Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Watching and Learning

Today was my last session with the medical students this Spring.

I have other work with healthcare professionals booked, but this Spring I've been working with the second-year student doctors, facilitating their first sessions where they learn to interview patients and the beginnings of consulting skills.

"Oh, it's just common sense" was something I used to hear quite often. Hmmm. I'm sure that everyone reading this blog will have an example of dreadful communication skills from their own experience of doctors or other healthcare professionals - - which is why the "Oh, it's just common sense" approach really doesn't work.

When I taught in secondary schools, I did a lot of work with the lower-ability teenagers. Dragging them kicking and screaming up to a higher grade at GCSE. Even with the ones who were motivated to learn, it often took them weeks to learn something. They'd know it one week and have forgotten it by the next week.

Then you'd get the Sullen Resistance. "I always spells it like that, Miss."

Sometimes it was rewarding: you could see the light dawn as they finally understood the mysteries of the apostrophe. But, in the schools where I mostly taught, the teenagers had more immediately important things going on in their lives - poverty, for example.

But I'd always enjoyed the company of many of these so-called "ordinary" teenagers. Okay, a few were a nightmare - either because they were born that way or, more usually, because life had made tham that way. But most, when I got to know them, were likeable, good-humoured kids trying to make the best of the none-too-great hand that life had dealt them.

And therefore I was shocked when I heard a university teacher say "I enjoy working here rather than in schools because I just prefer working with intelligent people".

I don't think I would ever have said that - - but perhaps she was just being honest. I've never worked with students of great academic ability in schools, but I think - certainly I hope - that I did my very best to help those I taught to make the most of the ability that they did have.

And hence it's true that, to me, it's been a bit of a revelation working with these very academic students. They tend to have lots of A-levels at top grades, of course, and they do learn fast, and I'm not used to that.

Really, with the roleplay sessions, rather than saying "do it like this", we are helping them to work it out for themselves - - because that way they learn much better. Though, of course, there are things that they need to be taught as well.

So it's a mixture. Four students practise talking to a patient (actually a simulated patient - my fastest explanation of this term is someone playing the role of a patient, improvising but working from a detailed brief). The students do the roleplay one after the other, with discussion in between each one.

Because they are clever and very fast learners, they tend to learn from each other. They learn from what the preceding students have done - what's worked well, and what's not worked so well. I have loved watching the process where the one at the end of the afternoon has incorporated lots of the good things done by the preceding students, and changed the ones that didn't really work.

I'll just give you one example. "So you eat a healthy diet, then?" invites the answer "Yes", rather than the - perhaps more truthful - "No, I live on Pot Noodles". So it's best to avoid leading questions.

They also learn that you can't tell what you're going to say until you hear the words coming out of your mouth, and that's why medical students need to practise exactly the best way to word a sensitive question, for example. If you don't do this then your tongue may trip you up.

"Do you smoke, and have you ever smoken?" asked one student today, rather interestingly. Both he and the patient laughed.

I must say that these students - in groups of four every week since January - have been an absolute delight to work with. Committed, hard-working, fun. For me, watching the fast development of their skills has been wonderful. I hope I'm asked back to do it all again next year.

3 Comments:

Blogger Jennyta said...

The comment from the university lecturer made me smile. Today I had a conversation with a deputy head of a local primry school who is also mentor of NQTs and was bemoaning the fact that the two they have this year have both had to be taken to task about their own grammar and were totally unaware of the mistake they were making.

9:36 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

It reminds me of when I was asked to guest lecture at Bretton Hall College of Education - before it closed - the students looked at me and listened. They all had pens. They asked and answered questions and their body language was attentive. Coming from a school in an impoverished area of nortn Sheffield I thought to myself, "What the hell is going on here?"

11:55 pm  
Blogger WendyCarole said...

My biggest thrill teaching? ( yesI know that isn't a proper sentence) when a low ability child finally "gets it" In some schools you are lucky the pupils make it through the door every day let alone learn anything.

11:17 am  

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