Reflective Practice in the Early years
If you have been through any kind of teacher training then you’ll have heard of “Reflective Practice.” There is great emphasis on reflective practice in education but many prospective students find it hard to do or ‘boring.’ Okay, so what is it?
What is reflective practice?
Reflective practice can be described as ‘learning through and from experience towards gaining new insights of self and practice’ (Finlay, 2008). Based on this definition, the goal of reflection in early years should be to better understand teaching and learning, and as a result, improve practice.
There are many different models of reflective practice, however, find what works for you. Research and experiment with different models as you will find that it is definitely worth the time invested.
Perhaps the most well-known model of reflective practice is Kolb’s Learning Cycle (1984) which demonstrates that the aim of reflective practice is to gain insight from concrete experience, and ultimately, use this learning to inform practice in new situations.
Kolb’s cycle had 4 main elements; the first of which is, you guessed it, concrete experience. In teaching early years Education this may come in the form of a learning opportunity, an informal interaction with a child or even an observation of a child interacting with their environment. After the experience, you may reflect (second element of Kolb’s cycle) or make a value analysis on what it meant for the children, what you could have done differently, how the environment could be tailored to suit children’s needs or questions that stemmed from engaging in the concrete experience.
The third stage of Kolb’s cycle is called abstract conceptualisation. During this stage, you merge theory with practice, your theoretical knowledge based on previous learning or new insights from research is used. In other words, the practitioner links the experience and reflection to wider knowledge and research. An early years practitioner may make links to what they know about child development, and how children learn or a particular model of practice (Scaffolding, Zone of Proximal Development, Attachment Theory etc).
The final stage of Kolb’s cycle is Active Experimentation which is planning what to do next time, or trying out what you have learnt. This may mean adapting a learning opportunity to make it more effective, enhancing the environment, seeking out ways to improve parent-practitioner collaboration and more. On TeachKloud we enable you to reflect on your practice seamlessly, incorporating prompts and emerging interests’ sections to help facilitate reflection.
How does reflection improve practice?
- Overcoming Barriers: By reflecting on practice practitioners are able to identify barriers or stumbling blocks to learning that individual children may have and find ways to overcome potential challenges using research to support their ideas (‘abstract conceptualisation’).
- Innovation: Reflecting on practice forces you to stop, think and then act. Through this process of reflection, practitioners find new ways to encourage children’s development.
- Problem-Solving: Reflection is also an effective problem-solving exercise. Through questioning methodology or previously held assumptions with a focus to implement changes based on your findings, practitioners become more flexible in their approach which benefits children at their age and stage of development.
- Self-awareness: Reflective practice offers the chance for self-assessment, and also appreciation of children’s abilities and triumphs. It is not just about looking at what could go or did go wrong but is an amazing opportunity to identify children’s strengths and celebrate these.
How to build reflection into your practice
In most Early years settings, it can be hard to have a minute to yourself, sometimes you skip lunch or don’t have a chance to just sit down! The days are busy and there’s a lot to do, so building reflection into the normal routine of the day is important but can be very difficult.
With this in mind, it is worth experimenting on what works best for you, the tools and support you need in order to reflect effectively. Some practitioners prefer to keep a personal notebook in which they can reflect whilst others prefer technology. Using a notebook or application like TeachKloud means that as you document throughout the days, your thoughts are fresh, you may write key words in the moment and can come back to write a more detailed reflection.
Reflection doesn’t always have to take place alone, it can be extremely beneficial to reflect as a team. Perhaps, 5 minutes at the end of the day could be set aside and then a longer time period to discuss challenges, solutions and progress during your weekly or monthly team meeting. Peer-Peer learning and collaboration enables practitioners to learn from each other, debate and discuss their points of views. Essentially, providing time for discussion provides a safe place to draw different experiences and expertise together while facilitating the development of a broader approach.
Observation of each other’s practice is also a fantastic way for a team to learn from each other and identify any training needs. Often room leaders will observe trainee’s practice and provide feedback, but turning this on its head is also valuable. Having a trainee observe the room leaders practice not only provides an opportunity for everyone to engage in the learning and improvement process. This role reversal also has the effect of showing that everyone is valued as part of the team, and everyone is still learning, improving team morale, and collaboration.
Depending on the age group you work with, it may be possible to involve children in the reflective process. For example, you could ask children what they enjoyed about a learning experience, or which part of the room they like/dislike the most. Understanding what children value or what they don’t like can inform your planning or lead to further investigation on possible barriers to participation and play. I remember an example from my work experience where a child in a wheelchair told me that he hated coming into school in the mornings. I was surprised, he always seemed energetic in the mornings and I really began to delve deeper into this comment. I could have asked him then and there and should have but Im not sure he would have told me outright. It took me days to realise that he hated coming into school in the morning because the schools ramp broke 3 weeks prior and so, he had to be carried in by his dad. I asked him on the fifth day if he would rather be able to come in by himself (independently, without needing to be carried in), he put his head down and nodded silently, he whispered and said, “if I come in on my own, no one will think I’m a baby.” He was six years old at the time and yet this was something that greatly bothered him. We got a ramp that day and finished it the next week.
Always allow children’s reflections to inform your practice; involve them in decisions that directly affect them; you will also be surprised at how honest and insightful they can be!
Recording reflections is extremely helpful; Going back over your notes and being able to see your reasoning and thought processes is invaluable, especially, when evaluating changes you’ve made to your practice or the learning environment.
Reflection and recording doesn’t need to be a lengthy process, once you get used to the cycle of reflection you will begin to do it automatically.
Technology can also be utilised for reflection and many schools use TeachKloud for their reflective practice, learning journeys, stories, planning and more. TeachKloud has specifically built in opportunities to record reflections on activities and practice. Using TeachKlouds technique helps to keep reflection linked to observations, future planning and assumptions. Our resource library has many sample learning opportunities and professional development opportunities.
Using technology can also speed up the recording process; TeachKloud uses voice recognition technology so the computer can even type the reflection up for you! With lack of time often cited as a reason for not reflecting on practice as much as you’d like, this is one way to make it a little easier.
As you experiment with and develop reflective practice you will become more adept at doing it, which in turn will improve your practice and ultimately, improve children’s experience of your setting and their learning and development.