The student and supervisor often have different expectations concerning the supervision process. If the expectations are not verbalised, this may cause misunderstandings and ineffective supervision. Explicit alignment of expectations is therefore recommended, for instance in a supervisor letter.
This may be a letter of one to three pages in which you outline 1) what you expect of the student (e.g. that the student prepares an agenda for the meetings and keeps you currently updated on the progress of their project) and 2) what the student may expect from you (how much text you will read, to what extent you will go into detail when reading, how soon you will reply etc.). You may send your supervisor letter to the student before your first supervision meeting. It is important that the letter is presented as a draft for discussion, i.e. that you show interest in the student’s expectations, and that you and the student align your expectations regarding the content of the supervision and your individual efforts in the process.
It is important to encourage the student to start writing straight away. The writing process is also a process of thinking and and recognising. Early working papers nudge the students towards structuring their thoughts and also provide good opportunities for the supervisor to provide early feedback. Feedback is most constructive when addressing what the student is concerned with. It may therefore be a good idea to ask the student to send a short “cover letter” to the working paper in which the student writes, for instance, what type of text it is, how complete it is, what challenges the student experiences concerning the text and what the student would like feedback on.
It is important that you give your feedback in order of priority so that the student addresses what is most important rather than minor details. At the beginning you should also concentrate on overall issues and not wander off into details. Make sure to evaluate how useful the feedback is for the student, for instance by making sure they use the feedback in their next phase.
Good supervision involves good communication. It is important to listen actively to the student; this means that you let the student speak without interrupting, that you ask open questions and test if you understood the student correctly by repeating or reformulating what the student just said. In the supervision process, it is important to use open questions in order to invite higher order learning (read more about question-asking technique here). When bearing in mind the order in which you ask different types of questions, you can ensure progression and increase the student’s autonomy. Start by asking questions that uncover the student’s need for supervision, for instance: What is the goal of this meeting? What is the status of your work? What are you working on at the moment? Then ask questions that challenge the student and invite the student to reflect, for instance: What’s your view on ...? What are your reasons for ...? What would happen if ...? How ...? Always end your supervision meeting by asking questions that invite action, for instance: What is your opinion now about ...? What will you do before our next meeting?
If I want to write a supervisor letter, what would be important to tell the student? You may find inspiration in the template with guiding questions her (in danish)
How do I discover when students expect things from my supervision that differ from what I can or want to provide?
Next time you give feedback, consider what your three most important comments to the student are
Try out what will happen if you prepare before the next supervisor meeting by formulating three questions within the above categories (a clarifying, a challenging and an action-oriented question)
Rienecker, L, Wichmann-Hansen, G, & Jørgensen, P.S. (2019) God vejledning af specialer, bacheloropgaver og projekter. Forlaget Samfundslitteratur
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The content of the page was prepared on the basis of contributions by Gitte Wichmann-Hansen, Mette Krogh Christensen and Tove Hedegaard Jørgensen in Introduction to Teaching and Learning.