Metacognitive Self-reflection FAQs

Can I use metacognitive self-reflection in my biology (or philosophy, engineering, literature, sociology or... ) course?

Yes! One of the strengths of this classroom techniques is that because the student’s experience and learning is the center of the activity, it can be used in courses in any subject or field. The literature on teaching and learning is rich with examples of how metacognitive skills can be built in courses from varied subjects such as biology (Tanner 2012), philosophy (Concepción 2004),  and many more (e.g. psychology, literature and geography in Chick et al 2009).

See the Metacognitive Self-Reflection Annotated Bibliography for the above resources and others.

My class time is limited. Which metacognitive self-reflection exercises are quick while still being useful?

If your aim is to cultivate a metacognitive environment or to build these skills in students who may not have much previous experience with them, short, recurring activities may actually be more effective than less frequent, more time consuming ones (like a retrospective reflection essay at the end of a unit or semester).

You may want to try modeling metacognitive self-reflection by explaining how you came to understand a particular concept or method, or even explaining why you choose to teach information or methods in particular ways.

Many of CIEL’s Classroom Assessment Techniques (or CATs, number 7 on this list of 10 metacognitive teaching strategies) take only a couple minutes, but can build an environment encouraging metacognitive thinking. Just a sample:

Method Description How To Use
Ticket-Out-The-Door  During last few minutes of class, students write response to a question or two about class concepts. Hand in as exit class. Review/read all before next class and use to clarify, correct or elaborate more for students.
One Minute Paper                                    During the last few minute of class, students write response to “Most important thing I learned today” and “What I understood the least today”. Review/read all before next class and use to clarify, correct or elaborate more for students.
Muddiest Point Similar to One-Minute Paper – but only ask students to describe what they didn’t understand during class and what they think might help them. Same as One-Minute Paper but if many students have same problem, reteach concept another way.

When I ask my students to reflect, they do so only in a limited or superficial way. How can I encourage them to reflect more deeply?

  • Train or scaffold metacognitive skills throughout semester
  • Make reflection more ‘authentic’ or during the process, in the context of what they’re learning
  • Model metacognitive thinking
  • Try making it more responsive or social
  • Make reflection anonymous, removing pressure to impress or meet expectations
  • Accept non-writing forms of reflection
  • Make time for reflection in the classroom instead of making it another ‘homework’ task that students feel the need to check off their “to do” list

How can I assess self-reflection or metacognitive exercises?

One option is to not assess or grade reflection exercises. There are many classroom techniques (see CATs in the question above about limited class time) that take just a few minutes and could be based on credit/no credit or not recorded at all.

If you do decide to grade a diary, a retrospective reflection at the end of of a larger project or an essay, communicate the metrics ahead of time. For example:

  • Will you be marking them credit/no credit for simply having handed something in?
  • Will you assess how deeply they reflect?
  • Will you assess change over time?

You may also want to provide a simple rubric so students will know how their self-reflection exercises will be assessed. Here’s an example of a very simple rubric for a diary of entries written throughout the semester of a research practicum course, but submitted at the end:

Self-Reflections Diary Rubric
Relevance (30%) Are the self-reflection responses relevant to the given prompts and were they submitted in a timely manner throughout the semester?
Content (50%) To what extent do the responses show an attempt at deep thinking about ‘thinking’, ‘learning’ and ‘researching’?
Form (20%) Are all the responses included in the diary?

For more ideas about responding to and assessing student metacognitive self-reflections, please see the page “Planning and Assessing Metacognitive Self-reflection in Courses”


Chick, N. L., Karis, T., and Kernahan C. (2009) Learning from Their Own Learning: How Metacognitive and Metaaffective Reflections Enhance Learning in Race-Related Courses. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 3(1),1-28. Available at: 

Concepción, D. W. (2004) Reading Philosophy with Background Knowledge and Metacognition. Teaching Philosophy 24(4), 351-368.

Tanner, K. D. (2012) Promoting Student Metacognition. CBE-Life Science Education. 11,113–120.
CIEL Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning at Vancouver Island University (2020) Ten Metacognitive Teaching Strategies. Available: