Be specific, concise and base comments on behaviors, not character

Generalizations, both positive and constructive, such as ‘that was really great’ or ‘that wasn’t your best performance’, while well-intended, do not provide students with information that they can incorporate into adjusting their learning.

Effective feedback is specific [1]. That is, when providing feedback always:

  • Make reference to the particular behaviors/skills to which you are referring;
  • Support your comments by clinical reasoning;
  • Include alternative ways to perform the skill or add to the student’s knowledge-base
  • Provide concrete examples so there is a reference point for future learning.

Here is one example of a model for specific feedback:

I noticed that when you were with Mr. Brown that you (INSERT BEHAVIOUR); that approach tends to produce/cause (INSERT CONSEQUENCE), which isn’t really the outcome that we’re looking for in that situation. One really helpful technique you might want to consider is (INSERT ALTERNATIVE BEHAVIOUR). What are your thoughts on that?

OR…

Instead of: ‘It’s really important that you work on your shyness’,
Consider: ‘How are you feeling about first greeting clients?’ followed by ‘I thought today we could talk a little about eye contact and speaking volume when you’re first making contact’.
Instead of: ‘You really don’t pay enough attention to detail’,
Consider: ‘How are you feeling about charting and documentation?’ followed by ‘I’d like to go over some of the protocols about dispensing meds and case notes with you’.

It’s important to avoid

…broad references to a student’s character, or particular personality traits as you see them, as these sorts of comments can feel very personal and denigrating and do little to empower the student to make changes. If you are noticing behavioral themes that impede a student’s progress, try to break them down into tangible actions that can be adjusted

[1] Ende, J. (1983). Feedback in clinical medical education. Journal of American Medical Association, 250(6), 777-781. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03340060055026