This article will look at reflective practice for early years practitioners, why it is important and how it works. An example of reflective practice in an early years setting is also provided.
Why Reflective Practice is So Important in Early Years
There are three main reasons why reflective practice is important in the professional development for early years practitioners?
The first reason is that it helps early years practitioners to understand who they are, and how they relate to others. This can be difficult when working with young children, because they don’t always verbalize what they think. It may be necessary to ask them questions to find out what they really feel about something.
The second reason is that it makes sense of an early years practitioner’s practice. By knowing where they stand, they can decide what they need to change, and what they should keep doing.
Finally, reflection can help early years practitioners evaluate their practice. When a teacher reflects on their practice, they can see if they are meeting their own standards and if they are achieving the outcomes they set for themselves.
How to Perform Reflective Practice in Early Years Settings
In order to engage in reflective practice, early years practitioners, including nursery workers and childminders, need to think about and analyse their own practice. There are several ways for early years practitioners to reflect on the way they teach.
According to Schon, ‘The basic idea behind reflection is that we should not only observe what happens, but also try to understand why things happen as they do. The process of reflection involves three steps: Noticing something; Thinking about it; Acting on it.’
In order to reflect effectively, practitioners must first become aware of what they are doing. They may need to take note of their behaviour and attitudes, and consider how they might act differently. For example, a practitioner may notice that he or she tends to interrupt learners during a lesson. If the practitioner is able to identify where he or she went wrong, then it will be easier to avoid repeating such errors in the future.
Kolb developed his learning cycle to describe the stages involved in developing an understanding of a new concept. He suggests that there are four distinct phases which occur sequentially throughout the development of any new skill or ability. Each phase builds on the last, and each provides opportunities for learners to practice and consolidate their newly acquired skills.
Concrete Experience – Learners are engaged in activities which allow them to practice using the new skill. Examples include role-plays, and problem-solving tasks.
Reflective Observation – Learners now have time to examine their performance and make observations about their progress.
Abstract Conceptualization – Learners are beginning to conceptualize the new skill. They may begin to formulate ideas about the nature of the skill itself, and how it relates to other concepts.
Active Experimentation – Once learners have gained sufficient confidence with the new skill, they are encouraged to experiment with it. They may try out different approaches to see which work best for them.
In Gibbs’ model, the reflective cycle is used to support teachers in improving their practice. The cycle consists of three steps; self-awareness, reflection and action planning.
In the first step, self-awareness, teachers must acknowledge their own strengths and weaknesses. Teachers should consider whether they are good at something, and identify where they could do better.
In the second step, reflection, teachers should be able to look back over the previous lesson and think about what went well, and what didn’t. This allows them to identify aspects of their practice which were successful, and those which needed improvement.
Finally, in the third step, teachers should plan for the future by deciding what they want to achieve, and how they intend to go about doing so. This includes thinking about how they will measure success, and what they will do to ensure that they meet their goals.
Example of Reflective Practice in Early Years Settings
A teacher working in a nursery class found that they struggled when they began to teach children who had recently moved to the nursery. They felt a lack of confidence in their ability to teach these children, and didn’t know how to approach them. Reflecting on this, they decided that they wanted to spend more time observing other teachers in the nursery before beginning to teach.
As a result of this reflection, the teacher spent some time watching videos of other teachers teaching children who were newly arrived at the nursery. They watched the videos several times, and made notes about what they thought worked well, and what they thought could be improved. The teacher then planned to use these ideas when they taught the next group of children.