I'm in the final stages of completing my level 3 qualification (EYE), and as part of my assignment I'm to research theoretical perspectives on reflective practice. I am curious to know how you all use reflection as part of your regular practice, and how you find it helps to make you a better practitioner. As well, if you have any additional information or advice for me in this regard I'd love to hear it!
For myself, I know how important engaging in reflective practice can be. Without taking time to step back and think about which parts of your practice are working and which aren't, and without coming up with a plan for how to improve those parts that aren't working so well, your practice will never improve. Very often this process happens subconsciously. I know many times I have led an activity that ended up being really chaotic, and didn't end up engaging the children the way I wanted it to or the way I set it up was either far above or far below the abilities of the children, and they didn't get from the activity what I'd hoped they would. Part of being a reflective practitioner is assessing these instances and carrying them out differently the next time--either adjusting the resources or limiting the number of children at the activity to minimise the chaos, or making the activity simpler or adding an additional element of challenge to make it more accessible to the children.
Graham Gibbs developed a way for practitioners (or anyone for that matter) to put these vague thoughts that we all have into a concrete format. His method of reflection is termed the Reflective Cycle, and consists of 6 stages: description of the activity (what happened), your own thoughts and feelings about the activity (how you felt about the situation before, during, and after, and how you feel others felt about it), evaluation (how did it go--what went well, what didn't go so well), analysis (why things went the way they did), conclusion (what did you learn from conducting this activity, what could I have done differently), and action plan (what will I do differently in the future, what are steps I can take to ensure the activity goes differently, what skills and resources do I need to prepare). Ideally this process would be used mainly for repeating situations, but it can also be used for one-off instances. This cycle of reflection is very simple in its design, but continually using this model in your practice would help you to identify areas where you are consistently struggling, and would encourage you to develop a plan for the future to change the way you're doing something so as to not have those struggles, or else how you can develop your skills to overcome these challenges (for example, you may need additional training in order to more effectively support a child with difficult behaviour).
David Kolb had a very similar theory regarding reflective practice. In his Experiential Learning Cycle, the learner first encounters a new situation. Afterwards, the learner then reflects on the situation--what happened, and how it went. Any strengths and weaknesses are identified and evaluated, leading to a revision of the original plan which includes new ideas and modifications to the original. Finally, the learner tests their new ideas and modifications and implements them into real life practice. Kolb terms this process "effective learning" as it allows the learner to evaluate what went well in their practice and how they would change it to make it even better.
Donald Schon is another theorist who would echo the need for reflection after an event has taken place ("reflection-on-action"). However, he also includes a crucial aspect of being a reflective practitioner, and that is evaluating how an activity is going while it is taking place, and making adjustments there and then, or, "reflection-on-action." This is a crucial step for the early years practitioner. It is important to take into account how the children are responding to the activity in the moment, and to make adjustments there and then to make it more engaging for the children. Often this comes in the form of following the children's lead in an activity. If the children are expressing interest in one particular part of an activity, this can be a more useful path to follow rather than ploughing on ahead with what you had planned. To do this is often to fight a losing battle, since if children aren't interested in something, it is fruitless (for them and for you!) to try to force them to engage with it.
Each of these theories and more delineate the benefits of reflective practice, and outline different ways to go about doing so. Having a structure method in place can be extremely useful when reflecting on your practice, as it can help bring to light things you may have missed were you to simply think about a situation abstractly without going through a full on reflective process.