Planning and Assessing Metacognitive Self-reflection in Courses

This page provides a model for incorporating metacognitive self-reflection into the structure of the course. The example used is a research practicum for advanced undergraduate students, many of whom still may not be familiar with this kind of reflection. 

By following a plan, the instructor models and reinforces the relevance of these exercises. Responses throughout the semester help scaffold and support the improvement of metacognitive skills. 

Sample Course Plan

Course title: Collaborative Research Project

Course description: In this core course of the Studium Individuale, students will work in teams to execute a collaborative research project addressing a question of social significance during the semester. The instructor will assist students, working in teams, to select a suitable topic and in the organization of the research process, but overall the process is led and carried out by the students. The teams will work closely with the instructor and/or other experienced researchers, who will help guide and support the research.

In the syllabus: 

Self-Reflections Diary (10% of final mark)

One of our course objectives is to allow students to reflect productively on the research process. Metacognitive (thinking about thinking) self-reflection can lead to our being more creative, self-directed, and productively communicative. With this in mind, we will incorporate several self-reflective exercises into our session meetings and will respond to one prompt near the end of the research process asking you to reflect on the experience as a whole. The submission of the entire collection of entries along with the final report will be scored individually (10% of the final mark). The diaries will NOT be scored for grammar, tone, or style. 

These reflections will give you space to think through what is going well with the research, but more often will be about specific issues that have arisen. You will receive feedback on the self-reflections completed in our session meetings, and you will save and submit these responses in a diary at the end of the semester. 

The diary will be submitted with the final report and will be made up of your 3-4 self-reflections entries from our sessions (including instructor comments) and one additional entry to a specific prompt distributed by the instructor after our last session meeting.  


The sample prompts below are entitled with a main objective, though each one supports multiple principles of metacognitive self-reflection.

Prompt 1: Learning Objectives

Introduce the learning objectives of the self-reflection diary in the first class:

The research process is cyclical, messy, and often frustrating to even experienced researchers. One of our course learning objectives is to experience the research process. Another objective is for all of us to collaborate on the efficient and realistic management of our tasks and time. With these objectives in mind, we will take time in each of our four remaining class meetings and once on your own to self-reflect on the group research process.

The literature on teaching and learning has shown that self-reflection can be useful to help us become more self-directed, mindful learners and to make sense of our learning. Thus, we will respond to a specific self-reflection prompts that incorporate various principles of metacognitive (“thinking about thinking”) self-reflection.

There are other kinds of reflection, but metacognitive reflection asks you to think about how you think, study, work, and learn.

Prompt 1

Principles of metacognitive self-reflection: planning, authentic

Look at the following steps of our research project:

  • Reviewing the literature
  • Selecting a method
  • Collecting information
  • Analysis
  • Writing the report

Now write for about 10 minutes about any of the following:

  • Which of the above do you feel the most confident that you’ll be able to do well? Why are you confident about those tasks over others?
  • Which of the tasks are you looking forward to? Why those in particular?
  • Which are you most wary about? Why do you think you are concerned about those?

Prompt 2: Social

Prompt 2

Principles of metacognitive self-reflection: monitoring, midst of process, social

[after a break or near the end of the meeting, 3 minutes for writing word/phrase, 5 minutes for partnered ‘think aloud,’ 7 minutes for writing = 20 minutes total]


  1. Write down one word or a short phrase, or draw an image, which reflects how you feel the research process is going for you personally.
  2. Pair with someone from another research group and do a ‘think aloud.’ Each person has 90 seconds to explain everything that comes to mind about what they think and feel about the research process, using your word, phrase, or drawing as a starting point. Please try to keep talking until your 90 seconds are up. If it’s your turn to listen, refrain from interrupting or verbally responding to your partner for those 90 seconds. I’ll time this for you and let you know when to switch.
  3. Free write for 7 minutes about the experience of reflecting on the research process and of hearing another’s reflection. You may want to consider:

  • Why do you feel the way you do about the process at this point?
  • What was it like to hear about someone else’s experience?
  • How are your and your partner’s experiences similar or different from each other? 

Prompt 3: Monitoring

Prompt 3

[at the end of the meeting 10 minutes writing, 10 minutes debriefing = 20 minutes]

Principles of metacognitive self-reflection: monitoring, authentic, midst of process


Now that we are moving into or are already immersed in the analysis phase, you may be feeling excited. You may also be feeling overwhelmed, confused, or frustrated

You may find it useful to reflect on how much you and your group have accomplished so far, in addition to clearly identifying what you still don’t ‘know’. Write for 5 minutes each (I’ll keep time) on the following two points:

a. What’s one thing have you learned already? How did you find it out?

b. What’s one question you don’t yet have a clear the answer to? How will you continue to seek an answer?

Finally, If you feel comfortable, share with the group.

Prompt 4: Authentic

Prompt 4

Principles of metacognitive self-reflection: monitoring, midst of process

This is our last class meeting. You’ll now have about 2 months to complete your group project. This reflection is meant to help you identify the strengths of your team’s collaborative process and what you can do personally to keep contributing.

Take 10 minutes to respond to the following questions.

  1. Do you know specifically how you will contribute to the research and to the teamwork over the next 2 months? What will you be doing?
  2. What is going well in terms of your team’s collaboration? How will you try to keep doing that?
  3. What is not going particularly well regarding your team’s collaboration? How might you address this individually and/or as a team?

Prompt 5: Creative

Prompt 5

Principles of metacognitive self-reflection: evaluation, creative

[on students' own time, due in the self-reflection research diary, recommend about 40-50 minutes total]


Read through your first four self-reflection ‘diary entries’ and (if relevant) my responses to them.

Now, spend about 30 minutes crafting a response that reflects upon your experience of our group research project.

This response may take any form. Of course, you may choose to write, or you may choose to draw, record a song or a dance, or anything else. If your response is entirely non-verbal, please include a very brief statement (2-5 sentences) to accompany it.

Feel free to reflect on anything that comes to mind, but you may want to address one or some the following:

  1. What are you most proud of or what do you think turned out particularly well?
  2. What was the biggest challenge of the research process? Why do you think that was difficult for you?
  3. What about the research process or project has surprised you, or differed from your initial expectations?
  4. Imagine 6 months from now, what do you think you will remember about the research process and/or the collaborative experience? Why do you think that will stick with you?

Assessing and responding to student reflections 

Whether or not you decide to assess students’ reflective exercises as part of their grade, you may want to respond to students or give them feedback to help them build their skills. In this case, the instructor wrote 2-5 sentence responses to each of the entries handed in throughout the semester. She often asked questions to encourage students to think more deeply about their experience of the learning process. 

The following simple rubric was included in the course syllabus:

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?

If you want to assess how ‘deep’ or ‘authentic’ a reflection manages to be, Bagopal and Montplaisir (2009) offer useful categorizations of written student reflections. They identify two continuums on which students’ (in this case, written) responses to metacognitive reflection exercises can vary. They can be affectively close or distant and conceptually close or distant to the subject matter at hand. When a student expresses both personal connections to and cognitive understanding of course material, they are able to express their own authentic, metacognitive reflection. In contrast, a student who expresses neither is only writing superficially.

Table: Characteristics of written discourse collected in an undergraduate biology course (Reproduced from Balgopal and Montplaisir 2009:147)

CategoryCharacteristics of Written Discourse
SuperficialLittle to no evidence of personal or cognitive connections; disconnected ideas showing no clear conceptual or affective understanding of the issue
SubjectiveDiscloses personal (affective) connections but does not necessarily demonstrate conceptual understanding
ObjectiveDemonstrates conceptual understanding but does not necessarily disclose personal connections/prior experience
AuthenticDemonstrates and integrates conceptual understanding and personal connections and behaviors relating to the issue


Balgopal, M.M. and Montplaisir, L. (2009) “Meaning making: What reflective essays reveal about biology students’ conceptions about natural selection.” Instructional Science. 39:137–169.