Department: Called to Teach
Providing feedback to students regarding their academic performance is a critical component of professional development. When provided effectively, feedback can empower and equip students to take responsibility for learning. However, feedback also can result in frustration, if delivered using an unfavorable approach. Nurse educators benefit from reflecting on their pedagogical practices. Being cognizant of approaches to providing feedback may better equip nurse educators to facilitate changes that promote the edifying of students.
The words of Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) have been helpful, as I have reflected on my teaching practices: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Proverbs 15:1 (NIV) states, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” To adhere to these biblical teachings, I follow, and recommend, a three-step approach to provide refining feedback to students.
Step 1: Recognize What Was Done Well.Student motivation to improve performance stems from receiving appreciation for their efforts. I used to follow the adage that if no comments are made, this should translate into students' understanding that their performance is appropriate. However, I realized the unspoken word may be misinterpreted. Students need to hear what they did right and may be better prepared to receive feedback for improvement, if they first know what they have done well (Robson, 2014). Prior to noting needed changes, I discuss what was done well or what improvements stand out to me. For example, on a final version of a project, I acknowledge specific sections that demonstrate improvement. Following this approach, I have found that receiving recognition for achievements allows students to contextualize feedback that otherwise may result in discouragement.
Step 2: Identify What Needs Changing. Feedback that lacks focus may reduce the possibility of students improving their academic performance (Robson, 2014). Nursing students may view the receiving feedback about what they need to change as an unpleasant experience that results in self-doubt about performance instead of a desire to improve competencies. In the past, I provided students with general comments that encouraged reflection on practice and application of knowledge they had gained in the classroom. However, I found myself questioning if students listened to the feedback, as I was not seeing outward changes. I realized students were listening but also were struggling to decipher what specific actions needed addressing. Students desire feedback that allows them to focus their efforts in a way that results in maximum impact. For instance, when reviewing a written draft, I point out where information is lacking, as in this example: “In the background section of your paper, please address the influence of this problem on patient outcomes.” Effective feedback focuses on identifying what needs to be changed in a clear, specific, and focused way.
Step 3: Be a Role Model. Although a purpose of feedback is to promote personal and professional growth, students struggle with formulating a plan for addressing feedback if examples or suggestions are lacking (Robson, 2014). In the past, I was cautious not to think for the student. I would provide general suggestions to help the student problem-solve on his/her own. I didn't want to provide too much information, for fear the student would copy my actions versus formulating his/her own approach. However, my attempt to support independent learning was resulting in disengagement. I now role model appropriate actions by providing specific examples and supplemental resources to help guide the student's thought process. For citation issues, I refer to a specific resource. By providing a starting place for students to begin formulating their plan, they have a clearer understanding of what is required to be successful.
By following a three-step approach, nurse educators can provide edifying feedback. Our words—helpful, meant for building up, and gentle—are most likely to engage students, enabling them to perform at their best. They become equipped with the means to take responsibility for learning. Through engagement in the feedback process, students are more likely to grow personally and professionally.