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The process of Reflective Practice

This article is the second in the series looking at Reflection and its role in Early Years Practice. In this paper, we focus on the process of Reflection, specifically the gathering and evaluation of evidence.

 This series of articles has three assumptions in mind: 

·       That the role of the Early Years Practitioner is one that requires a high level of skill and expertise.

·       That high-quality Early Years provision requires practitioners to continually review their practice, and the environment, to make changes and to increase quality.

·       That learning is a social process – we learn best through interacting with others.

 Introduction

In the first paper in this series, we stated that reflective practice could help us to deeply consider all aspects of ourselves and our practice. It can help us to review what we do, why we do it that way and support us to seek further information. From this new information, we can identify possible new practices that could help us achieve our endeavour of providing a high-quality Early Years experience for all babies and children in our care. Sounds good, but how do we go about this and fit this into a busy day?

Process

The process of Reflection, the doing part, can be broken down into four key areas (Colwell et al., 2020): 

·       Reviewing relevant, existing research and materials

·       Gathering new evidence

·       Data analysis

·       Evaluation and Reflection

Each of these forms a part of the cyclical, continuing process of Reflection, and each requires skills that can be built upon and developed over time. We will consider each of these areas in the following section. We will also provide suggested further reading for those who wish to develop these skills further as some of us will have little experience of these processes while others will be more familiar through study and work.

Reviewing relevant, existing research and materials

Once you have identified the focus of your Reflection – whether it be a child or an aspect of provision, for example – a good starting point is to gather evidence and materials relevant to the focus. For example, if you have a child in your setting with language delay, and you want to reflect on how well you are currently supporting their language development, you may wish to gather and review: any assessment documents you have; any observations conducted while the child has been at the setting; any current and recent planning for the child; information from their family; information from local language services and/or speech language therapists; research – books, articles, blogs on children with language delay. In gathering and reviewing these documents you will develop an understanding of where the child is currently in their learning, what, if anything, has been suggested or tried to support the child and what current research and thinking is on how to help a child with language delay - including any signs to be aware of that indicate you may need further expert input. It will provide you with your starting point and possibly the baseline data, which you can use to look at the impact of any changes you implement as a result of your Reflection.

Gathering new evidence

In light of what you have understood from the materials you have reviewed, you can then decide what new evidence you need to deepen your understanding. Most often, this type of research that is conducted in the workplace on your own practice, and that will continue through a cycle, is referred to as Action Research. The type of data you are likely to gather will most likely be Qualitative Data, data collected in a natural setting that records behaviours, reported feelings and behaviours and seeks to interpret and to understand. For example, observing how well children in your setting play together. Another type of data you may use is Quantitative Data, which is concerned with gathering numbers and figures, for example, the number of behaviour incidents recorded over a specific period. Collecting data is subject to many of the same ‘rules' you would use in your setting every day. For example, respecting privacy, not sharing personal information, considering inclusion and who may have challenges about being involved. Give these some careful thought before you record or report your findings.

You can gather new evidence in several ways. The methods you are likely to use include:

Observationsimage.png

Observations are an excellent way for early years practitioners to gather information on children and practices in their setting. You most likely have experience of undertaking observations and, as the children and staff are familiar with people undertaking observations, it is less likely to impact on their behaviour. You can read more about observations in an article on the FSF by Michaela Machan.

Interviews

You may also wish to interview colleagues about their knowledge/experience of the issue. This can be formal, i.e. have a set time and be recorded, or during a staff meeting, but these can also be ‘grabbed’ conversations at convenient times. Ensure that staff are aware of your intentions and then record what you learn so you can refer back at a later date. 

Questionnaires

If you wish to find out the views of staff or families on a particular issue, you may want to use a questionnaire. This can help gather the views of a large number of people. When you are designing a questionnaire, take time to think about what you are asking, what type of response you require – use an open question giving them space to write if you wish to understand their views, or use a closed question if you want to gain a simple yes or no response, for example. Keep them short and don't expect everybody to respond.

Data analysis

Once you have gathered the new information, you can begin the process of analysis. You will likely have several issues you wish to look at and, depending on your focus and data, you may have specific analysis in mind. However, a key part of Reflection in Early Years settings will be to study the data you have gathered considering the information you reviewed. Here you can look for key themes. What are the recurring issues that come up? Are there particular points of interest? You can highlight these in any way which suits you. You can highlight them on software which stores the observations and data, or you can use highlighters to record them on paper. The important thing is to look for critical pieces of information and recurring issues. For example, you may log on several different observations that the child with language delay has been excluded during free play time, or that they regularly struggle with mealtimes, or that they are developing their communication skills within a particular group of children. Review the data several times until you feel you have noted everything of value and use. 

Evaluation and Reflection

Once you have identified the key themes within your data, you can examine their value – is the data useful, does it increase your understanding? What might it mean for future planning? You may wish to involve colleagues in this process. This part of reflecting on the data needs to lead to the development of a plan for ways in which you will move forward – this will likely include changes you will make, but it may also include factors you need to explore some more. Don't worry if there are more questions than answers. Work with what you have and plan to consider other questions in the future.

When you are conducting the evaluation, it is essential to remember to be reflexive. We need to reflect on our own values, knowledge, and experience (Moore, 2004). We must not forget that no one truth exists and we are interpreting what is going on for a child. This is why it is important to seek and include information from different sources, such as colleagues, the child and/or family when appropriate.

The terms above may have made you feel that Reflection is a complicated process and will take a lot of time. As with all new things, it will take time to become familiar with the process and the terminology but essentially Reflection, the thinking about what we do and why we do it, should form part of our everyday thinking. 

Activity

The following activity may be a useful guide to getting started on the process of Reflection.  image.png

Aim: To increase your understanding of a particular child’s behaviour.  

Getting Started: Select a focus child. This can be any child. All children are different, and you may learn unexpected things about them. You may wish to select a child whose behaviour is causing you concern or that you feel you do not understand. 

Reviewing Relevant Research: Take some time to think about the information which you already have access to, which can help to deepen your understanding of the child and child behaviour. This may include observations of the focus child, your behaviour policy, new research, and any writing about child behaviour. Read this information. Be aware that often there may be hundreds of books or papers on the subject. Select a few relevant materials and give yourself a time limit or you could become ‘stuck' reading new materials.

Gathering Evidence: To get started, you need to consider the types of evidence or data you will need to increase your understanding of the child and their behaviours, and to consider what approaches may help you to effectively address the issues raised. This may include, but is not limited to, the information you hold on the child's health, home life, research or guidance which relate to the child’s age/development/characteristic or diagnosis, specific activities or programmes the child undertakes inside or outside of the setting, and observations of the child. You may be aware of many of these things before you get started. Consider the data you need to increase your understanding. For example, do you want to observe their arrival, settling, meal times, group activities, and free playtime? It may be useful to gather data at different time points, as this may help you identify specific times that would benefit from your attention.

Data Analysis: if you have Qualitative Data, use your software or highlighter pens (or whatever method suits you) to seek and record recurring themes, patterns in the data, and key information. Record them all together, so they are easy to review.

Evaluation and Reflection: Read through your themes, key information and any other data you have gathered, e.g. the number of recorded incidents or absences. What are your first thoughts? Are there specific points in time, activities or behaviours which recur and require attention? Did you read anything which you think may be useful to implement for this child? Be reflexive. Are you evaluating behaviours in a particular way because of your own experiences, expectations or assumptions? Is the evidence/data something you need to discuss with a colleague - they may help with interpretation. Do you need to go back to the information you reviewed before collecting your data or perhaps seek an alternative perspective from literature, textbooks, forums? A specific theory, for example, may deepen your understanding of a child’s reactions and responses.

The following questions may guide your reflections and help you to identify the next steps.

·       Has data been collected from several sources? Do you need additional information from family members or other practitioners?

·       Has this information deepened your understanding of this child?

·       Have you altered/developed your opinion of the child?

·       Can you take the time to consider how you have responded to the child?

·       Can you take what you have learned and use this to plan activities or make alterations to processes that you think will benefit this child? Perhaps identify two or three measures you could realistically take.

·       Who needs to be consulted/made aware of these changes and their purpose?

·       Did anything cause concern and require follow up - whether it be advice from a colleague or an external source?

·       How and when any implemented changes will be reviewed?

 Summary

Reflection is a cyclical process. It isn’t something we ‘finish', we may focus our attention elsewhere, but ultimately as Reflective Practitioners we will always be seeking new information and new perspectives about some part of our practice or experience. Reflection is a way of being. In this way it is not ‘more work' it is how we go about our work. That said we need to be realistic about how we can fit this into an already very busy schedule. Using observation is a practical and valuable way to do this. As is increasing the opportunities and time we give to ask questions such as why and how? Why do we do it this way? Why have we always done it like that? Why do they respond in that way? How can we better understand what it is like for that child? How can we improve the provision?

Gathering and reviewing evidence provides us with the information we need to understand, explain and justify the reasoning for our practice. This can be very helpful in developing confidence in talking about our setting, in discussions with families or external visitors or assessors. It helps us to build our professionalism. 

If you would like to know more about researching and reflecting, take a look at Jen’s companion piece on Research Methods.

Recommended Reading on Research

 Pollard, A. Techniques of enquiry available at

http://reflectiveteaching.co.uk/books-and-resources/rts5/part1/developing-an-evidence-informed-classroom/

Mukherji, P and Albon, D. (2018) Research Methods in Early Childhood, 3rd Edn, Sage: London.


References

Colwell, J. et al. (2015, 2020) Reflective Teaching in the Early Years. Bloomsbury: London.

Moore, A. (2004) The Good Teacher: Dominant Discourses in Teaching and Teacher Education. Routledge: Abingdon.


Dr Jen Colwell
Jen Colwell is an Educational Researcher, assessor and trainer. She is the lead author of Reflective Teaching in Early Education (Bloomsbury). Jen worked with Helen and some of the Tapestry and FSF team in Helen and Steve's wonderful Nursery setting many moons ago and is delighted to be working with them again.

Edited by Jules




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