Outline the similarities and differences between the notions of evidence-based practice and reflective practice. You should illustrate your answer with reference to an area of practice in which you have experience and/or an interest.
Try to clearly identify the features of these two concepts of educational practice, and to make sure that you consider both their similarities and their differences.
This essay will first define evidence-based practice and reflective practice. It will then move on to discuss features of each concept of educational practice in terms of their similarities and differences with reference to personal experience of pre-school care and education[a].
Evidence-based practice draws on theory and findings from empirical research to inform practice. It was first developed in the field of medicine and focuses on scientific research to inform and support effective practice in terms of ‘what works’ (Study Guide, p.16). One element of this type of research is Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) (Study Guide, p.21[b]).
Reflective practice relies on practitioners reflecting on their experiences. Schön (1983, 1987 as cited in Study Guide, p.40) termed this practice as reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. Such experiences require practitioners to ‘think on their feet’ as they work, and to reflect on the work subsequently. Thus reflective practice is deemed by practitioners working in the field of education as[c] a form of professional development, to provide a basis for improvement of practice and to inform planning.
The premise informing evidence-based practice is that experienced practitioners in the field carry out research. Hargreaves (2007: 5[d]) argues it is this research, which builds on previous research, ‘by confirming or falsifying it, by extending or refining it, by replacing it with better evidence or theory’ that should ultimately inform educational practice. While on the one hand, Hargreaves (2007) has been scathing in his depiction of the lack of practitioner-led evidence to inform and improve practice, in making this argument, on the other hand, he is nevertheless not dismissing the contribution made by the practitioner[e].
In terms of establishing ‘what works’ and improving practice, he is promoting as ‘powerfully beneficial’ (p.13) the combination of evidence-based research and reflective practice.
An example of this similarity can be understood from the use of visual displays in early years settings. It was suggested (and detailed in TMA 01) that it would be possible to apply randomised controlled trials to conduct research into the use of visual displays in early years settings, which are used to encourage and promote children’s active involvement with the learning environment and consequently informs and improves practice. The contribution of the reflective practitioner in this instance could further enhance this research by observing, for example, whether the placement of the visual displays on the walls has an impact – at child’s eye level, high or low, or whether the child’s attention is drawn to the visual displays by the practitioner, and whether discussion is encouraged around the topic or picture displayed[f]. This example illustrates the overarching goal of both concepts, which is improvement of practice. Bassey’s (2007) reference to Schön’s ‘The Reflective Practitioner’ emphasises this point when he proposes that ‘underpinning … good professional practice are theoretical ideas[g]’. Implicit in this proposal is the suggestion that the drawing together of both concepts serves to improve the reliability and validity of educational practice.