2019 Year of Reflective Teaching - February 2019

By: Kem Saichaie, Ph.D., Associate Director, Learning and Teaching Support
The midpoint of any term is an important milestone in the cycle of a class. Instructors and students have come to anticipate (and dread) the “midterm” for a variety of reasons (e.g., test preparation for both populations). Reflection often occurs (un)intentionally when preparing to write, grade, and review results to tests and quizzes. During this process, both instructors and students may wonder what can done differently to positively influence the “second half” of the term to change outcomes for students. 

Bransford, Brown, and Cocking’s (2000) seminal work on student learning suggests that it is difficult to support metacognitive activities in the classroom nor can it be distilled to a “instructional recipe” (p. 21). So how can this be done in an efficient, effective, and evidence-based manner? In this month’s post, we share some strategies that promote reflection for student learning. 

A Brief Background on Metacognition

Reflection engages metacognitive processes in the mind (Millis, 2016). Commonly summarized as “thinking about thinking,” metacognition has many moving parts. Schraw, Crippen, and Hartley (2006) synthesized metacognition into two primary domains: knowledge of cognition (awareness of abilities as a learner) and regulation of cognition (planning, monitoring, and evaluating learning efforts). Metzger et al. (2018) posit that students, particularly those who are new to a field of study (e.g., first-year students), may be unaware of “the reflection skills needed to become a self-directed learner” (p. 88). For reference, a self-directed learner is one who consciously makes decisions about what and how they learn (Gureckis & Markant, 2012). 

Thinking Like A….

Part of the metacognitive task instructors would like students to engage in is “thinking like an expert would/does” (e.g., think like a chemist, think like an economist, think like a linguist). However, instructors may overlook their “expert blindspot” (Ambrose et al., 2010), which is the culmination of years and years of study and focus often obscured by teaching content to those who are learning it anew or for the first time. Developing metacognitive opportunities into course learning experiences is an important component instructors can embed into their teaching practice (Ambrose et al., 2010; Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).

Teaching Metacognitive Strategies

Researchers suggest that teaching students about learning will help them develop the thinking habits and skills valued in the discipline (Tanner, 2012). Instructors can foster metacognition by intentionally integrating them into their teaching practices and culture within a classroom. To start, there are three areas to encourage metacognition while learning: planning (preparing to learning), monitoring (actions during the learning process), and evaluating (reflecting on success of actions during the learning process. 

The table below is adapted from Tanner (2012) and has range of strategies to promote metacognition from the very practical (e.g., where do I sit to best support my learning?) to performance-based (What questions did I not answer correctly? How did my answer compare with the suggested correct answer?). 






The Course

How does success in this course relate to my career goals?


In what ways is the teaching in this course supportive of my learning?How could I maximize this?

What advice would I give a friend about how to learn the most in this course?

Class period

Where should I sit and what should I be doing (or not doing) to best support my learning during class?

What questions are arising for me during the class session? Am I writing them down somewhere?

What do I need to actively go and do now to get my questions answered and my confusions clarified?

Learning activity and/or homework

How much time do I need to complete the task?

What strategies am I using that are working well or not working well to help me learn?

To what extent did I successfully accomplish the goals of the task?

Assessment (eg quiz, test)

How much time do I plan on studying? Over what period of time and for how long each time I sit down do I need to study?

Which confusions remain and how am I going to get them clarified?

What questions did I not answer correctly? Why? How did my answer compare with the suggested correct answer?

More on Metacognition

For a self-contained and concise overview with additional strategies on reflection in the classroom, Barbara Millis’s (2016) Using Metacognition to Promote Learning. Soon CEE will also have a Just-In-Time-Teaching (JITT) resource on metacognition for instructors and students. Existing JITT resources

Request a Reflective Teaching Journal 

As you set out on teaching post-midterm, what is one goal that you have? How will you monitor it? How will you know it is effective? Can you integrate one of the suggestions in the table above  during a lab, class period, or studio session? By capturing these goals in writing, you begin a process that is more likely to persist beyond the first few days of the year. Let CEE support your reflection with a free reflective journal so that you can capture your insights about your teaching. 

If you would like a reflective journal, complete the this form and we will send you one via campus mail.

Request a Journal


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. John Wiley & Sons.

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A., & Cocking, R. (1999). How people learn: Mind, brain, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Research Council.

Gureckis, T. M., & Markant, D. B. (2012). Self-directed learning: A cognitive and computational perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(5), 464-481.

Metzger, K. J., Smith, B. A., Brown, E., & Soneral, P. A. (2018). SMASH: A Diagnostic Tool to Monitor Student Metacognition, Affect, and Study Habits in an Undergraduate Science Course. Journal of College Science Teaching, 47(3).

Millis, B. J. (2016). Using Metacognition to Promote Learning. IDEA Paper# 63. IDEA Center, Inc.

Schraw, G., Crippen, K. J., & Hartley, K. (2006). Promoting self-regulation in science education: Metacognition as part of a broader perspective on learning. Research in science education, 36(1-2), 111-139.

Tanner, K. D. (2012). Promoting student metacognition. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 11(2), 113-120.

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