Saturday, December 3, 2011


My experience a few weeks ago, at the training that wasn't a training, reminded me how fortunate I am to have been taught how to teach.  For some reason, many, many people seem not to understand that knowing a thing, and knowing how to teach a thing, are not the same skill.

Today's post is about something that I think should be self-evident, but apparently isn't.

Everybody loves them, right?

What do you mean, not exactly?
Isn't practicing something as closely as possible to the "real thing" the best way to train?

In general, I'd have to say yes. A qualified yes. Qualified by "as long as you lead up to it in a way that makes sure all the skills are covered before throwing someone in the deep end."

Some people understand this. Check out the crawl, walk, run theory of skill development.

Here's how it works, basically.

1. Have a goal in mind. What is it you want your people to be able to do?
2. Plan your assessment. How will you know that they can do it? What do you need to measure, and how will you do so?
3. Break down the goal into individual skills.
4. Teach each of those skills. For very simple things, this might mean a simple demonstration, but for most things, it means you need to actually teach the skill. Not show them, and not assume they already know it. This is NOT the time to expect your students to be able to do the skill, and evaluate them on it.
5. Practice the skills. Practice them a lot. Practice so that it feels like you don't need any practice, because it's so simple and obvious. You will know when you've reached this point when people have no test anxiety.
6. Only at that point should you expect your students to be able to put the skills together to reach the goal. This is when you assess and evaluate.
7. If you don't seem to ever reach the point of "no test anxiety," and/or you have students who still can't put the individual skills together to meet your goal, CHANGE YOUR GOAL. You may need to have intermediate goals. You may need to have a goal closer to "at least 90% correct, at least 90% of the time" instead of "absolutely perfect every time."

Each skill may need to be broken down further into smaller parts, depending on the complexity of the skill.

The moral of the story here, the point I'm trying to make, is that scenarios should not be used until you know your students can do the skills. All scenarios will do if pushed too early is frustrate people, and create a negative association with the skills. No one likes to fail at things, or to be put on the spot, especially if they don't even have a chance at success. Running through a scenario should be the culmination of a series of steps, NOT the beginning, or the entire plan.

That said.
Good scenarios can be excellent tools.

My favorite way to use EMS scenarios, for example, is the following.

1. Read through it, and list (either in writing, or in my head) the necessary skills.
2. Review the skills.
3. Go through the scenario, step by step, using a skillsheet or other written description. Often, I'll create my own written version for this, because writing it down helps me remember.
4. Group some of the skills, when possible, into logically connected sets. Then, instead of having 37 separate skills, there might be 6 or 7 groups of skills.
5. Practice each grouping as a set, first with, then without a written guide. Notice I do not call this a "cheat sheet."
6. Put the sets together. Go slowly, making sure not to skip any step.
7. Once I'm comfortable with the series of skills, I'll write them down again, in order, from memory, to be sure I don't leave anything out.

At this point, it's easy to substitute a different, but similar, scenario. For example, many trauma scenarios are similar. Many medical scenarios are similar.  It's possible to "test" someone on a scenario they have not done exactly, as long as they have a solid grasp of all of the skills, and of the process of running through a scenario.

In general, this process is not what I've seen done. I don't know why not. I have no interest in trying to trip anyone up, or give them something beyond what they can handle, while they are learning. I want to build a pattern of success, of ease, of confidence, along with a solid grasp of foundational skills. Then there is a much higher chance of being able to adjust to the variations that might show up in real life.

I talked about this very thing with a student today.
This particular student loves to ask questions. Questions are great.
But many of his questions are of the "if this happens, should I do that?" variety, with very specific, narrow situations. The truth is, there is infinite variety in the world. It is not possible to train for every single specific situation that could happen, with a specific, "correct" response.
It IS possible to train for more general patterns, understanding that many things are similar, and that it is possible to adapt and apply what you know about one situation to a slightly different one.

But only if you cultivate a solid foundation.

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