Opinion: Reflecting on the science, the art, and the craft of teaching

Dr Helen Edwards and Juliet Mickelburgh, Tapestry and the Foundation Stage Forum
Friday, February 5, 2021

It can be easy to misunderstand reflective practice, seeing it as a way to look for problems or to self-criticise. But it is not that at all! Reflective practice is about celebrating and building on what has gone well.

Dr Helen Edwards
Dr Helen Edwards

 Juliet Mickelburgh is in the education team at Tapestry

Reflective practice is focused on how we look at our own practice, the ethos of our team, and the learning environment we offer to constantly improve and support positive outcomes for children, families and staff. We need to embrace reflective practice as a tool to help us grow in our teaching.

In a recent Foundation Stage Forum/Tapestry podcast, early years lecturer Annie Richardson says she sees reflection ‘as a foundation of good practice'.


Annie aims to ‘move practitioners on from being reflective in a descriptive way to being much more critical in terms of that reflection and moving to reflexivity'. Reflexivity involves the examination of our beliefs, judgements and practice, and questioning our assumptions.

Teaching has been described as ‘a science, an art and a craft’ (Johnson, 2017). Reflecting on each of these aspects can help us to be aware of the influences on our practice and how they impact children, families and our colleagues.

Being a reflective practitioner is key to supporting children at LEYF.

The science of teaching
This is the knowledge and understanding you bring to your teaching. It will be informed by your reading and research, your observations of children and other educators, and your evaluation of your own and other’s practice. As you reflect on the science of teaching you will be asking yourself: What do I want children to learn and why? What prior knowledge led me to decide what I wanted the children to learn? How did this new learning build on previous understanding?
As Johnson says, ‘Like scientists, teachers experiment with new techniques and strategies to see how they work’.

The art of teaching
This can be found in the responses you make, the subtle changes of direction in the learning moments you share with children. It is about your own personality and life experiences, the qualities you bring, and the relationships you build with children. This may seem like the intuitive part of teaching, but it is an aspect that requires development like any other. To reflect on the art of teaching you can wonder: What personal beliefs or philosophies underpin my teaching? How do I promote equality of opportunity? How does the language I use impact children’s experiences? What balance of adult-led or child-led learning do I bring to each activity? How well do I listen to children and value what they say?

The craft of teaching

This is the collection of skills, knowledge and understanding you gather over time. Just as a craftsperson learns their craft through practise, attending courses, and watching those with specific skills, so an educator learns the craft of teaching. As your craft evolves, you begin to be able to share it with others. To reflect on the craft of teaching you can think about: What strategies can I use? How and when do I model, explain, demonstrate or challenge? How can I use the skills I have observed in others in my own teaching?  

A reflective practitioner thinks about how the science, art and craft of teaching informs their approach to both the curriculum – what they teach; and to their pedagogy – how they teach. At a time when the statutory EYFS document and the Development Matters have changed, reflecting on what you do and how you do it helps educators to hold onto what they do well, and look at where they can make positive changes.   

But deciding where to start can seem daunting. Here are some suggestions for what to reflect on:

  • An area of provision – the role play area, your outside environment, the investigative area
  • Routines – morning arrivals, snack time or managing access to outdoor learning
  • An area of learning – for example, Maths opportunities throughout the setting
  • Personal, social and emotional support –for example, well-being, settling-in, CoEL
  • An activity you planned and carried out with the children

You can then focus on some open questions to structure your reflection.
These can be as simple as:

  • What are you thinking?
  • Why do you think that?
  • What do other stakeholders think – staff, parents, children?
  • Why do we/did I do it that way?
  • How could you make a positive change?
  • What happened when you made that change?

Remember, reflection is an ongoing journey of thoughts and actions.

Useful resource:
Reflective Teaching in Early education by Jennifer Colwell and Amanda Ince (Bloomsbury Academic)

References:

Foundation Stage Forum/Tapestry podcasts: https://tapestry.info/podcasts.html

Johnson, A. (2017) Teaching Strategies for All Teachers. Rowman and Littlefield

 

Dr Helen Edwards is co-founder of Tapestry and the Foundation Stage Forum, and Juliet Mickleburgh is part of the education team.

 

 

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