Refer to for one observation guide. This is for nursing practitioner students, but it contains excellent items. After you have read this section, refer back to the guide and determine which items you feel could be used on an observation guide for undergraduate students.

Checklists, observation guides, and rating scales may be used in the skills laboratory and in the clinical area. These three terms are often used interchangeably. These instruments guide the student about the key behaviors that are needed. They guide instructors about the areas on which to evaluate a student.

The term checklist is often used in relation to a list of steps in a procedure. Checklists are usually more detailed than an observation guide. When using a checklist, faculty often just rate if a student did or did not do a certain part of a procedure. Checklists are often used in tool labs. The following is an example of a checklist.

Observation guides are similar to checklists but usually relate to observations of the behavior related to caring for a patient or patients and other aspects of the clinical experience. Behaviors/expectations are noted on the observation guide. Behaviors often included on observation guides include the following:

  • Competency in carrying out procedures.
  • Ability to provide rationale for actions.
  • Interpersonal communication skills.
  • Critical thinking abilities.
  • Professional behaviors.

Observation guides may be completed each week on each student or they may be completed at set intervals during a term. Observation guides should be completed on each student at least at mid-term and at the end of the term. Instructors may request the students to evaluate themselves. At conferences, comparisons are made between the instructor and student ratings and discussion occurs when discrepancies are found. Students should know beforehand if their evaluation will count as part of the grade.

The following is an example of an observation guide:

  • Contains all of the behaviors that are specified in the outcomes for the course.
  • Statements of behaviors/expectations are clearly stated.
  • Provides direction for students about expectations.
  • Indicates when and how observations will be made.

If levels of performance are to be made, the differentiations among levels are clear.

Rating scales convey that a differentiation is made in the level to which a student performs a skills, procedure, or care. For example:

1 = performance is not consistently safe and competent and care is not done within a reasonable time frame; many cues required for student to complete task.

2 = performance is safe and competent; it is done in a reasonable time frame; minimal assistance was needed in carrying out cares.

3 = performance is safe and competent; cares were accomplished in a reasonable time frame; in most instances, student functioned independently.

The above rating noted degree of competence, length of time required to provide care, and the level of independence.

Observing and evaluating students in the clinical area has many challenges.

  • Instructors have 6-8 students to teach, observe, evaluate, and provide feedback.
  • Instructors must have ready access to guides for recording observations.
  • Confidentiality of records is necessary.
  • Information from anecdotal notes may be used to complete observation guides after the clinical period has ended.

Students may feel that the instructor only made observations while they were performing poorly. Validating observations with the student is important.


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  • Last modified on September 6, 2012