Teaching: Reflective writing – a personal experience

In the summer of 2005 I took a course on research at the University of Victoria.  The professor (Antoinette

University of Victoria

Oberg) was incredible, creative, and innovative.  My learning was profound. I was intimidated when I began, but soon came to enjoy the adventure of exploring a new field of study.

At the beginning of each day Antoinette put a few words on the overhead projector.  She called these words a “writing stem”.  She then led us through a relaxation deep breathing exercise for a few minutes.  Then we wrote in silence for ten minutes.  We followed the guidelines for writing practice provided by  Naomi Goldberg (see previous post about reflective writing).  For ten minutes we just kept our pen moving. If I did not know what to write, I just wrote junk until thoughts about the topic started to come. If I wanted to write about something else, then I wrote about what was on my mind.  But I kept my hand moving.  I tried to silence the inner critic, and did not worry about messy writing or spelling or grammar.

Each day our homework was the same: to read from the list of resources, and then write.  I read and I wrote.

A couple times we submitted our writing.  We were not critiqued.  Antoinette simply asked more questions helping us to dig deeper.  The topic we were studying came alive.  The intimidation I once felt melted away. I discovered that not only did I learn about research, but that I already knew a lot about research.  I realized that at the heart of research was material that I was stimluated by.

Yeras later, I still write when I want to learn about a new topic.  Writing can help me understand what I am thinking, and helps me clarify what I want to learn more about.   Writing can also help me to pull together knowledge and figure out ways I can apply knowledge in practice.

So, if you too, think that writing is for expressing what you already know… think again…. or, don’t think… just write… and perhaps you also will discover new learning!

Teaching: Timing – Part 3 – When to assign the reflective writing assignments

This post will address when to start the students with the reflective writing “Baggage and Beliefs” section of the Study Guide

For those unfamiliar with the Study Guide, you can have a peek inside by using this link to view a sample of the Beliefs and Baggage” exercises.These exercises encourage students to explore their personal experiences with the topics covered in the Essentials in Hospice Palliative Care. By first exploring their own beliefs and biases, students can acknowledge and manage the perspective from which they provide care. As dying and death can be spiritually and culturally dense issues, its quite important for caregivers to be able to be respectful of different practices.

In a previous post  I indicated that one disadvantage of giving the Essentials resources to students early in the program is that they may be forgotten on a corner of the desk : ( A disadvantage to teaching HPC at the end of the program is that students may mistakenly believe that HPC is only useful at the end of life.These two problems can be addressed with a single solution.

Plan the Reflective Writing assignments from the Study Guide into the homework throughout your program. This will assist students with opening the Essentials resources, prevent them from being forgotten AND enable students to see the relationships between different modes of care throughout the program. Instructors teaching the materials in the 2011-2012 year reported that assigning the reflective writing early meant that the students were 1/3 finished the Study Guide before the module began. Students were able to discuss their reflections and values throughout the program. And that the last module before practicum was not so rushed!

Reflective Writing will assist students to become aware of their own biases and personal issues. This provides a framework for exploration of issue that arise throughout the program and not just in the hospice palliative care education. Any students requiring support in this time will have access to instructors during the exploration.

The Reflective Writing exercises are a gentle way to begin exploring the topic of death and dying. This approach can diminish resistance to learning in this topic and decrease overall anxiety.

There are two things that you will need to remember in order to start the Reflective Writing exercises early:

1. Order the Essentials in Hospice Palliative Care resources early.
2. Insert the Reflective Writing exercises early in the program.


Summary of Advantages and Disadvantes of Assigning Essentials Reflective Writing Exercises Early in the Program

Advantages Disadvantages
Learning hospice palliative care may be easierless daunting if introduced gradually  If you plan to introduce early you will need to make sure the college orders these early
Students engaging in reflective writing benefit from greater depth of learning and understanding of their own self and practice
Students become more aware of their personal issues and values surrounding end of life issues
Students coping with difficult personal experiences may find the reflective writing and new knowledge is helpful
 Reflective work requires time and energy for processing, which takes time and processing this personal material may be best when spread over several months
Instructors can decrease barriers to learning this material by introducing reflective writing early
Students requiring extra support and time to cope with materials will have access to instructors while still in the program Students coping with difficult personal experiences may find they need extra personal support as they reflect and review materials
Instructors will need to plan and assign the reflective writing and the podcasts early

The benefits of assigning the reflective writing earlier in curriculum are clear. Instructors teaching the materials in the 2011-2012 year reported that assigning the reflective writing early meant that the students were 1/3 finished the Study Guide before the module began. Students were able to discuss their reflections and values throughout the program. The last module before practicum was not so rushed!

On the disadvantages side, the instructors need to plan, and to make sure the colleges order the materials earlier. When the students require support, it is important for the students to know who they can talk with about their concerns.

In the next post I will discuss when to teach this module in the overall program.

Ideas for teaching the "Essentials in Hospice Palliative Care"

Ted and I just returned from the OACC conference in Muskoka at the Marriott Hotel on Lake Rosseau.  What a beautiful location, and excellent staff to host this event.

I had the wonderful opportunity to get feedback and share ideas on teaching the NACC PSW  Module 14 on Caring for the Dying Person and their Family.

Some of the comments included: “love the text, ppts, study guide and videos… great teaching tools”, “the role play demonstrated to me, and to the students, what they CAN DO!”, “The PSW is honoured in the text”, “It is about time, students need this information”, “students said, this is my favorite module”.

We also heard the concerns about lack of time to teach all the content, and the challenge for students to reflect on issues that they have not worked with yet,…

After talking with instructors and directors of education, we came up with some ideas that might help you in dealing with these challenges.

  • “Reflective writing is difficult for students who have not experienced death.”  Suggestions:
    • Encourage students to read the questions, and think about their life experience.  This might include the care they provided for an animal, could be a death in the family, or could be something they hear or see on the TV.  However, if there are some questions they cannot answer due to lack of experience they may save this until well into their practicum.  Their answers can be limited to a few words or contain lengthier paragraphs, they can respond in English or in another (native) language. There are no wrong answers.
    • When revisiting the reflective writing during practicum (students might want to use a different colour pen to respond this time). Reflections may deepen when students experience people dying, or witness people experiencing different symptoms or suffering.  At the end of the practicum, have students review the Baggage and Beliefs section again, and discuss what they have learned since starting the practicum.Were these ideas helpful?
  • Kath

Education day with NACC, "Care of the Dying Person and their Family: Essentials in Hospice Palliative Care"

Exciting day yesterday.  100 instructors attended the NACC PSW Instructor Development Day session introducing them to the new Module 14.  Imagine my delight at the idea that I introduced them to materials that they will now go back and teach their students.  Wow.  That is great.

The education section of the blog will focus on ideas, materials, to help them to teach this content.

Check regularly for updates.

Warm regards, and best wishes to you and the students!