Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving


July 14th, 2004

I articulated something today that has been on my mind a lot but I hadn’t quite put into words. I’ve been doing this thing where, while I’m interpreting, I mirror the instructor’s movement in the class – sit when she sits, stand when she stands – and I think it is actually helping the flow of the interaction.
Here’s my idea. When we (interpreters) sit down and establish a position, we become an anchor for the talk. Whatever people are saying – in all its flexibility and inherent movement – is “rigiditized” (yes, I just invented this term!) because it has to come to the interpreter in order to go through us. In other words, our stationary position actually impedes the flow instead of facilitating it. Our training (to be unobtrusive) is counterproductive in this way, because in our effort not to be “too present” we establish a physical presence that requires the communication flow to accommodate to us.
What’s been happening as I move with the instructor now, is that the students are hardly aware of me and yet I’m So there! But they’ve adjusted to my physical movement as part-and-parcel of the communicative movement and it is unremarkable. Instead, they focus on the issue under discussion, and everyone is included. The Deaf student comments freely and openly, the hearing students look at the Deaf student regularly, and the instructor always notices when he wants to say something. In fact, today one student started speaking at the same time that the Deaf student rustled some papers and the hearing student stopped himself instantly, “Am I interrupting?” No, he wasn’t – but he was so sensitive to the fact that he might have been! There is a really quite nice flow going on here. 🙂
I think its not only attributable to my physically moving around. (I also move to a different location when the instructor sets up “debates.” Her intention is to get the students interacting with each other, so I move to the “side” opposite whichever “side” the Deaf student is on, so that the focal point is no longer the front of the classroom and the instructor, but the discursive action taking place among the students and the two sides of the debate.) Another factor is that I was highly “visible” by being directive – just once! – in the very beginning of the class. Folks might suggest that I acted without tact, but I reminded the instructor – in front of the students! – that she needed to look at the Deaf student when speaking with them. Not only has she never forgotten since, but all the students also know to look at the Deaf student – and they do! My hypothesis is that my degree of involvement in the beginning (which made my presence so palpably obvious) contributed to some clarity about the communication process which has lead to more inclusive dynamics. And now, even though I am doing my thing in full view/plain sight, I’m not the center of attention because everyone’s clear on what part it is that I am doing.

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