Facilitating learning in practice
Facilitating learning in practice

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Facilitating learning in practice

1 The underperforming student

Described image
Figure 1 The underperforming student

As part of the mentoring process, it is important that you identify why a student is not performing or might be failing in practice, and when to take appropriate action. Activity 1 enables you to consider this in more detail.

Activity 1 Underperformance in the workplace

Allow 40 minutes

Reflect on the discussions you have had with colleagues who report that they have seen others underperforming in the workplace. Was this underperformance managed effectively? Write your reflections in your notebook. In addition, discuss possible student underachievement with others in your workplace to obtain their views on what constitutes effective management.


You may have discovered that colleagues underperform for a variety of reasons. It could be through failure to demonstrate a required level of competence in skills assessment in delivering episodes of care, or demonstrating negative attitudes that leave mentors to question the student’s developing professionalism. If you are working in an area that supports nursing students, you need to assess what the issues are and involve the higher education institution (HEI) that is responsible for the individual and other senior colleagues from the university and service. You need to ensure that these key members are aware of your concerns and provide support to you in your role as mentor.

Duffy and Hardicre (2007b) and Black et al. (2013) list a range of issues that suggest why learners fail to engage with practice. You may have noted similar issues from your reflection and discussion with others. These include:

  • a lack of insight, poor self-awareness and unresponsiveness to feedback
  • a lack of interest, motivation, enthusiasm or commitment – not asking questions
  • poor communication or interpersonal/interactional skills – insensitive interaction with patients
  • frequently late or absent
  • exhibit poor preparation and organisational skills
  • preoccupation with personal issues – poor health, withdrawn, sad and tired
  • poor professional behaviour/boundary issues
  • either overconfident or underconfident
  • lack of theoretical knowledge and skill, and provides limited evidence to support their learning
  • avoidance of working with the mentor and changing shifts
  • unsafe practice and poor judgement.

It is important to raise and document your concerns regarding underperformance at the earliest opportunity and not to ignore problems as they occur. Evidence suggests that if you take time to explore the issues early and put an action plan into place, this may enable the learner to rescue what may originally be considered a failing situation (Duffy and Hardicre, 2007a).

In the next section you will focus on the importance of giving constructive feedback to others. The emphasis within this feedback session is on being positive about learners’ progress and highlighting areas that might require improvement.


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