The Self-Reflective Tool in our Metacognitive Toolbox

By David Veling

toolbox.04Outside of education, most adults may not talk much about metacognition, but it is likely to be an important aspect in their day-to-day life. If we think about metacognition as a toolbox, containing many different tools to help us understand how our mind works, one of the most important is self-reflection. When done well, self-reflection delves into our motivation and decision-making process and sheds light on misunderstanding and new learning. For many youth, this is a missing or underutilized tool, which often leads to repeated mistakes, misunderstandings, and missed opportunities in life, school and early career development. To help youth effectively apply self-reflection, we need to be able to point to clear applications and strategies of self-reflection.

In my own high school classrooms, students often repeated unsuccessful study strategies which led to consistently poor results. One young woman was relying solely on a test preparation strategy which centered on reviewing her notes. Regardless of the subject matter, type of test, or history of poor performance she did not adjust her strategy. To her, she was just studying the way she remembered being taught. Once she learned how to reflect on the process and results, she added discussion-based studying and her performance improved immediately. Continued reflection led to even further benefit when we reexamined her plan and added more use of practice questions. Developing a consistent practice of self-reflection creates the opportunity to generalize learned skills or strategies to new situations and contexts, which is especially valuable for youth seeking to build employment skills as they toil in their first or second jobs. Many of the youth with whom we work find themselves regretting short-sighted decisions to leave a job or internship early because of boredom or outside distraction. Pausing for reflection reframes their decision-making with a richer context and the time to identify relevance between their current work and future goals.

What does effective self-reflection look like?

    • It requires recognition of our personal strengths, weaknesses, and knowledge. To reflect accurately, we need to recognize what we do and know well and what we do not.
  • It requires critical analysis of personal perspective. This includes biases, prejudices, and assumptions, past experience or anything else that may influence our expectations
  • It assesses results, both positive and negative, as well as the strategies employed to achieve those results. Successes and failures can all be learning experiences if we take the time to closely and critically examine how and why certain results happened. This applies equally to those results we wish to duplicate going forward as well as those we would rather avoid.
  • It can take more than one form. Self-reflection is a multi-modal tool. It can look like meditation, writing letters to yourself, assessing long term future goals or checking in with to-do lists.
  • It is honest. Self-reflection goes nowhere if we cannot take a no-holds-barred look at our own choices or behavior. It requires us to recognize, and set aside temporarily, those factors that are outside of our control so that we can focus inward.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefit of self-reflection, but perhaps American educational reformer John Dewey expressed the value most succinctly when he wrote, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” Signal Success embraces this tenet and intentionally incorporates tools for self-reflection throughout the curriculum.

To Learn More:
Metacognition and Learning: Strategies for Instructional Design Metacognition and Student Learning in The Chronicle of Higher Education Learning by Thinking: Overcoming the Bias for Action through Reflection
Take a closer look at the Signal Success Curriculum



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