(Image from: http://blog.kevineikenberry.com/communication/using-the-four-types-of-feedback-effectively/)
I attended my first bar mitzvah last month. It was for two boys I have known since they were four years old. So, it was an honor to be a part of such a meaningful experience to them and their families. I appreciate so many things about the bar mitzvah. I respect the commitment the boys make to their faith; the investment of time in lessons and service projects, and the demonstration of understanding exhibited during the ceremony when they read the Torah and applied the message to contemporary issues. I loved the family’s involvement in the process which included special blessings and hopes for the future. But what stood out to me the most was one moment in the ceremony. After the boys completed the bulk of their responsibilities, they stood in front of the entire audience and had a private conversation with their rabbis. I say it was private because while the audience could see this one minute conversation, we were unable to hear what was being said. I was so intrigued by this I couldn’t wait to ask about it. After giving the parents heartfelt congratulations for their family’s achievement, I asked one of the mothers to explain what I saw. She said that the boys received individual feedback about their experience from their rabbi. Wow. Right there in the moment they received feedback. It was considered so important that it was embedded into the ceremony.
I was reminded about how I felt at the bar mitzvah this week while attending the Assessment NOW conference. Some of the conference topics focused on the tools associated with assessing student learning. However, a vast majority of the conference focused on how we use information gathered by these tools to move learning forward. Feedback was a topic covered in almost every presentation because it has been shown to have a powerful effect on student achievement when clear, timely, specific and actionable. In thinking about the bar mitzvah, I couldn’t hear what was being said by the rabbis, but if it was feedback, it was certainly timely. I wonder how much more impactful that ceremony became as a result of that moment spent reflecting and coaching. Did it allow the boys to absorb the experience and appreciate how much they accomplished? I know the rabbis didn’t end at “good job” because there was obvious acknowledgement of understanding through head nodding. Were they receiving clear and specific points to consider about the message they delivered based on the scripture?
I’ll never know what the rabbis said to the boys that day, but I believe it was impactful. And, if they took the time to offer feedback at the ceremony, I’m confident the rabbis offered feedback during Hebrew and public speaking lessons. It was evident from the articulate and confident way the boys spoke. What the rabbis did say to all of us about the boys is how much ownership they took of the process. They never had to be reminded of assignments and practice. They took their time in class very seriously. I imagine how different the ceremony might have been if the rabbis had only offered “good job” instead of clear, timely, specific, and actionable feedback about the big stuff and the day-to-day stuff. I’m sure they would have made it through, but I’m not sure that they would have walked away quite as empowered.
Learner, Thinker, Writer: Rhonda Mitchell serves Trinity School as the Personalized Learning Specialist. You can follow her on Twitter @rgmteach.