Curriculum Matters: Giving Feedback

“Learning without feedback is like learning archery in a darkened room.” (Cross)

The terms feedback and formative assessment have been used frequently in our UG curriculum both in clerkship and pre-clerkship. It’s important that we all recognize a consistent definition of feedback, as well as consider some effective tips and strategies from the educational literature. Sue Fostaty-Young weighs in with some helpful ideas.

Feedback is information regarding students’ performance that is offered with the express purpose of improving their learning and future performance. It is considered one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).

Tips for Giving Effective Feedback:

  1. Prepare students to receive the feedback you’re about to give
    • Unfortunately, students do not always recognize feedback as such, especially oral feedback during rounds, or in clinic, etc. Consider starting your end of the conversation by saying “I have some feedback for you”.
    • Alert students at the beginning of a rotation or any workplace teaching to the fact that feedback may be oral, and part of ongoing bedside teaching.
  2. Ask a student how he/she thinks they’re doing
    • In asking a student to comment on their own performance you initiate the process of self-reflection and emphasize the learner’s active role in the feedback process.
    • You may ask them to prepare some notes prior to the feedback session or create a structure for this dialogue.
  3. Be specific and objective about what you observed
    • Begin by identifying what students are doing correctly in their performance.
    • Provide examples of what you observed, not what you inferred. For example, rather than saying “You’re shy” (an inference), you might say “I noticed you made very little eye contact with the patient and you spoke very quietly, making it difficult for her to hear your questions” (an observation).
  4. Give feedback in a timely fashion and in time for students to improve
    • Feedback offered almost immediately after an activity has more meaning because the event and the students’ behaviours during it are fresh in their minds.
    • Timely feedback allows for students to alter their performance, to practice, and improve. Set a time to review improvement if possible.
  5. Outline specific targets or goals; articulate expectation
    • Feedback has the most impact when learning-specific information is offered.
    • Offer specific feedback that is within the student’s ability to improve and a rationale for your suggestions. For example, rather than say, “Stop being so shy,” you might offer specific suggestions such as “Try to make eye contact more regularly so patients know you’re engaged and to gauge their reactions. Speak louder so your instructions can be heard.” You may want to suggest that they practice with a peer or videotape their own practice.
  6. Invite the student to respond to the feedback you’ve just given
    • Initiating this dialogue can help establish whether the student has interpreted the feedback as it was intended, and will be able to use the feedback in a meaningful way.
  7. Help the student develop an action plan with timelines for improvement to help them use the feedback in a constructive way.

Adapted from:
Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112.

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