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Personal Support Worker Program at Loyola

March 21, 2019

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The Algonquin Lakeshore Catholic District School Board’s Personal Support Worker program is run as a day program. Students get high school credits for it. It combines Health Technology Curriculum (3 courses) and 3 placements (3 co-op credits). To get the PSW Certificate, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education Curriculum has been linked to the PSW curriculum. If a student achieves 70% in each unit, they get a PSW certificate as well. Day school credit pays for the teaching. The student fees cover clinical instructors, textbooks etc. Some of the PSW programs have Literacy and Basic Skills programs on site, so students can go to LBS for extra help. Pre-PSW courses also exist in LBS and need to be updated to meet new curriculum standards. 

ALCDSB also works with lots of English as a Second Language students, some of whom are also pursuing PSW certification. Karen’s PSW program encourages ESL and Canadian students to work together to prepare a cultural meal. This activity promotes team building and learning to work with other cultures. Everyone benefits. PSW students get experience working with people who don’t have strong language skills, which benefits them in the “real world.” 

When Karen first began teaching the PSW program, she noticed that the curriculum had some experiential learning components. She found that learners responded well to these parts of the curriculum. For example, one experiential activity was called “aging as a journey,” in which students are assigned ages and medical challenges and then participate in a relaxation exercise to consider what a patient in this scenario might be experiencing and how they might work with that individual from a PSW perspective. 

As Karen continued her own journey to improve her education by earning subsequent degrees, she used her practicums and research time to develop additional experiential learning projects for PSW students to work on. An example of an experiential learning project Karen developed is an interview in which students “wear” a variety of tools that mimic communication disorders. For example, students will wear a pair of glasses that are painted to mimic a visual disorder. Students also wear gloves with popsicle sticks inserted to mimic arthritis and tactile losses as well as ear plugs to mimic hearing difficulties. They then have to interview another student to get to know them and write out their story. 

Karen finds that integrating experiential learning opportunities into the PSW program results in increased student understanding at a more visceral level. Take bathing clients as an example. As a teacher, you can talk about how important it is to keep patients covered and how important it is to talk to them to help patients feel more comfortable during their bathing experience, but when students are actually working with a classmate and simulating the bathing experience, they develop a more fulsome understanding of how vulnerable this activity can be for a patient.

Karen integrates experiential learning by using a flipped classroom. She assigns a chapter or two before students come to class. They do the reading on their own. They also have a workbook that goes with the textbook that askes specific questions about the chapters they read (30-40 questions). In the classroom, they do role play and case scenarios, so the students are working with the information in a more tangible way. Students interact with each other, gaining teamwork skills and learning how to be productive with different personalities.

Karen says that throughout her career teaching PSW, she has learned to employ different teaching strategies. When she first started teaching, she was the authority on the topics(s) and activities were definitely teacher-led. She learned, however, that just because she was sharing information did not mean that students were actually learning. She learned to integrate more experiential learning, which is better suited to how students learn. As a result, she is confident that PSW students in her program learn more, learn deeply, and transfer their learning to real-life situations. Karen has also learned that using experiential learning means she spends less time in front of the students because the students are more actively involved in their learning. Experiential learning is 100% better for students and for teachers.

According to Karen, integrating experiential learning into PSW programming has positively impacted students and community partners. Students are more engaged and learn more. They also have better job prospects when they have completed the program because local facilities that hire PSW’s are keen to have students who have graduated from Karen’s program. Not only do graduating students have the necessary knowledge and skills to be a PSW, they have also learned how to problem solve and work effectively with others. One of Karen’s favourite sayings to her students is “Go to three other sources before you come to me.” As a result, students learn to help themselves and help one another, and these attributes transfer outside of the classroom to helping PSW patients, making students from Karen’s program desirable employees.