Mirror, Mirror: Metacognition, Self-Reflection, and Student Success

Animated student in the library looking at her reflection

Fostering metacognition—the ability to think about one’s thinking processes—is a powerful tool for student success. As teachers, we play a pivotal role in guiding students toward becoming reflective learners who can navigate challenges with resilience and self-awareness.

What Is Metacognition?

Dr. Lynn Meltzer, founder and president of the Research Institute for Learning and Development and creator of SMARTS, explains:

“Metacognition at its core is thinking about how you think, learning about how you learn, and understanding who you are as a student.”

Metacognition goes hand-in-hand with self-reflection; by understanding how they learn best, students can develop personalized strategies for tackling complex tasks, managing time efficiently, and solving problems creatively.

Metacognition and Self-Reflection

Encouraging self-reflection in the classroom involves providing intentional opportunities for students to pause, evaluate, and articulate their learning experiences. Here are four of our favorite ways to foster self-reflection.

  • One-Minute Reflections
    Dedicate a minute at the end of a lesson for students to silently reflect on what they’ve learned. This brief pause allows them to consolidate their thoughts and consider the key takeaways. Encourage them to jot down a quick note or mentally summarize the main points. Sharing reflections with a partner or the whole class afterward can enhance the learning experience.
  • Exit Tickets
    Use exit tickets as a quick and targeted self-reflection tool. Ask students to respond to questions like “What was the most challenging aspect of today’s lesson?” or “What new understanding do you have after today’s activities?” This concise reflection at the end of a class helps students process information and identify areas where they may need additional support or clarification.
  • Encourage self-assessment
    Teach students how to evaluate their work and provide constructive feedback to themselves. Using Top 3 Hits, a SMARTS strategy from Unit 7 Self-Monitoring and Checking, students can check for their most common errors in previously graded assignments. As a result, they generate a list of their personal Top 3 Hits to look for in future assignments. Check out our blog series on Top 3 Hits, which includes teaching tips and a free download of the lesson.
  • MetaCOG Surveys and Toolkit
    Self-reflection, a key component of the MetaCOG Surveys process, is essential for students to think metacognitively, understand their strengths and challenges, and begin to plan their future strategy use. Once students complete the MetaCOG surveys and review their profiles, teachers are encouraged to build time for independent student reflection or small-group/whole-class discussions.

Creating opportunities for self-reflection allows students to think about their learning experiences, identify what strategies work best for them, and evaluate their progress toward achieving their goals.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

About the Author

Caitlin Vanderberg, Ed.M., is a SMARTS Associate and an Educational Specialist. She leads the development and piloting of the MetaCOG Surveys & Toolkit and provides academic support to elementary and middle school students with learning, attention, and executive function challenges. Before joining ResearchILD in 2020, Caitlin worked as an assistant elementary school teacher and with many arts education programs. Caitlin holds an Ed.M. in Mind, Brain, and Education from Harvard University Graduate School of Education.