Engaging All Learners, Spotlight on Teaching

Teaching Metacognition through Critical Reflection: Strategies and Tools

by Katie Beres, Instructional Liaison, CTTL

Dr. Patti Clayton facilitated a workshop for the SLU community on May 7 on the topic of critical reflection. As a follow up to her workshop this article provides a summary of various metacognitive activities (including Clayton’s DEAL model) to support student learning.

What are metacognitive activities?

Metacognitive activities engage students to reflect on their thought processes: their learning, understanding, etc. The extent of the activity may range from a prompts framing the introduction and conclusion of a lecture or a stand-alone assessment activity.

Students who are more aware of how they engage with their learning experience are more committed to learning and can identify patterns in their behavior that either help or hinder their learning process. The ability to articulate their learning strategies, in turn, helps to refine and improve their behaviors to become more effective. Teaching metacognition is also an opportunity to explicitly discuss the philosophy behind decision-making in your discipline. Examples of types of metacognitive activities, models, and corresponding tools to facilitate them include:

Example Description Tool
One-minute paper One-minute reflective writing at the end of class to self-evaluate how effective he/she was at attending to the day’s lecture and activities. Paper tools (notecards, scrap paper)Online via a Google Form (email the link to  the class and view the responses in real time)
Assignment prompts Include specific learning goals at the beginning of an assignment. At the conclusion of the assignment, include a follow-up prompt that asks the student to self-assess her achievement of the learning goals for the assignment. Prompts included in assignments that ask students to identify their learning goals prior to completing the assignment and then self-assess following the completion of the assignment. Incorporate the instructions into your existing course materials and assignment prompts.
Post-feedback reflection Structured reflection time in-class after receiving feedback for a major assignment (like a paper or test). Create a paper handout or post a slide for students to view. Prompts engage students to identify the strategies they used to complete the assignment and then assess if the strategies were effective given the results. Example: Describe your approach to preparing for the exam (writing the paper). Based on the results or feedback I’ve given you, what will you continue to do vs. what might you change? Paper handoutsPresent prompts visually using a PPT slide or Prezi
Recurrent self-evaluation Students answer on-going questions about how they perceived their performance, effort, and breakthroughs in the intellectual and/or creative process before they receive evaluation and assessment feedback.  This process, when done over time (e.g., throughout the semester, after major projects, essays, etc.), allows students to articulate and actively monitor their growth, goals, and improvements along the way and then review self-evaluations cumulatively so as to target self-directed goals. Paper handoutsSurvey form (online or paper)


Decision-making documentation Ongoing reflection integrated into an individual or group course project which asks students to document their decision-making process and explain their rationale behind their choices—both what they did and what they chose not to do.  BlogVideo blog

Ask students to share their work and process via a Google Site


Prior knowledge and learning gap analysis with KWL Introduce concepts to students that often need to be unpacked in terms of students’ prior knowledge using the “KWL” format (Know, Want to know, and What you’ve learned):Know: What do students know about the topic/concept. Ask them to identify prior learning experiences, assumptions, etc.

Want to Know: When/where would you need to know about the topic/concept? (This answer includes what the instructor wants students to learn about the topic/concept.)

What You’ve Learned: (Debrief) Students share and reflect upon the gap between what they thought they knew, what they know now, and what they still need to know.

This series of questions trains students to identify their learning gaps as they learn a concept or begin a research project.

Google docOn the board in front of the class

As a self-directed assignment by students to help them explore unknown concepts

Document learning process with the DEAL Model The DEAL Model (Ash & Clayton, 2009) outlines a method for scaffolding a student’s thought process to guide examination of course concepts and learning experiences. The model outlines three steps: first objectively describe (D) the learning experience; second, examine (E) the experience through the lens of various course concepts; and lastly, articulate the learning (AL) that has occurred in the process. Paper handoutAssignment prompt

Utilize as an on-going journal activity with a blog or writing assignments


For further reading (and listening):