Observing the Student Clinician

“The observer should write what he sees, not what he feels about what he sees.” (McCrae & Brasseur, 2003, p. 158)

Observing students in action is an essential part of the clinical education process. How best can we structure these observations to promote learning and clinical skill development? Here are some suggestions:

Ideas for the Clinical Educator:

1. Jointly plan the observation and data collection process: for example: are you able to take written notes? what type (see below) ? will you participate in the session or observe from the side? How should the student cue you if she needs help during the session?

2. While observing, keep written notes if possible. These will serve as the basis for your post-session discussion:

  • Count behaviours: jointly plan what student and/or client behaviours you will tally during your observation (e.g. types of feedback comments to client, number of times student said “OK”)
  • Use a checklist or form with headings
  • Write a selective narrative, i.e., the sequence of events as they occur for a portion fo the session
  • Limit evaluative statements such as: “Your directions were unclear”,“Your feedback to the client was good”. These Direct-Active comments can be useful, particularly with beginning students, but should not comprise all observational notes (see limitations of this approach discussed under Examining Your Teaching Style).
  • If using evaluative statements, ensure there is balance between positive evaluations and constructive criticism

3. Videotape a session and review it with the student

As one student clinician wrote: “I really liked it that I wasn’t left on my own too soon or given too much responsibility too soon”

What strategies do you find work well ? Let us know


Dowling, S. (2001). Supervision: Strategies for Successful Outcomes and Productivity. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

McCrea, E. & Brasseur, J. (2003). The Supervisory Process in Speech-Language Pathology andAudiology. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.