Promoting reflective practice with older people: learning and teaching strategies

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Hughes, M & Heycox, K 2004, 'Promoting reflective practice with older people: learning and teaching strategies', paper presented to Reclaiming civil society: the 32nd biennial Global Social Work Congress, Adelaide, SA, 2-5 October.


Social work with older people has often been regarded as low status and dominated by medicalised constructions of older age and service delivery. Consequently there is a need to recognise and value social work approaches to aged care practice that include an analysis of the political and cultural dimensions of older people’s lives, such as identity, diversity, and the experience of power. While not a highly formalised model, refl ective practice ideas can inform a politically and culturally aware approach to social work and help students to integrate personal and professional issues and cope with responding to complex and ambiguous situations. This paper will present the development and evaluation of an elective course for third year social work students on refl ective practice with older people. The course drew upon social gerontology perspectives and highlighted the diversity and strengths of the older population. In examining aged care policy and practice, the course considered the multiple and contested meanings of concepts such as old age, dependence and care-giving. The course aimed to challenge students’ perceptions of their own and others’ ageing and to stimulate a refl ective approach to practice. This was facilitated by a range of activities in class time, as well as by students undertaking observations of a public setting where older people were likely to be present, such as a hospital reception area or an activities room in a day centre or nursing home. In the observation reports students were asked to refl ect on the layout of the setting and older people’s negotiation of the layout, the interactions between older people and others, and the representation of difference and power in the setting and the interactions. Student experiences of the course will be presented, as will their views on their own hopes and fears as they grow older and their preference for working with older people in the future.