Metacognition and cognitive self-regulation – Developing student prompts

In working on my project ideas and study for my critical reflection subject, I have been exploring the idea of how to facilitate greater depths of critical reflection in my own students and I have been questioning what it takes to facilitate the development of this. What scaffolds and curriculum structures are required to increase metacognition and self-regulated cognition?

Metacognition is one of those terms that has had one theorist after another proceed to try and provide a succinct definition for it without success when it comes to the succinctness of such as definition.  Kitchener (1983) points out in her article ‘Cognition, Metacognition, and Epistemic Cognition: A Three-Level Model of Cognitive Processing’ that metacognition definitions can include any combination of and inclusion of such words as: “‘cognitive monitoring’, ‘executive processes’, ‘self-communication’, and ‘knowledge about knowledge’” (p. 222).  Kitchener (1983) included the word ‘monitoring’ in much of her article, which guides my direction somewhat in considering the kinds of prompts I might need to think about in terms of facilitating metacognition in my own students.

On the Tools of the Mind website, they define self-regulation like this:

“Self-regulation is a critical competency that underlies the mindful, intentional, and thoughtful behaviors of younger and older children alike. The term self-regulation (sometimes also called executive function) refers to the capacity to control one’s impulses, both to stop doing something, if needed (even if one wants to continue doing it) and to start doing something, if needed (even if one doesn’t want to do it).” (Tools of the Mind, 2014)


So more than being able to monitor one’s own cognitive processes, it is essential that students learn the skills to make adjustments when they are needed as well.  Just like in the book I recently finished, including a experience-based account of The Choice Map, I want students to be able to recognise when their learning processes and thoughts are not on track to goal and outcome success and be able to adjust it accordingly.  The question on how to do this is what I am pondering and reflecting on as I read further into metacognitive prompts and critical reflection.

Metacognitive knowledge is defined as:

“[...]one’s stored knowledge or beliefs about oneself and others as cognitive agents, about tasks, about actions or strategies, and about how all these interact to affect the outcomes of any sort of intellectual enterprise.” (Flavell, 1979, p. 906)

I’ll also consider what part metacognitive knowledge will play in the overall facilitation of critical reflection and metacognition.


Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive–developmental inquiry. American psychologist34(10), 906.

Kitchner, K. S. (1983). Cognition, metacognition, and epistemic cognitionHuman development26(4), 222-232.

Tools of the Mind. (2014, ). Self-Regulation. Retrieved April 16, 2014, from Tools of the Mind:

Strategies for developing successful thinking students

Whilst raiding the teacher reference section at school I came across a great book called ‘Thinking Strategies for Student Achievement: Improving learning across the curriculum, K-12‘ that outlines 30 strategies for enhancing the level, purpose and experience students have with thinking.  I have a keen interest in metacognition and assisting students to become more aware of their thinking processes, as indicated in other blog posts, however, the problem is what strategies to use.  So when I came across this book I was hopeful that it would equip me with the tools for implementing appropriate strategies with my own students to facilitate increased reflection.

Here are some of the strategies that I already use and how I perceive it to be increasing my students’ thinking skills:

  • Graphic organisers – these are fantastic skills for breaking down a task, a text or a concept.  Breaking down and compartmentalising sections of these require students to demonstrate critical thinking in categorising the elements into each section of the graphic organiser.
  • Jigsaw – a jigsaw activity is when students are numbered and then they discuss a question, concept or critically reflect on something and discuss with starting group and then break off into groups that are all the same numbers.  Within this new group the information is shared on what their original groups discussed and so each student collects a new understanding and new perspective that they will then take back to their original group.  This kind of activity requires a lot of thought and processing of thoughts expressed by various other students in discussions.
  • KWL chart – a KWL chart is for students to reflect on their background knowledge under the ‘K’ for know.  After reflecting on their background knowledge, students need to reflect on the gaps that still exist in their knowledge of a particular topic that is being addressed in class.  The ‘W’ stands for want to know and then the ‘L’ represents the outcomes and new knowledge and skills gained that students can identify upon reflection at the end of a unit.

I thought forward to reading this book in its entirety as it seems like it will be a very practical tool for helping me develop ways of integrating more intentional opportunities for reflection into lessons at school.


Nessel, D. D., & Graham, J. M. (2006). Thinking strategies for student achievement: Improving learning across the curriculum, K-12. SAGE.

My Modes and Models of Reflection – Modelling for others

In order to facilitate greater levels of critical reflection in my colleagues and students, I’m aware that I may need to model it in a highly explicit way that is both transparent and effective in the outputs it produces, e.g. clear goals for moving forward.  My critical reflections are currently in the mode of blog posts on this very blog and don’t particularly take any one set format for how write or why but tend to be very informal reflections on what I am learning and thinking about and how I could use it in my future teaching and learning.  What if I were to adopt a particular scaffold, model or format for my blog posts that are intended to be critical reflections on something?  What would that look like?

Curating lots of research and resources over the last few weeks on critical reflection and models of reflection has culminated in a Pinterest board of many different diagrams that outline the work of such researchers as Gibbs (1988), Kolb (1984), Dewey (1938), Schon (1983), Eby (1992) and many more adaptions from work of other educators and philosophers.  Reflecting on these models, I might adapt one or more to help shape my blog posts more effectively.

Gibbs’ (1988) model of reflective practice initiates the following 6 steps: description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion and a question about future iterations.  To expand on these steps, the description is specifically based on an event or episode so it could be that I might reflect on a particular lesson at school or professional development session.  The second step is to reflect on the feelings generated during said event or episode, as well as to consider the thoughts that went with those feelings.  If it was a particularly difficult lesson where everything went wrong then I would probably be feeling frustrated and thinking ‘there has to be a more effective way of doing this’.  The process would continue to be scaffolded by this model and the questions it poses, but my question is, does it prompt my thinking and critical reflection enough?

Schon (1983) is even more simplified than Gibbs (1988) so I’m not sure that it would be sufficient enough as a scaffold for myself or my students, however, it is possible that it may work as a foundational stepping stone in developing more detailed consideration of stages in critical reflection.  I could utilise the three stages emphasised in Schon’s model in the first few lessons on critical reflection with students and then progress to another model that facilitates more depth in the reflections.

Healey and Jenkins (2000) outline how Kolb’s experiential learning theory can be applied as a model for critical reflection and what I found particularly useful and practically applying the model was the set of questions for each stage that the authors used in their discussion paper.  The summary of this can be seen in Figure 4 of the discussion paper and it is especially effective in its breakdown of pre-experience, within experiences, post-experience and consideration of substitute experiences.  I think this is a model I would love to use when doing action research cycles or critical reflection for a very specific purpose but it may be too much for the classroom.

There is still much work to be done in order to assist my colleague and students in becoming reflective practitioners and learners, however, studying critical reflection alongside organisational theories is proving very valuable in equipping me with the skills to integrate more scaffolds and plans for reflective practice.


Healey, M. & Jenkins, A. (2000) Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory and Its Application in Geography in Higher EducationJournal of Geography, 99, pp.185-195

Kodesia, S. (2013, August 16). JCU Workplace Educators Resource Package: Reflective Practice. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from James Cook Univeristy Australia:

Schön, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic Books

How can I get my students to think for themselves?

This question is one I’m sure many teachers have asked themselves on a daily basis.  I teach at a school with wonderful students and great academic success, however, I don’t see my students self-regulating their learning and demonstrating an understanding of their thought processes very much for themselves.  I hear questions in almost every lesson from students along the lines of: “Miss, what to we have to do?”, “What’s the answer to this question?”, “Can you tell me what to write for this ____ please Miss?” and other variations of the same.  Answering these questions is frustrating, I will admit, but to spark their curiosity and get their thought process self-regulating, I will ask them a question back and leave them to ponder it a little more.  What else can I do to help students understand their own thought processes more?

At school, we utilise scaffolds a lot such as the FILIRUC, KWL chart, Venn diagrams and so many more. (I have got a list below of some of my favourite scaffolds and have a Pinterest board of graphic organisers that have similar scaffolds on it.)  Are scaffolds enough to promote self-regulation and metacognition, without spoon-feeding?  Cuevas, H. M., Fiore, S. M., & Oser, R. L. (2002) conducted research on scaffolding cognition and metacognition for learners and discovered that “diagrams effectively scaffolded participants’ metacognition, improving their metacomprehension accuracy (i.e., their ability to accurately monitor their comprehension)” (p. 433).  However, their study goes on to explore the role of scaffolding more and identifies that when it comes to knowledge transfer diagrams as scaffold are effective but are limited when trying to facilitate students’ mastery of information.  So this continues to pose the question, what will help facilitate the development of student cognition and metacognition?

Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, & Chinn (2007) take a slightly different approach in their research but still look at the concept of scaffolding.  They look at the different impacts that direct guidance instruction and minimally guided instruction has on the learning of students. Their research explicitly analyses the impact of research conducted by Kirscher, Sweller and Clark (2006) who concluded that “minimally guided instructional approaches are ineffective and inefficient” (p. 99).  However, as is pointed out by Hmelo-Silver et al. (2007), there are flaws in this conclusion as such learning methodologies as project-based learning and inquiry-based learning are minimal in the explicit instruction given but I have seen the metacognition and outcomes produced through both of these and they are certainly not ineffective or inefficient.

More reflection on these ideas and perhaps a cycle of action research will be necessary to make my own conclusions I feel.

My favourite scaffolds


Cuevas, H. M., Fiore, S. M., & Oser, R. L. (2002). Scaffolding cognitive and metacognitive processes in low verbal ability learners: Use of diagrams in computer-based training environmentsInstructional Science30(6), 433-464.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Duncan, R. G., & Chinn, C. A. (2007). Scaffolding and achievement in problem-based and inquiry learning: A response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006)Educational Psychologist42(2), 99-107.

A book that will change a teacher’s life

I’ve just finished reading a book entitled ‘Teaching that changes lives: 12 Mindset tools for igniting the love of learning’ by Dr Marilee Adams.  When I started the book I thought it was great, when I was halfway through it I was thinking it a fantastic example of critical reflection in an extended narrative.  However, when I reached the end I knew it was a book that could potentially change lives of not only students but of the teachers who read it, just like is described in the book itself.  The book is a recount of a very discouraged young teacher who cannot work with her colleague, with whom she shares a class, and who is constantly frustrated with how to engage her students.  She is at breaking point and ready to quit teaching all together, a career she had once been so passionate about.  This was me as well only 3-4 years ago, ready to quit the career I had worked so hard to get into and had dreamt of my entire schooling life.

Marilee Adams perfectly writes the story of Emma, the young teacher, and how she goes from this discouraged teacher with a negative mindset, to a passionate and successful teacher in her work with her students and with her colleagues.  The main tool to her transformation and that of her students’, The Choice Map.  This tool provided a set of questions and a clear and explicit framework for transforming from a critical mindset, known as the Judger mindset, and into the positive and productive Learner mindset.  How Emma and her colleague Carmen learned from this map and used it in their professional and personal lives brought about radical change and transformation.

One of the aspects I loved the most about the book was that it was written as a recount critical reflection and constantly reinforced good practice in developing deep critical reflective habits.  Its so much about questioning and it came down to these five essential questions:

  1. What do I want – for both myself and others?
  2. Am I in Learner mindset or Judger mindset right now?
  3. Am I listening with Learner ears or Judger ears?
  4. What assumptions am I making?
  5. Who do I choose to be in this moment?

These are some of the valuable points I highlighted in the book:

“Learner mindset is more positive, open, and accepting, while Judger mindset is more negative, closed, and critical”. (p. 40)


“After we’ve examined our beliefs, we can choose to change them and one way to do that is by changing the questions we ask ourselves.” (p. 82)


“…we can’t focus our full attention on learning or doing anything that requires complex thought until our basic needs are met.  One of our basic needs is a sense of belonging, which comes from feeling valued by people and by ourselves.” (pg. 83)


This book is one I highly recommend!  It is a wonderful read and so passionate and inspiring.  Check out some more about the book and its author at


Adams, M. G. (2013). Teaching that Changes Lives: 12 Mindset Tools for Igniting the Love of Learning. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Facilitating student metacognition and reflection

A question I’ve asked myself often since becoming a teacher, but even more so since I became a critical reflector, is “how do I assist students to recognise their thoughts processes and harness it to their own learning benefit?”.  It’s not easy when they are still developing cognitively and are still developing their awareness of how their brain works but I think if I keep that in mind it is a great place to start, understanding how the brain works in different situations, but particularly when learning.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading into the facilitation of student metacognition and critical reflection and come across many different ideas from a range of researchers.

Jenson (2011) wrote an article entitled Promoting self-regulation and critical reflection through writing students’ use of electronic portfolio’ and she researched critical reflection in first-year writing courses that utilised an electronic portfolio system.  The study was very in-depth and thorough in the sample of students used and its methods. The author identified that the depth of critical reflection demonstrated by first-year students showed a great deficiency in self-regulation, therefore, the aim of her research was to identify ways to facilitate increased depth reached within written reflections.  A series of surveys designed by the author, “designed to explicitly reveal to students what they were and were not doing to reach their writing goals; they were intended to help create self-regulated learners” (p.53) were implemented as activities to be completed on the day of handing in an assessment task.  I love this idea and would very much love to implement this in my own school.

Analysis conducted on the word count of student reflections focused on six categories that pertained to their depth level.  These categories ranged from reflections that only identified a task by name to reflections demonstrating self-regulation and real-life application within multiple contexts.  I’m not sure that looking at word count is very helpful in the overall study but what the author also looked at was the depth of the reflections and she rated them based on links they made to learning outcomes and different contexts, as well as the language of self-regulation they used.  I found it very helpful and would definitely utilise the method myself.

“[Excellent reflective statements] …relate practice or experience to an understanding of learning; demonstrate an ability to link course work to practice; give insight, with examples, as to how learning has taken place or standards have been met; and demonstrate an ability to project future short-term and long-term goals.” ~ Jill Jenson


Quinten and Smallbone (2010) had a different approach also related, however, to assessment.  Their idea of how to best facilitate student reflection looked at the quality and types of feedback provided to students as a catalyst for their critical reflection.  They had this to say about reflective students: “A reflective student will practise and demonstrate transferable self-knowledge, based on a questioning approach to themselves, their situation and the roles of others, in order to create a new and different frame of reference” (p.126).  They looked at Gibbs (1988) model which looked a like the image below, taken from page 126).

Gibbs 1988When the authors implemented their methodology with students to look at the impact of feedback on critical reflection for students they asked the questions: “What do I feel about this feedback?”; “What do I think about this feedback?”; and, “Based on this feedback what actions could I take to improve my work for another assignment?”.  I think this is a great idea as students often get feedback on assignments and don’t do anything with it but if they are encouraged to use it they may make more intentional goals towards improving.

There is a lot more research on methods and strategies for implementing student critical reflection so I will make an effort to summarise it more in a visual way.


Jenson, J. (2011). Promoting self-regulation and critical reflection through writing students’ use of electronic portfolio. International Journal of ePortfolio,1(1), 49-60.

Quinton, S., & Smallbone, T. (2010). Feeding forward: using feedback to promote student reflection and learning–a teaching modelInnovations in Education and Teaching International47(1), 125-135.