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Cornell University

Metacognition and Reflection Workshop (ETD’22)

This was a session at ETD’22.

Both metacognition and reflection are tools you can employ as an educator to improve your students’ learning.

Metacognition is awareness of one’s own thinking processes – ‘thinking about thinking.’

Reflection is “active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and further conclusions to which it leads” (Dewey 1933 pg 118.)​

Metacognition & Reflection for Problem-Solving

Experts tend to spend most of their time planning when solving problems. While novices tend to skip over the planning and spend most of their time implementing. Using metacognition and reflection in your classroom may help students see the value in planning and how planning supports their learning of the material.

There are broadly 3 places where metacognition and reflection are useful to students when solving problems:

  1. Planning​
    • “What do I need to learn?”​
    • “How am I going to learn the material?”
  2. Monitoring​
    • “How am I doing at learning this material?”​
  3. Evaluation
    • “Did I learn the material effectively?”​

An Approach to Leveraging Metacognition and Reflection For Your Class​

It doesn’t take much to begin using metacognitive and reflective practices in your class; you don’t need to redo your entire class. Rather, pick a part of your class where students are having difficulty with the material, and then apply metacognitive and reflective practices, like prompts, to that part of the class.

Try the following approach:

  1. Identify problem areas of a course that would benefit from metacognition and reflection.
  2. Utilize metacognitive and reflective prompts to address a misunderstanding/misconception for difficult material.

Tip for improving success:

  • Reflection and metacognition can be done individually or in small groups​.
  • Both reflection and metacognition practices are valuable.​
  • Student collaboration in reflective and metacognitive practices provides significant benefit to the practice.
  • Build familiarity and trust with your students and their peers before utilizing these practices.
    • Students must trust you and their peers to share ideas, understanding, and confusion.
    • Trust and familiarity support belonging and inclusion in your classroom.

Sample Metacognitive & Reflective Practices/Prompts

Interactive learning techniques: solving a single problem using different methods:

  • Students in a small group solve the same question using different methods, identify the advantages and disadvantages of their method, and describe them to their group. (Metacognition)
  • Students in a small group solve the same question using different methods, then explain their methods to each other. (Metacognition)

Retrospective post-assessment questions: perceptions of learning and confidence:

  • Reread the learning outcome. Do you think you accomplished this outcome after completing this activity? (Reflection)
  • Did you find that the learning activity improved your confidence in the learning outcome? (Reflection)
  • How do you think this learning activity helped or hindered in achieving the learning outcome? (Reflection/Metacognition)
  • How did this activity affect your attitude towards tackling these problems? (Reflection)

Retrospective post-assessment questions: value of collaboration:

  • Did you find collaborating with classmates helpful? (Reflection)

Metacognitive & Reflective Classroom Example

Identify problem areas of a course: Debugging/Troubleshooting Code (class activity or office hours)​

Utilize metacognitive and reflective prompts:

  1. Planning: What have you done to resolve the issue so far?​
    • “Looked at instructor’s example…”​
    • “Randomly changed code…”​
    • “Re-read instructor’s slides…”​
  2. Monitoring/Evaluation: Did these strategies work?​
    • “I don’t know. I don’t know what’s wrong.”​
    • Note: Students should reach this point using metacognition and reflection prompts​
  3. Planning/Monitoring: If you don’t know what’s wrong, how could you figure what’s wrong?​
    • “Try looking for specific evidence of the problem.”​
    • “Inspect the state of the program as it executes and check the values.”​
    • “Do the values that you’re seeing match your expectation of what the value should be?”​
  4. Evaluation: How did looking for specific evidence lead you to a solution?

Additional Resources