Reflective Teaching in Further and Adult Education

Author(s) Hillier, Yvonne
Publisher London: Continuum
ISBN 0826451608
Reviewed by Barbara Pavey
University of Wales Swansea
Review published 1 December 2004

Although the title of Dr. Hillier's book may seem to exclude higher education, this is not altogether the case; higher education can be found within the FE college setting, and in her text the author does not neglect this area of provision. In addition there is much within the book to interest and support educational professionals generally, regardless of the actual post-school client group with whom they work. At a time when the Further Education Funding Council is seeking to improve quality and standards and reduce bureaucracy, Dr. Hillier's book provides a refreshing and timely opportunity to consider the present position in modern further education in a way that helps the practitioner. The text clarifies a theoretical basis for professional action, and offers practical strategies for improved professional performance.

The book is divided into three sections, concerned with Policy, Practice, and Evaluation. Theory, policy and practice are related throughout to the issues and concerns present in further and adult education today, so that the book presents an up-to-date, detailed description of these sectors of educational provision. The book includes examples of realistic teaching and learning situations and the resolution of the challenges within them. Each chapter also concludes with a useful reference to the relevant Further Education National Training Organsiation (FENTO) standards, setting the book's recommendations within the context of modern further education requirements.

The book's first section, 'Reflective Practice and Policy in Adult Learning' describes theoretical underpinnings, and seeks to unite the often separately viewed areas of educational theory and practice. Theoretical antecedents and ethical aspects of reflective practice are described, together with the ways in which practitioners develop their ideas drawing on informal but still theoretical approaches. This provides a useful understanding of the professional processes involved. Professionals can gain confidence from knowing that processes of judgment and decision-making that are often seen as innate or hidden, can have a professional and theoretical context. The policy decisions governing current further education are outlined, including legislation, funding arrangements, inspection considerations and the move towards inclusion and widening participation.

The second section, 'The Practice of Reflective Teaching' considers the necessity to understand, appreciate and include the diverse experience of further education and adult education students. Methodology is explored, including the planning of a programme and resources, the development of teaching and learning methods, group work, and a consideration of assessment in the further education context. A consideration of approaches to assessment helps the practitioner to relate assessment methods to learning outcomes.

This leads on naturally to the third section, 'Evaluating and Developing Professional Practice'. Assessment and evaluation are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, and Ms Hillier makes sure that the reader understands the difference. Evaluation processes are discussed as an important part of professional practice, and the necessary cycle of evaluation and improvement is described. Improvements in professional practice are linked to the FENTO standards. However the book concludes by returning practitioners to the process of reflection upon their own professional development, and its importance in their own lives. The author is concerned that the fundamental joy of seeing learners improve is not lost amongst the requirements of professional practice, or of policy.

Throughout the book Dr Hillier's writing is clear and supportive, and indeed reflective in style, helping readers to become confident in developing insights about their own practice, and enabling them think of ways in which it could be improved. Practitioners of any kind are likely to benefit from reflection about their own practice, and the disciplines and methods advocated by the author deserve to be more widely adopted. This book would therefore benefit teachers and lecturers in all areas of post-school education, not only those in the further and adult education, and would also be of value to those interested in the theory and practice of teaching and learning in the post-school context.