Saturday, September 7, 2013

See, Hear, Watch, Do!

"My frustration started early in the session, the students just didn't seem to catch on. We went over it many times in the classroom but when it came to the practical application, they fumbled all over the place." Whether you have said those words to another or thought them to yourself, you felt disappointed in your abilities to teach a particular skill or task. The best presentation coupled with the best delivery may not touch all students when discussing the practical application. Firefighters are performers, doers, we are very hands on. A lecture, although still needed, is a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to the execution of skill drills.
Before teaching in an official capacity, you must attend a course designed to certify and qualify you to instruct new and veteran Firefighters alike. Whether it is a weekend crash course or a full semester's worth of receiving information on the organization, dissemination and record retention methods, of a fire department training program, should all contain knowledge for a success path. The topic of learning styles should come up and lays a foundation for instructional techniques. Without going into great detail and speaking generally, people learn by: Reading, Watching and Doing. Our training sessions should cover all three. When you encompass all three of the major learning styles, the outcome will yield better results.

Often the new Firefighter sits through a class before putting their hands on the tools and equipment they will be expected to use. For many recruits this is there first exposure to the Fire Service. The tools, the gear, the equipment and more so the "firefighter jargon" can all be overwhelming when the student is only seeing the words from a textbook. Some departments may have some sort of orientation that the new member can sit through to see some of this for the first time as well. Seeing is certainly better, but can it be too much all at once? What about the 20 year veteran seeing a new piece of equipment or a tactical method for the first time? Sure the bulk of the lesson can be understood but what about the finer details?

Getting it to stick! From my personal experience from both in front of the room and the view from the seat, I as well as see students "get it" when the task is seen first in real time, talked about, watched as it is broken down step by step, then performed by the student. For a better picture, these should be broken down and discussed.

See - The students should see the task at full speed, giving them a visual of what the desired tempo, steps and final execution looks like. Giving a demonstration allows all the students senses to be engaged. The sight and sound can impact their grasp of the skill more than reading about it in a book. The preferred method is performing the task on the drill ground or the apparatus floor. Hearing the bells, the clangs and the performer’s actions pulls them into the environment. Taping the execution to show in the classroom is a great alternative method and fits easily into your training session. This also allows members to reference time and time again. The student now understands what the expectations are.

Hear - It should not matter if the session is all lecture, all hands on or a combination of both, you must explain the act step by step and allow for questions. Brief everyone on the desired outcome, outline the tools, steps and procedures for accomplishing the task. Base these on the level of knowledge that the group has.
Watch - The third part is to demonstrate the task again at a reduced speed. You want to point out the finer mechanics and details that may not have been obvious during the real time demonstration. If the session started in the classroom and shifted to the training grounds this step in the process is more critical. How long ago did they see the task performed real time? Break it down step by step.

DO - Last but most important is the student performing the actions. The skill level of the member should be taken into consideration, however with new skills the Crawl, Walk, Run method should be implored. One example that I use when teaching the donning and doffing of SCBA is. First evolution the student only wears bunker pants, then coat is added and finally perform entire donning process while wearing structural gloves. Not only does this provide a progressive means but also forces repetition. Develop good muscle memory by allowing students to create their own groove, not by expecting them to perform it all out when they just were taught the skill.
Once the student has the basic procedure down, then slowly progress the evolution to what would be expected on the fire ground. This may include being dressed down at the first level, not masked up on the second, not breathing air on the third and full speed 100% PPE on the final evolution. Some evolutions may be performed as a team and slowly progressed to a single member’s performance. This also provides a much needed opportunity for the student to ask questions and see immediate feedback on performance based skill sets.

Lastly during the DO step, do not expect to see perfection from your trainees. This step in the process is just as much about you seeing if they understand as them learning how to do. Keep vigilant eyes on each evolution ensuring the task is being performed, as directed. Step in to correct and coach as needed. Many bad habits are created during training; do not let them walk with bad habits! Show them good habits by explaining how this same training evolution can be performed back at the firehouse with just the company.

Understanding that all students, new recruits and veterans alike, will learn in many different ways and at different speeds. Use all the tools you have available, so you will provide members with the Knowledge, Skills, Abilities and Attitudes for growth in the Fire Service.