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An e-mail debriefing

Share your notes for better learning

Somewhere in my first year of flight instructing, I got in the habit writing down notes during an instructional flight as a little chronology. I'd periodically make a comment of where we were, like "Practice Area" or "KTIW," and below that I'd write down points worth bringing up in the debrief. Each point has a plus sign, nothing, or a minus sign beside it for something to compliment/reinforce, just note, or bring up as a problem that we should work on in the future.

Of course, there were far too many items on the list to bring up in a debrief. The student was already mildly wrung out from the work of flight training, and too much information would be overwhelming. So I'd pick the key things or themes and work from there.

Over time this system evolved. Now I read through the chronology to replay the flight with the student on the ground, and either of us can pause at a point to discuss it a bit. This works well with my debrief style, which includes having the student pick one or two key items from the flight that went well and which they want to make part of their permanent flying, and one or two things that they weren't satisfied with that we will work on during a future flight.

Even so, we never hit all the points I noted on my sheet.

One day, a student looked at my notes and saw that there was a lot more there than we were delving into during the debrief. He asked to get the whole thing via e-mail. I had been saving these logs as my form of record keeping, but it never occurred to me to send them to the student. I couldn't see any reason not to send it, so I said yes.

Now this e-mail follow up is my standard practice. It's easy to do, and students love it. My plus/blank/minus system gets turned into sentences. So "+ alt steep T" becomes, "Nice work with altitude control on steep turns." The write-up isn't long. It adds 15 minutes at the most to my investment in a lesson.

Students can review all my notes and observations in the leisure of their living rooms and ask questions when we meet next. Looking back over my notes I could always see trends and learning plateaus, but now we both can see how the training is progressing and work together on a plan for making thing go better in the future.

Following is an actual write-up from instrument training (name changed to protect the innocent).

Katie, here's the write up for our flight.

Taxi and takeoff:

  • Nice job setting up the avionics stack--except for putting in the departure frequency. We talked again how this is part of the Portland 4 departure and you won't explicitly receive a frequency in your clearance. When assigned the departure be sure to review the text and use it to cue you to set up heading bugs and your avionics stack.
  • Linger on your carb heat check on these cold, misty mornings.
  • You forgot the taxi check but then caught the oversight before takeoff. Nice save.
  • You have the form to write down HAT (headings-altitudes-talk). If you want to use it, start out by writing down the first heading, altitude, and talk (frequency and squawk code) on the sheet when you get your clearance.

Approaches at KLEW:

  • Excellent division of attention and keeping on top of heading and altitude while setting up for the approach. You are consistently strong here.
  • Put the loran in your scan and make sure it's set to show bearing, track, and distance when you shoot the approach. It's slow to update, but the extra information is great for maintaining situational awareness.
  • We talked about how you can circle for any runway and in any direction. We can review this some more too. Don't just accept a downwind landing or a circle you don't like. When you break out you may look at the wind sock and change your plans for a landing runway. That's fine as long as you can maneuver to it safely.
  • Checking out the flight profiles sideways and under other papers is inefficient. Get them on a small card mounted where you can see them.
  • We talked about restraining your corrections to +/- 5 degrees heading and +/- 1 degree pitch on approach yet being very aggressive about corrections within that zone. That's the winning combination you should strive for.

Approaches at KPWM:

  • Using HAT would have avoided forgetting the new frequency and the embarrassment of asking me or ATC for it.
  • Nice briefing of the approach. You caught the missed setting for the CDI and remembered to reset your heading indicator after you briefed the plate.
  • That said, always get the ATIS/ASOS first just in case you want to set up and brief a different approach based on what ATIS/ASOS tells you.

For next time:

We agreed that HAT and aggressive corrections within defined limits will be a focal point next time. See if there is one other item you want to consciously work on during our next flight.

Jeff Van West is a flight instructor in Portland, Maine, and editor of IFR magazine.

By Jeff Van West

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