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Interpreter Education: Developing Expertise Through a Deliberate Practice Project

Volume 3 ~ November 2011

ISSN # 2150-5772 – This article is the intellectual property of the authors and CIT. If you wish to use this article in your teaching or in another format, please credit the authors and the CIT International Journal of Interpretation.

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.

Abigail Adams

Introduction

Students in American Sign
Language (ASL)/English Interpreter Education Programs (IEPs) in the United
States are faced with the daunting tasks of mastering interpreting theory and
skills while often still acquiring ASL as a second language. Interpreter
educators are asked to provide a foundation in both interpreting and language
skills in a mere 4 years for baccalaureate degrees (and in 2 to 3 years for
associate of arts programs). Witter-Merithew and Johnson (2005) explore the
length of time required for IEP graduates to gain national certification. They
cite the following 2005 statement from the Registry of Interpreters for the
Deaf (RID) website confirming that many graduates are still not ready to
achieve certification by the time they graduate: “[G]raduates should be able to
pass the written portion of the national certification examination, but . . .
it typically takes 3–5 years of experience and in-service training, post
graduation, to pass the performance portion of the national certification
examination”  (Witter-Merithew
& Johnson, 2005, p. 77).

Candidates who successfully pass the National
Interpreter Certification (NIC) administered conjointly by the National
Association of the Deaf and RID must demonstrate a minimum level of competence.
Although there are now several levels of certification (i.e., certified,
advanced, and master), reference here is made to certification generically. As
the national standard of professional interpreting, RID certification implies a
certain level of expertise. Ericsson and Smith (1991) define expertise as “what
distinguishes outstanding individuals in a domain from less outstanding
individuals in that domain” (p. 2). Ericsson (2001) goes on to further refine
this definition by stating, “Expert performers can reliably reproduce their
performance any time when required such as during competition and training” (p.
194).

 

The development of expertise requires structured
time-on-task (Ericsson, 2007a, 2007b). Ericsson argues that merely practicing a
skill repeatedly does not result in expert performance; however, deliberate
practice can improve performance and eventually lead to expertise.
Deliberate practice is defined by Ericsson (2007b) as “tasks that
are initially outside of their current realm of reliable performance, yet can
be mastered within hours of practice by concentrating on critical aspects and
by gradually refining performance through repetitions after feedback” (p. 692).
Examples of deliberate practice include musicians devoting hours to mastering
technical skills or basketball players repeating free throws.

 

A unique aspect of learning a signed language, generally
speaking, is that students are asked to master both the intricacies of language
and psychomotor skills. Deliberate practice can help students deepen learning
that is taking place in the classroom. In addition to the activities performed
when practicing deliberately, another factor can significantly influence a
novice’s progression to expertise.
Mindset, which is defined as the perspective with
which one approaches new tasks, can support or undermine one’s efforts. Dweck
(2006) describes two mindsets: fixed and growth. A
fixed mindset perceives intelligence and ability as
immutable and not subject to change despite effort. A
growth mindset “is based on the belief that your basic
qualities are things [that] you can cultivate through your efforts” (Dweck,
2006, p. 7).

 

Since developing expertise requires explicit instruction and
deliberate practice there are implications for educators. 
Action
research
is a form of
research typically undertaken by educators with the intent of improving
teaching. Set in the classroom, action research employs a “systematic,
problem-based, data-based and valid approach” to research (Gay & Airasian,
2000). After identifying a problem or topic, the steps in this research
methodology include data gathering, decision making, and instructional design
to enhance learning. 

 

This article presents the findings of an action research
project undertaken at Northeastern University addressing the factors of expert
performance, deliberate practice, and mindset through the lens of the
Growth-to-Competence (GTC) Log requirement of interpreting skills courses.
Although the project was originally conducted with ASL interpreting students,
the implications for deliberate practice are relevant to spoken and signed
language interpreter educators worldwide.

 

Interpreter education

Witter-Merithew and Johnson
(2005) identified four issues that IEP students raise when asked about their
pre-service educational experience. These issues include insufficient mastery
of ASL, the challenge of simultaneously learning ASL and interpreting, the
length of time needed for sufficient professional development in order to pass
national certification standards, and the density of the curriculum (i.e., the
amount of information incorporated into the program).

The Entry-to-Practice Competencies identified by
Witter-Merithew and Johnson (2005) specify 34 attributes and skills that “are
intended as a comprehensive statement of essential skills, knowledge, and
attributes required for successful practice based on current market and
practice trends with attention to indicators for future trends” (p. 71).
Although these 34 traits are desirable, it is recognized that recent graduates
of interpreter education programs have not mastered them. According to Witter
Merithew and Johnson, “[T]he field of interpreter education will have to
continue to evolve in order to graduate entry-level practitioners who are
certification-ready at the time of, or soon after, program completion” (p. 76).

 

Contemporary adult learning theory stresses the need to
offer authentic learning opportunities that allow students to take control of
their own learning. Reigeluth (1999) challenged educators, stating, “To help
all learners reach their potential, we need to customize, not standardize, the
learning process” (p. 27). IEP curricula are dense. Simultaneously balancing
the desire to expose students to all that they need to know and allowing
students to integrate this information into their own schema for learning
presents all IEPs with a significant challenge.

 

Expertise, deliberate practice, and coaching

Becoming a competent interpreter
involves the mastery of not only ASL (i.e., competency in the development of
linguistic and psychomotor skills) but also the interpreting process. There are
three basic steps in the process of facilitating psychomotor skills: Imparting
knowledge content, imparting basic skills, and developing proficiency (i.e.,
speed, stamina, and accuracy; Romiszowski, 1999). Educator feedback that is
provided on psychomotor skills practice should focus on results and on
correcting performance. This is a core component of deliberate practice. In
addition, students must be encouraged to engage in self-reflection about their
skills to develop the necessary metacognitive abilities to monitor their work.
Care must be taken, however, that these self-reflections are tempered with the
reality of instructor feedback. Kruger and Dunning (1999), in their discussion
of self-assessment, illustrate the pitfalls of unskilled practitioners engaging
in self-assessment. The authors describe different studies in which such
unskilled practitioners lacked the meta-awareness to see their own lack of
proficiency and, as a result, overestimated their abilities. With faculty
guidance, students can develop the awareness necessary to accurately critique
their own work.

     According to Ericsson
(2007a), Galton’s [2] 
the attainment of superior performance than did environmental elements or
learning. The view that biology—not environment—was deterministic held until
the late 20th century, when a burgeoning body of research found that measures
of IQ were not predictive of expert performance and that differences between
superior performers and ordinary ones “nearly always reflect attributes
acquired by the experts during their lengthy training” (Ericsson, 2007a, p.
10). Galton’s argument that nature trumps nurture has been challenged through
contemporary research in which authors studied expert performance. Colvin
(2008) stated, “Some researchers now argue that specifically targeted innate
abilities are simply fiction” (p. 6).

 

   There
is an extensive body of research available on the development of expertise and
expert performance in areas as diverse as music, dance, and athletics (Colvin,
2008; Ericsson, 2001, 2007a, 2007b; Ericsson & Smith, 1991; Ericsson,
Charness, Feltovich, & Hoffman 2007; Gladwell, 2008). The techniques used
by experts in other fields to achieve superior levels of performance can inform
interpreting pedagogy to facilitate the development of expert performance among
novice interpreters. This may result in more rapid professional development
that may shorten the time between graduation and attainment of professional
credentials.

 

Deliberate practice includes several specific components. Before practice
begins, students—with instructor input—set improvement goals for specific
performance. Next, the instructor devises training activities to incrementally
improve precise aspects of performance. Students engage in practice activities
for a specific period of time. Finally, an instructor or coach provides
feedback so that the activities can be repeated and improved (Clark, 2008).

 

For example, Clark (2008) reported on a study conducted by
Zimmerman (2006): In this study, the author assessed the improvement of college
basketball students’ free-throw skills. The study included three steps: (a)
goal setting, (b) performance monitoring, and (c) self-reflection (which
enabled the participant to make adjustments after missed throws). Participants
were divided so that the first group engaged only in goal setting, the second
group engaged in both goal setting and performance monitoring, and the third
group engaged in all three steps including self reflection. The first group
demonstrated performances that were inferior to those of the second and third
groups. With basketball free throws, students can self-monitor performance
readily, regardless of whether the shot is made. This model may inform
approaches in interpreting pedagogy. However, interpreting students may lack
the metacognitive skills necessary to ascertain whether an interpretation is
successful; hence, instructor feedback is crucial.

 

Winston (1990) provided an example of using coaching
techniques with interpreting students. Although very similar to the process
described by Ericsson  (2007b) for
deliberate practice, in this case, individual goal setting was not undertaken
in conjunction with students. Winston identified “accent reduction” as the goal
and invited students who were interested in improving their “accents” in ASL to
participate in the study. Initially, students filmed themselves signing a
5-minute text. Then, these samples were analyzed for two specific components:
sign articulation and overall gestalt. [3]

The instructor reviewed the tapes and highlighted areas for improvement in
either of the two specific aspects. Then, students were encouraged to practice
viewing their own tapes, applying selective watching techniques to identify
these errors as well as watching native signers to observe proper execution. In
addition, students were encouraged to copy or shadow these features with the
intent of incorporating these markers into their own ASL discourse. After
additional practice and meetings, the instructor noted improvement in both sign
articulation and gestalt production among the participants. The students
reported that this structured approach to accent reduction was beneficial.

 

Through the process of deliberate practice, physiological
and cognitive mechanisms are gradually changed, thus allowing for performance
improvements. One such mechanism is that of
anticipation. Experts in several domains (i.e., typing, chess, and tennis) demonstrate an
ability to anticipate moves before they occur. Interpreting students can learn
to use anticipation in their work as well, even if they may not be able to
predict the content of interpreting situations. For instance, knowing that
inquiry texts have predictable components such as turn taking and adjacency
pairs can allow an interpreter to anticipate what may follow an utterance.

 

Time-on-task when engaging in deliberate practice is also an important consideration. Acute
concentration is an essential ingredient of deliberate practice, but there are
obvious limitations to the amount of time in which one can practice at peak
levels. Ericsson (2007b) reported that experts practice daily for a period of 1
to 5 hours, depending on the domain. Over time, the accumulation of daily
practice contributes to the development of expertise. The expectation of hours
of daily practice for students and practitioners should be made explicit in
interpreter education.

 

Research has indicated an ideal target exists and must be
met in order for time on task to achieve expert performance. For example, a
study of expert violinists revealed by the age of 20 years, those destined to
be world-class soloists had logged more than 10,000 hours of practice, as
compared with 4,000 hours for violinists preparing to be music teachers.
Studies of experts in chess and other domains indicate the presence of a
“10-year-rule” that is seen as an average period of intense preparation needed
to perform at the international level in sports, arts, or the sciences (Ericsson
& Smith, 1991; Horn & Masunaga, 2007). This 10-year-rule, or
10,000-hour practice minimum, is also evident in the accomplishments of many
world-class performers ranging from Mozart to the Beatles (Gladwell, 2008).

 

   A pedagogical implication from research on expert performance and deliberate
practice is that interpreter educators must engage with students in a
relationship akin to mentoring or coaching, in which individualized goal
setting and feedback become an integral aspect of the learning experience. From
this pedagogical implication stems yet another implication: that class time may
need to be restructured to enable more individualized face-to-face feedback
opportunities, or that time for faculty–student interaction must occur outside
the classroom. This expectation may be difficult to implement, given the
current staffing patterns in interpreter education programs.

 

Interpreter education programs often rely heavily on adjunct
teaching staff. In the
ASL
Interpreter Education Programs Needs Assessment: Final Report,
Cokely and Winston (2008) reported that
of the interpreting education program teachers who responded to a national
(U.S.) survey, only 38% were full-time staff members. The remaining 62% were
adjunct staff. Because part-time staff members earn relatively modest amounts
and are not compensated for time outside of instruction, opportunities for
one-on-one feedback for students must occur in the classroom. If deliberate
practice is incorporated into the pedagogical approach of interpreter
education, then a key element will be restructuring faculty resources so that
coaching time with students is abundant.

Mindset

Mindset can affect expert
performance. Dweck (2006) is a recognized leader in the study of mindset within
the broader field of educational psychology. Mindset research asks whether
people come to believe that the ability to learn is biologically based on
factors beyond our control (genetics) or whether learning can ultimately be
influenced through instruction and practice. Those who believe that qualities
such as intelligence, aptitude, and ability are immutable and bestowed at birth
are described as having a “fixed mindset” (Dweck, 2006, p. 6). This view
harkens to that of Galton from the 19th century (referenced earlier in this
article; see Footnote 2).

A domino effect stems from the belief that intelligence is
static. There is a tendency to avoid challenges, to give up easily when faced
with obstacles, to see effort as fruitless, to ignore constructive criticism,
and to feel threatened by others’ success. This
fixed mindset results in a failure to achieve one’s full potential. Studies across domains
and ages show that this tendency appears very early in life and persists
throughout adulthood. Because the belief is that how one performs is an
absolute reflection of who one is, those with fixed mindsets are risk averse.

 

On the other hand, the growth mindset embodies the belief
that basic qualities such as intelligence and ability can be developed through
effort (Dweck, 2006), which leads to a tendency to embrace challenges, persist
despite setbacks, and see effort as a path to mastery. People may still
experience failure, but instead of feeling demoralized and worthless, they will
seek to learn lessons from the experience and use those lessons to inform
future successes.

 

From the standpoint of learning, a growth mindset is
desirable, as it allows for openness to new approaches. Conversely, a fixed
mindset can result in resistance to change and experimentation. Dweck insists
that people can change their mindsets through education. Often, by learning
about fixed and growth mindsets, people who are of a fixed mindset can take
steps toward a growth-oriented mindset. Changing one’s mindset requires
diligent effort to avoid falling into old patterns of thinking that may limit
achievement.

Action research context

In order to provide a context for
the action research project, an overview of the ASL Program at Northeastern
University (NU) is needed. Housed within the College of Social Sciences and
Humanities, the ASL program at NU is a 4-year baccalaureate program that offers
a major in ASL/English interpreting as well as several dual majors for students
who wish to combine knowledge of ASL with training in other disciplines (e.g.,
psychology, theater, and human services). Commonly referred to as the “day
program,” this program requires the completion of 129 credit hours and offers
courses in ASL, Deaf Culture and History, Linguistics, and Interpreting Skills.
In addition to these core requirements, students typically enroll in additional
core curriculum courses, thus providing them with an even stronger foundation
in the liberal arts.

The interpreting track consists of four skills courses:
Interpreting Inquiry Texts, Interpreting Narrative Texts, Interpreting
Expository Texts, and Interpreting Persuasive Texts. When NU transitioned from
a quarter-based system to a semester-based system in 2001, the ASL program
revised the curriculum to better prepare students for workplace demands upon
graduation. A study of typical assignments for recent graduates revealed the
frequent occurrence of one-on-one interactions that involve dialogue
interpreting and that are driven by inquiry interactions (e.g., doctor/patient
appointments; Cokely, 2005). Yet nowhere in the existing curriculum were
students explicitly taught the nature of inquiry texts or the demands of
dialogue interpreting. Therefore, the curriculum revision was based on
interaction and text types that students will encounter in the field after graduation.

 

Students in the day program are typically between the ages
of 18 and 21 years. They begin the interpreting track as juniors. Some students
transfer in at this time from other interpreter education programs, whereas
many others continue into the interpreting track after having begun their
college careers at NU. Students in the day program attend school full time.
Furthermore, the cohort consisted exclusively of students who were learning ASL
as a second language.

 

In addition to the day program, NU offers an evening program
through the College of Professional Studies. The course requirements between
the day and evening program are identical. However, classes in the evening meet
once a week for a total of 2.5 hours, whereas the day program classes meet
twice a week for a total of 6 hours. Also, students in the evening program are
on a quarter-based system and thus meet less frequently than the students in
the day program, which are on a semester-based calendar. Evening program
students typically are of a nontraditional age and work full time. Often,
students in the evening program already hold college degrees and are pursuing a
certificate in ASL/English interpreting. As with the day program, all students
in the evening program who participated in this study are learning ASL as a
second language.

GTC activities and logs

In each of the four interpreting
skills courses, students are required to undertake self-directed learning
activities, which are GTC requirements that reinforce the working of classroom
language instruction and interpreting skills development in both ASL and
English. Historically, these activities have been entirely self selected and
initiated. Students are provided with written guidance on activities to
consider (but none were required) and a GTC log form to track their activities
and time on task. Students select those activities that interest them, execute
the activities, and record their work on the log sheet. Examples of English
language skills included reading Time magazine and doing the New
York Times
crossword puzzle.

The GTC requirement focuses on the followingfour areas:(a) English Language
Development, (b) ASL Development, (c) ASL-to English Interpreting Skills, and(d) English-to-ASL
Interpreting Skills. Although the activities might be beneficial for skill
growth, no baseline skills were established nor documented, and no objectives
or goals were established for measuring growth or success. The log form
required only that the students record activities undertaken and time spent.
There was no stated expectation of time on task.

Prior to this study, feedback was provided to students via
written margin notes on activities that seemed promising. No face-to-face
meetings between the instructor and students regarding GTC activities took
place. Grading was basically pass/fail and was based on a subjective assessment
of the quantity of work undertaken. Assessment was difficult because of the
idiosyncratic nature of the work and the subjectivity/variability that is
necessarily introduced when asking students to self-determine their individual
growth.

 

In this study, we sought to determine whether aspects of
deliberate practice—specifically, guided activities based on performance goals;
face-to-face feedback (using a coaching-type model) on a regular basis;
engagement in structured self-assessment; and a commitment to a minimum
time-on-task expectation—would make the GTC activities more effective learning
opportunities for students. Further, we also examined whether there was a
relationship between a student’s mindset and his or her approach to the GTC
activities.

 

Given the demands expected of students upon completion of
their interpreter education programs and entry into the field, GTC activities
can be a stepping stone to expertise. Within academic programs, students can
augment their classroom learning with self-directed activities that are
tailored to their learning goals. Furthermore, learning how to identify these
goals, select appropriate activities, receive individualized assessment
feedback, and undertake self-assessment are key skills for ongoing professional
development.

Research design

During spring 2008, six students
in the day program and three students in the evening program taking the
Interpreting Narrative Texts course (second course in the sequence)
participated in this research study. Each student completed a “pre-research”
questionnaire. I used this instrument to measure satisfaction and experience
with the previous course requirement(Interpreting Inquiry Texts) for GTC logs.

In the pre-research questionnaire, I asked students to
self-report their perceptions of skills growth in each category. Furthermore, I
asked how much time they spent on each area of activity, the extent of faculty
involvement surrounding growth-related activities, and a specific set of
questions related to mindset.

 

I then asked students to identify specific goals for each of
four skills development areas. The goals were finalized in individualized
face-to-face meetings with the course instructor lasting approximately 20
minutes.  On the basis of the
goals, the instructor and student chose activities to be undertaken. Activities
focused on the current skill set of the student and identified incremental
steps that could be undertaken for improvement. So that I could measure growth
over time, I encouraged students to incorporate measures such as frequent
comparisons of their videotaped work or the use of monitor logs to document
frequency of errors over time. Also, I asked each student to specify, in advance,
an amount of time that would be dedicated daily for these activities.

 

Students were free to identify activities that they wished
to undertake in order to accomplish their personal growth goals; however, the
activities had to be approved by the instructor. For example, many students
identified improved fingerspelling comprehension as an ASL language development
goal. One activity involved practicing receptive fingerspelling via an online
site. A record of successful comprehension was maintained. This documentation
helped to gauge improvement over time. Once comfort was established with this
drill activity, students then reviewed ASL narrative texts that contain
embedded fingerspelling to practice comprehension in an actual text. With the
premise of incorporating tasks that are just outside the current abilities of
students, as described in deliberate practice, growth log activities could then
be altered to incorporate ASL narratives, scaffolding the improving skills onto
slightly more challenging material.

 

Once the goals and activities were agreed upon, students
worked independently and submitted a formal GTC log along with supporting
materials at pre-arranged meetings throughout the term. For the day students,
four meetings were held throughout the semester, given the greater frequency of
class sessions. For the evening students, three meetings occurred during the
term because the evening program is on a quarter schedule and has fewer
sessions.

 

During these meetings, students would review the work
undertaken, highlight specific activities by reviewing videotaped work with the
instructor and/or supplying copies of prepared written materials (e.g.,
paraphrases of English source texts). They would identify activities that were
helpful and thus should be continued as well as those that were not helpful and
thus should be discontinued. In that event, substitute activities were
identified jointly. Students were asked to leave all supplemental materials
(e.g., videotaped interpretations) with the instructor for review. This would
enable the instructor to provide students with more detailed feedback, thus
augmenting the students’ self-assessments.

 

When I conducted the project as an adjunct teaching staff
member, meetings with students were planned during class time. This was less of
an issue for the day program classes given the luxury of having 6 hours of
class time each week as compared with the evening program (2.5 hours per week).
The demands of the curriculum do require maximum class time, yet the benefits
of implementing deliberate practice may, in the long run, outweigh the
temptation to engage in “covering” as much material as possible.

 

Wiggins and McTighe (2005) described an approach to
instructional design that challenges the traditional approach of “coverage.”
Coverage is defined as “an approach in which
students march through a textbook, page by page (or teachers through lecture
notes) in a valiant attempt to traverse all the factual material within a
prescribed time” (Wiggins & McTigue, 2005, p. 16). Using an approach
commonly known as
backwards
design,
instructors
facilitate learning by first establishing desired results, then ascertaining
assessment evidence, and only then designing learning activities. This approach
calibrates quite well with the principles and approach of deliberate practice.

 

Customizing learning through backwards design and deliberate
practice may be challenging but worthwhile. The current approach of educating
interpreting students produces significant numbers of graduates who are
unprepared to meet the minimum standards of the field. Facilitating learning
may require a reexamination of the structure of class time and reliance on
adjunct faculty, who are only available for finite classroom periods.

 

At the conclusion of the term, all students—day and
evening—completed a postresearch survey to measure their experience with this
deliberate practice approach to GTC log requirements. The questions ask for a
self-assessment of skills improvement. As mentioned earlier, Kruger and Dunning
(1999) warned of the misperceptions—particularly, overestimation—of unskilled
practitioners engaged in self-assessment without prerequisite metacognitive
awareness. Through faculty-led feedback sessions, students were taught to look
at specific aspects of their performance that were successful or lacking. If
certain aspects were lacking, then improvement in these aspects was highlighted
in subsequent GTC activities log submitted at each feedback meeting.

Results

A comparison between the pre- and
postsurveys in each cohort follows. A summary of the data reveal that
implementing deliberate practice through established self-directed study goals,
activities, and coaching resulted in almost universal self-assessed improvement
in language and interpreting skills. With deliberate practice, students
reported maintaining or increasing time-on-task for GTC log activities. Results
on the mindset questions were mixed. The questions explored the perception of
interpreting skills being innate (a fixed mindset) or the results of effort and
practice (a growth mindset). Students responded favorably to structured
meetings with faculty to discuss growth activities. Evening program students
indicated full agreement with a growth mindset statement by the conclusion of
the study, whereas some day program students continued to demonstrate a mixed
view.

Survey comparison

Students completed a survey
inquiring about their growth log experiences preceding the pilot and again at
the conclusion of the pilot. Each question is listed with a summary comparing
the results.

Question 1: How beneficial was the
growth log requirement for improving your language and/or interpreting skills?

 

Day students: 100% reported “very” or “somewhat”
beneficial results, an increase of 33%.

Evening students: 100% reported “very” or “somewhat”
beneficial results, an increase of 100%.

Question 2: When thinking about your ASL skills, how much did they improve?

 

Day students: 100% reported “significant” or “some”
improvement, an increase of 33%.

Evening students: 100% reported “some” or “limited”
results, an improvement of 34%.

Question 3: When thinking about your English skills, how much did they improve?

 

Day students: 80% reported “significant” or “some”
improvement, a decrease of 4%.

Evening students: 100% reported “some” or “limited”
improvement, an increase of 50%.

Question 4: When thinking about your
ASL-to-English interpreting skills, how much did they  improve?

 

Day students: 100% reported “significant” or “some”
improvement, an increase of 33%.

Evening students: 100% reported “significant” or “some”
improvement, an increase of 33%.

 

Question 5: When thinking about your
English-to-ASL interpreting skills, how much did they improve?

 

Day students: 100% reported “significant” or “some”
improvement, an increase of 33%.

Evening students: 100% reported “some” improvement, an
increase of 66%.

Question 6: How often did you meet
with your professor to discuss your growth-to-   competence log activities?

 

Day students: 100% met with faculty three or more times,
an increase of 83%.

Evening students: 100% met with faculty three times, an
increase of 100%.

Question 7: When you met with your
professor to discuss Growth-to-Competence log activities, how helpful were
these meetings?

 

Day students: 100% reported that meetings were “very
helpful,” an increase of 33%.

Evening
students: 100% reported that meetings were “very” or “somewhat” helpful, an
increase of 100%.

Question 8: How much time did you
devote to Growth-to-Competence activities on a daily basis?

 

Day students:
100% reported spending 15 minutes or more on GTC activities on a daily basis,
an increase of 33%.

Evening
students: 50% reported spending 15 minutes or more on GTC activities on a daily
basis, an increase of 50%.

Questions 9 and 10 focused on
mindset. These answers were reported on the postpilot survey. The first
question explores whether students view interpreting skill as an innate
ability. This is indicative of a fixed mindset.

 

Question 9: True or false: Skilled interpreters possess innate abilities that give them
an edge.

 

A “true”
response indicates that the respondent may believe that innate ability is a
criterion for skilled interpreting. Such a fixed mindset could imply that
students may not fully embrace skills development activities because they
believe that such natural talent is sufficient for skills improvement.

Day students: 60% of students indicated “true”; 40%
indicated “false.”

Evening students: 100% of student indicated “false.”

Question 10: True or false: Interpreters develop their skills through practice and
experience.

 

A “true”
response indicates that the respondent believes that skills improvement can be
achieved through skills development activities such as those described in this
pilot. This view would be indicative of a growth mindset. All students agreed
with this statement before and after the pilot.

In order to
further flesh out interpreting students’ views of mindset, additional research
is warranted—particularly, crafting survey questions that more carefully
segregate growth and fixed mindsets. As worded, the questions highlighted here
could reflect someone who has a fixed mindset but who also perceives practice
as beneficial.

 Summary and conclusion

All data are based on
self-assessments by the students. No objective measure of improvement is
available; however, the significant increases that were reported almost across
the board indicate that students found the pilot beneficial. An exciting
development was the number of students who planned to continue their GTC
activities after the pilot was complete. Where students once saw the GTC
requirement as drudgery, they now see it as a tool for professional
development.

With one exception, students reported significant
improvement in self-assessed language and interpreting skills. Furthermore,
they reported greater satisfaction with the GTC course requirement and more
frequent interaction with faculty on their individual learning needs.

 

One skill area—English Skills Development—decreased after
the introduction of deliberate practice in the day program students.
Investigation into why this decrease occurred would be beneficial for
identifying activities and approaches to be avoided or, conversely, employed as
part of deliberate practice. Anecdotally, students reported that English skills
development is challenging, as it is their first language, and identifying
areas for improvement, beyond vocabulary building, is more difficult than
identifying needed improvement in their second language, ASL.

 

An interesting result occurred on the measurement of mindset.
In the pre-survey, some students did exhibit a fixed mindset by agreeing with
the statement that interpreting is an innate ability. By the end of the study
period, fewer students agreed with the statement, but some still believed it to
be true.

 

Ensuring validity in action research is challenging because
the teacher undertakes so many roles when conducting the study (i.e., designer,
implementer, and interpreter). Researchers can take steps to enhance validity
such as using anonymity when completing surveys (Gay & Airasian, 2000).
Anonymity was used for this study. One drawback, however, to anonymous survey
completion is that it was difficult to tie pre- and postresearch results to a
particular student, thereby marking specific individual change difficult to
determine. This requires some kind of tracking mechanism—perhaps, number
identification—to ensure comparison between the pre and postresearch surveys.

 

Several areas for additional research include mindset, which
offers an intriguing area for study. If mindset can be changed, as Dweck (2006)
asserts, then helping students to identify their mindset—and helping those with
a fixed mindset develop one that is growth oriented—may result in students
taking more risks in the classroom and embracing self-directed learning
activities by investing more time-on-task—both activities are necessary for the
development of expertise.

 

 Ericsson (2001)
describes a three-step process for the study of superior interpreting
performance on the basis of extensive research into expert performance in other
domains. The first step is to analyze reliably superior performance of expert
interpreters, identifying authentic tasks that “capture the essence of
interpreting and show a clearly superior performance of the expert interpreters”
(p. 209) and identifying and explaining mediating mechanisms that account for
the superior performance. On the basis of this observation, practice activities
can be identified that lead to the assimilation of those mechanisms (Ericsson,
2001, p. 209). Investigating the development of expert performance among
accomplished ASL/English interpreters using this template may help to further
uncover techniques used by practitioners to enhance their work. In addition,
surveys of seasoned, nationally certified interpreters regarding their
self-directed learning activities could help inform the development of
deliberate practice within the field.

 

Implementation of deliberate practice pilots that are skill
specific may help to identify techniques that can address common challenges for
interpreting students. As Winston (1990) demonstrates with accent reduction,
goal identification on behalf of students can result in improved performance.
Common challenges among students include fingerspelling comprehension and
production. Development of a pilot specifically geared toward improvement of
these crucial skills could yield positive results and identify approaches that
could be used with many interpreting students. However, given the idiosyncratic
nature of teaching, learning, and skills development, some individualized goals
will be essential for helping students achieve their maximum potential in the
classroom—and these individualized goals should remain the centerpiece of
deliberate practice.

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank the faculty
members of the Master of Interpreting Pedagogy program offered by Northeastern
University for their support, particularly, Dennis Cokely, Rico Peterson, Debra
Russell, and Elizabeth Winston. Also, I give thanks to Lenonard Zaichkowski—former
professor of Education and Graduate Medical Sciences at Boston University and
currently the director for sports science for the Vancouver Canucks hockey
team—who was instrumental in suggesting the application of sports psychology to
interpreting pedagogy.

References

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[2]

Sir Francis Galton (1822–1911) created the field of eugenics. In Hereditary
Genius (1869)
,he argued that attributes such as intelligence were
determined strictly by heredity. He advocated selective breeding to enhance
these inherent qualities.

 

[3]

Winston (1990) describes gestalt as including “eye gaze, use of space, head nodding and
phrasing”(p. 6).