Many years ago, my kung fu teacher (Chan Ju Kim, 1962) said to me "meditate and reflect on what knowledge you have gained from this form; focus from the point where you were, past where you are now and you will find the way forward. Development of Chi is pointless when not balanced by development of the mind". Taking this practice into everything I have done over the years has given me the advantage of being able to change the 'path' that I take. Applying this to reflective teaching practice was a short step only hindered by my lack of actually understanding where I was. By enrolling on the Diploma of Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector (DTLLS) course, my position has now been clarified.
In the following statement, Petty gives a simple but excellent reason for the importance of reflective practice.
"Being able to reflect on your practice is crucial as it is the only way to improve your practice and to adapt to the diverse nature of your students." (Petty, 2004, p.480)
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Many times I have given a lesson and everything has run like clockwork. The same lesson to a different group or combination of students has proved far more challenging and has given me good cause to reflect. The conclusion is that not only are two learners never quite the same in their learning styles but also that the mix of students affects their ability to grasp the concepts of the subject matter and thereby achieve the desired learning outcomes. Another progression of this reflection was to include more team building and active learning into each lesson in order to focus the learners.
There are many relevant theories concerning the use of reflective practice including those proposed by Dewey (1933), Schön (1983), Argyris (1985) and Brookfield (1987). Possibly the best known of these is the reflective learning cycle concept introduced by David Kolb (1975) where there are only four main components. This cycle starts with trying out an idea (concrete experience), reflecting on how successful it was in meeting the learning outcomes (reflect on experience), considering any different approaches that may be possible (abstract conceptualisation) and trialling the new approach (active experimentation).
An example of this in my own teaching practice was an important buffet function for one hundred and thirty covers. I had a team of the most advanced students prepare a range of products over the preceding few days and checked that all procedures were correctly followed. When the big day came, everyone was suddenly in a panic because there was not enough space for all to work in the same area. The only solution was for their supervisor to move some of the work into another preparation area which unfortunately turned out to be the butchery. The students came running to me for advice as they were very much aware of cross-contamination risk. This was easily overcome by getting them to re-sanitise the whole area first. My reflective question was had I given them insufficient information or too much. I put this question to my learners and found they agreed with my conclusion that I had not given them enough information. The next buffet was purposely prepared in several areas following correct cleaning procedures and my learners gave their supervisor sound reasoning as to why this practice was acceptable. Many opportunities arise for reflection every day and this helps me develop the group as reflective learners. This reflection also helps them when having to take part in the Enhanced Thinking and Anger Management courses which often form part of their sentence planning.
There are times during my teaching when Schön's theories of 'reflection in action and reflection on action' are very evident. Unforeseen situations often arise in a kitchen environment (even more so in offender learning) where quick analysis of a situation is required in order to overcome production problems.
Gibbs (1998) expanded and simplified the reflective cycle as shown in the following diagram. Although this was primarily aimed at nursing and healthcare, it works equally well for general teaching and in fact, most other professions.
4.1 identify and engage in appropriate CPPD opportunities to keep up to date and develop in teaching and in own specialist area.
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
4.2 evaluate the impact of CPPD activities on own professional practice, identifying any further learning and development needs.
Throughout the DTLLS course we are encouraged to study and reflect (via assignment work) on a considerable number of principles and theories relating to our teaching in order to better understand the learning and skills development journey we take in pursuit of our long term goals. The sheer number of theories with which we come in contact with, can be somewhat daunting so it is important to comprehend the essential message within each if we are not to be swamped with irrelevant information. Good research often results in finding examples which we can personally relate to and therefore give a clarification of these principles.
As I progress with my own teaching I discover my own knowledge shortfalls and generally discuss these issues with my line manager and other peers as they not only have a greater depth of understanding through years of practice but also a different viewpoint. Driving to college for the DTLLS class is another opportunity for my colleague and me to discuss and find alternative approaches to some of the situations which have arisen in our classes.
Having worked for Her Majesties Prison Service (HMPS) before joining Offender Learning, I am well aware of the importance of staying current with prison training requirements. Notification for these courses may be found on the local pages of the prison service intranet, from suicide awareness through to personal protection training. These courses all emphasise the awareness of the prison regimes and are essential for personal progression and well-being.
My own specialist area of catering requires constant updating as trends change in styles of presentation and the diversity of ingredients available. CPPD in these areas comes from my own research via the internet, television, trade journals and even travelling to other countries. Other information for underpinning requirements regarding food safety may be obtained from The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and other recognised government departments.
I have regular visits from an Internal Verifier who checks the standard of my work with the students by observing me assessing, interviewing the students and cross-checking their evidence portfolios. Any action points deriving from the visit are formally discussed and given in a report to myself, my line manager and my employer. There are also regular visits made by the Awarding Body (City and Guilds) who set the criteria for the qualifications and this contact ensures currency with their requirements. Regular National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) catering workshops and standardisation meetings allow me to discus best practice with my peers and improve my own subject delivery. Much of the paperwork now used for the catering courses was originally developed by myself and approved by the Awarding Body. This development in itself is another valuable component of my CPPD.
Through the use of CPPD I have identified my need for further training in the delivery of my courses as I have a tendency to over assess and give students knowledge which is above the requirement of the criteria. I need to become 'smarter' in the planning of what they actually do and what can be covered by using written questioning. On reflection, this may be a quicker way for students to achieve the qualification but I doubt if the knowledge will remain as it would if the task had been physically undertaken.
Although I have identified the need for further training in specific areas, it appears that due to financial restraints (and other political factors) that I shall have to find my own path as support from my employer is limited.
My commitment to CPPD proves that I understand where I am on my own learning journey and that I am fully committed to actively finding development opportunities in order to achieve my goals. It gains the respect of my peers, maintains my status as a member of The Institute for Learning (IfL) and gives my learners confidence in my ability to teach.
Jasper M 2003 Beginning Reflective Practice - Foundations in Nursing and Health Care Nelson Thornes. Cheltenham