence in self 13% 25%
Got tips for interview judging 11% 21%
How to evaluate garments 5% 10%
More about process 5% 10%
Total 34%
Clothing subject matter
Serger sewing 21% 39%
New construction techniques 10% 19%
New resources 4% 8%
Understanding fashion 2% 4%
Total 37%
a 136 participants listed two items as requested; six listed only one.
b Since each participant could list two items, the total is more than 100%.


Ninety percent of the participants requested that their names be placed on the 4-H Home Economics Judges List distributed to agents and county fair managers. The list includes project areas in which the judge feels qualified, judging assignments during the past three years, and year of last training. Beginning judges, designated as "apprentices," are responsible for contacting experienced ones and arranging to accompany them on assignments.

The list is updated in odd-numbered years, with a supplement appearing in even-numbered years. While counties aren't obligated to select judges from the list, 98% of the 4-H home economics judges hired throughout the state last year came from the current list of 217 names. (Although it's not required, nearly everyone on the list has attended at least one judging workshop.)

Those on the list are sent newsletters updating them on changes and reinforcing judging concepts. They also receive an optional evaluation form that allows a superintendent to assess a judge's performance. The forms are returned to the state 4-H office where comments are summarized and sent to judges as feedback.

Continuing a tradition of more than 20 years of judges' training (about 2.5 workshops annually), the Oregon 4-H staff has scheduled 12 more workshops over the next five years, all dealing with different project areas. Clothing judges will meet again at the end of the five-year rotation.

Since we're pleased for the most part with our training workshops, we plan next to focus our attention on evaluating judging performance. Although we aren't interested in formal certification, we'd like to do some performance monitoring, with follow-up counseling for those whose skills need improvement.


The most important role a judge plays is that of a teacher. As members of the Extension teaching team, they have responsibilities to support and reinforce learning that occurs throughout the total 4-H experience. Training workshops are an effective means of preparing them for teaching roles by providing current subject-matter and project information, "hands-on" judging experience, and a philosophical foundation for facilitating the learning process.

A follow-up listing of workshop participants offers a pool of trained judges for fairs and other competitive activities. Performance monitoring, with follow-up counseling, shows promise as a technique for controlling quality and providing feedback to apprentice, as well as experienced, judges.