Learning a new skill

Yvonne began learning British Sign Language a few years ago while working at the City Lit, which has a Centre for Deaf People. She wanted to learn to communicate with her deaf colleagues, particularly as they had started working together on a course for sign language teachers, all of whom were deaf. She was excited by communicating through showing facial expressions but also the immense difficulty in trying to read someone else’s finger-spelling. She enjoyed trying out the signs in pairs and small groups. Yet Yvonne felt completely useless when it came to watching her tutor finger-spell and to take it in turns to say what he had just said. Critical incident analysis would ask: what were the characteristics of that situation which helped her to learn? What was difficult? Is there anything about these characteristics that we think we could attend to with our own students?

So what can be learned from this particular example? If we remember feeling anxious about trying out our new skill in public, perhaps in front of our fellow students, then why do we ask our students to do this? Can we justify putting them through such emotional terror? If we think it really is important for people to practise their new skill, is there a way we could enable them to do this without an ‘audience’? These are the kinds of question we can ask when we have a critical incident to analyse. In this way, we identify problems, based on our own experiences, for us to examine further.