Handbook of Communication and Social Interaction Skills

By John O. Greene; Brant R. Burleson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
APPLYING THE SKILLS CONCEPT
TO DISCOURSE AND CONVERSATION:
THE REMEDIATION OF PERFORMANCE
DEFECTS IN TALK-IN-INTERACTION
Robert E. Sanders
Department of Communication, University at Albany, SUNY

At a recent meeting a colleague and I had with the dean of a medical school, we discussed the school's “standardized patient” method for giving medical students experience in communicating with patients of particular types—patients with terminal illness, with AIDS, with diabetes, and so forth. In this method, actors are rigorously trained to play the role of the patient after being briefed on the medical issues and symptoms, given specific guidelines and instructions about how to act, and then rehearsed. Medical school faculty use the standardized patient method to help students learn “communication [interactional] skills” that they will need to work effectively with patients.

My colleague and I came away uncertain about what could be learned from such practice interactions. We would not be surprised to find that these practice interactions do facilitate remediation (learning to avoid performance defects to which one is prone), depending on the quality of feedback the student receives. But the potential for positive learning (learning to do something new) was less apparent to us, in that our own and others' work on language and social interaction show that interactions are sufficiently varied and contingent that what carries over from one to the next is an open question. If positive learning is possible at all, we think that achieving it requires what I call cultivation, the goal of which is to build onto “native” interactional practices a conceptual mastery of the unique demands and issues they face in interactions within this activity domain by means of giving medical students a greater variety and complexity of experiences and multiple conceptual–analytic

This essay has benefitted from comments by the editors and from substantial and spirited discussion with Scott Jacobs of the University of Arizona, as well as Sally Jackson, and students of their department whom I met with in Fall 2000 in the course Communication 696, “Special Topics in Rhetorical Theory, ” especially Mike Peters and Jennifer Cawrtright.

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