Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 2

During  June/July, We hear you will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the second instalment, we consider teaching, learning and how we reflect within a holistic approach. 

uncovering the layers of reflective practice diagram

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Critical reflection involves educators analysing their own practices – thinking about how their language, their level of involvement in play, their support of children to communicate and resolve conflict and how the organisation and environment impacts learning, relationships and interactions.

These insights should be used to inform the development of plans for children’s learning and development, both as individuals and groups of children. The focus should be on learning and outcomes rather than activities and resources.

Being a reflective practitioner means embracing multiple perspectives, your own unique approach and process as well as considering what might need to change. This process of reflecting on actions, intentionality, programs and children’s learning is one that educators engage in every day.

The approved learning frameworks provide some questions to reflect on: (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11):

  • What are my understandings of each child?
  • What theories, philosophies and understandings shape and assist my work?
  • Are there other theories or knowledge that could help me to understand better what I have experienced?

A holistic approach

It is important to reflect on the learning across all aspects of the program including routines, transitions, planned and spontaneous play and leisure experiences. Children’s learning is constant and happening everywhere and it is up to educators to reflect on how time, resources and access to learning environments is facilitating sustained shared thinking.

Who should be involved?

Everyone! Critically reflecting on children’s learning involves all educators talking, questioning, challenging and affirming each other. Two key questions to consider here might be:

  • Are planned experiences reflective of children’s knowledge, interests and identity?
  • Are experiences, environments and interactions supporting children’s learning and development across the learning outcomes?

Children and families are important participants in the reflection process, from setting goals to analysing and sharing the learning from the program and informing the direction of group and individual learning. Community expectations and context are relevant considerations to inform curriculum decision making.

How do we reflect and what should be recorded?

While there is no legislative requirement for educators’ reflections to be documented, it is a useful way for services to track and show how critical reflection influences their practice and contributes to continuous improvement and the cycle of planning.

The emphasis is on the process of critical reflection, not the product, so there is evidence the program is informed by these reflections. Children can be active participants in critical reflection, and in documenting their learning progress. Documenting this reflection can be completed in a variety of ways – in the program, in a reflective journal or diary, or in the minutes of team meetings.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Supporting reflective practice

The educational leader plays a role in developing and supporting a culture of reflection by:

  • leading and being part of reflective discussions
  • mentoring other educators
  • discussing routines
  • observing children and educator interactions
  • talking to families
  • working with other education and care professionals
  • considering how the program can be linked to the community
  • establishing effective systems across the service.

The ACECQA information sheet Developing a culture of learning through reflective practice suggests the following questions when reflecting on your practice and planning children’s learning.

  • How do we observe, listen and critically review what is happening through the day?
  • Is the practice consistent with our beliefs, values and service philosophy?
  • Does our practice foster respect for and inclusion of all children and families?
  • What is best practice?
  • How do we monitor and change our practice?
  • What theories inform our thinking?

EXAMPLE: Reflection throughout the planning cycle* 

Gather information and reflect on our knowledge of each child and their strengths and interests

Johnny has recently demonstrated a sustained interest in sandpit play. He actively initiates and contributes to play experiences emerging from his own ideas. He is resourceful in his play and uses recyclable materials to experiment with cause and effect, trial and error and motion. Johnny regularly shares his achievements with familiar educators, explaining the construction and design process. Recently he has shown interest in tunneling and compounding wet sand to create pyramids. 

Johnny is also beginning to show interest in other children and responds positively to others during sandpit play. Johnny also enjoys moments of solitude in sandpit play and actively uses the sensory experience to assist with this increasing capacity for self-regulation.   

Family conversations: Johnny’s grandmother has just returned from a holiday to Egypt. Johnny has shown interest in the pyramids with their hidden passageways and hieroglyphic writing.

Question how we can use children’s prior learning, together with the approved learning framework’s Learning Outcomes, to:

  • guide our planning 
  • plan the learning environment, resources and teaching strategies 
  • plan ways to monitor and assess children’s learning

How can we support Johnny‘s sense of belonging, connectedness and wellbeing? (Outcome 1)/Outcome 3)

  • Encourage Johnny to bring mementos from his grandmother’s holiday to discuss with peers.

How can we support Johnny’s increasing capacity for self-regulation and provide opportunities for him to engage independently with tasks and play? (Outcome 1)

  • Provide opportunities for him to engage independently with sensory tasks in the indoor learning environment – e.g. play dough to construct ancient structures from around the world using images. 

How can we build on the knowledge and understandings that Johnny brings? (Outcome 1/Outcome 3)

  • Co-researching pyramids and formulating questions to uncover what he knows/would like to know more about and extend on ideas and knowledge he is gaining. Use information and communication technologies to investigate and problem solve.

How can we plan experiences and provide resources that broaden children’s perspectives and encourage appreciation of diversity? (Outcome 2) 

  • Emphasise Johnny’s interest in Egyptian hieroglyphics through exploration of papyrus and Egyptian hieroglyphic writing alphabet symbols. 

Act/implement by providing experiences, engaging in sustained interactions, model and promote children’s learning dispositions 

  • Foster continuity of learning from Johnny’s home environment and build on foundations of prior learning through responsiveness to strengths, skills and knowledge.
  • Intentional teaching – scaffolding, open-questioning, engaging in shared thinking and problem-solving to extend Johnny’s thinking and learning.

Evaluate what is working and what could be improved. How does this continue to inform quality practice?  

  • The sensory tasks provided children with time and space to engage in individual pursuits and develop their increasing capacity for self-regulation. Consider: What role do the senses play in development? 
  • The hieroglyphic activity was a rich language opportunity to explore culturally constructed symbol systems. Extend Johnny’s interest in making meaning using a range of media and enhance his understanding about the way symbols and pattern systems work.

* Some of this may be discussion or thinking not necessarily written down.

Assessment and rating

In terms of assessment and rating, a crucial factor in assessing quality practice relates to educators’ understandings of the process and the purpose of critical reflection as opposed to gathering evidence.

During an assessment, the authorised officer might:

  • observe educators having discussions with team members, children and families reflecting on how the program is supporting children’s learning in groups and as individuals
  • discuss how educators make decisions on the program and the process for considering the effectiveness of the program
  • sight documentation of decisions, how and why they came about, information in policies, parent information and staff induction that explains the process of how reflection guides the program.

Questions for further reflection:

The Educators’ Guide to My Time, Our Place describes the process of self-reflection as:

  • Deconstructing practice – What happens?
  • Confronting practice – What works well? What is challenging?
  • Theorising about why – What literature/research/experience helps you to understand this?
  • Thinking otherwise – What do you need to change? What is the first step?

These questions may prompt a robust discussion on what is working and how well practice aligns with philosophy and ethics, as well as creating a positive culture and professional learning community.

Further reading and resources

Read the complete series:

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