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Promoting Metacognition

Metacognition is the act of thinking about thinking and learning about learning. John Dewey said, “We don’t learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” We assume learners have these skills; however, we must often cultivate self-reflection or deeper thinking about the thinking process. This is especially true when hoping to promote a growth mindset or self-directed learning.

Here are several ways to foster a culture of metacognition (URI, 2017):  

  • Discussing metacognition, what it means, and why it is useful, encouraging a growth mindset related to self-regulated learning. 
  • Rewarding sustained effort, which may include allowing for revisions in course activities. 
  • Encouraging comparison of one’s own performance across time, as opposed to the comparison of one’s performance with the performance of others. 
  • Openly discussing and modeling problem-solving strategies, encouraging learners to do the same. 
  • Helping learners differentiate between cognitively-active and cognitively-passive strategies, such as reviewing notes vs. drawing related diagrams/charts (Stanger-Hall, 2002). 

Related strategies

  • Goal-setting (Paulson & Bauer, 2011): Coach learners to establish goals related to the assignment, exam, and/or content. Goal-setting encourages ownership of learning using three elements: planning, monitoring, and evaluating. Sample questions from Tanner (2012) include:  
    • “What are the goals of the class session going to be?” (Planning) 
    • “What insights am I having as I experience this class session?” (Monitoring) 
    • “What was today’s class session about?” (Evaluating) 
  • “Muddiest” Point: As an in-class activity, give learners a timed writing assignment to identify the most confusing or unclear part of the class material. Muddiest Point can encourage higher-order thinking as educators openly encourage learners to work through areas of confusion within a supportive learning environment (Tanner, 2012).  
  • Pre/Post Reflection and "Exam Wrappers": Rothwell (2009) describes wrappers as short-self-assessment activities to employ before and after learning activities (e.g., lecture, exam). Wrappers encourage learners to think about how they prepare for exams and to self-analyze strengths and weaknesses in order to self-adjust accordingly (Audette, 2016; Tanner, 2012; Sweetland Center for Writing, n.d.).  
    • Preparing for Exams: “How did you prepare for the exam?” (Audette & Saris-Baglama, 2016), or “What do I already know about this topic that could guide my learning?” (Tanner, 2012) 
    • Post-Exam Reflections: “Which questions did you find difficult to answer, and/or what kind of errors did you make on the exam?”, and “What will you do differently on the next exam?”  
  • Learning Journals: A daily, weekly, or periodic journal could help learners in reflecting on growth in knowledge, skills, or process across time (Tanner, 2012). 
  • Mind Mapping: Mind mapping supports visual learners in developing higher-order thinking. Learners may use mind maps to write notes, study concepts, assess knowledge retention, and prioritize learning content (Sweet, Blythe, & Carpenter, 2017). 


Audette, A., & Saris-Baglama, R. N. (2016). Exam reflections: Promoting metacognition and self-regulated learning. Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from  

Paulson, E. J., & Bauer, L. (2011). Goal setting as an explicit element of metacognitive reading and study strategies for college reading. NADE Digest 5(3), 41-49. Retrieved from  

Rothwell, K. (2009). Metacognition: Wrappers. Center for Scholarly Technology. Retrieved from

Sweet, C., Blythe, H., & Carpenter, R. (2017.) Mind mapping: A technique for metacognition. Encompass. Retrieved from  

Sweetland Center for Writing. (n.d.). Metacognition: Cultivating reflections to help students become self-directed learners. Retrieved from

Tanner, K. D. (2012). Approaches to biology teaching and learning. CBE: Life Sciences Education, 11, 113-120. Retrieved from  

University of Rhode Island. (2017). Metacognition and self-regulated learning. Metacognition. Retrieved from