Guide on Encouraging Students to Reflect on Their Own Learning

As an educator specializing in special education and K–12 tutoring, I discovered that students often received instruction on what to learn but were seldom taught how to learn. This lack of guidance had the potential to leave them feeling stuck, anxious, and disengaged. In order to empower students to become independent learners, I wrote a book called The Independent Learner.

Metacognition refers to a student’s understanding of their own thinking process. By developing metacognitive skills, students can self-regulate and direct their thoughts, behaviors, and actions towards their goals. Starting as early as kindergarten, teachers can teach students how to enhance their metacognitive abilities by engaging in processes such as planning, monitoring, and evaluating their learning progress. By the time students reach third grade, they can begin utilizing these strategies with greater independence and freedom of choice.


When students begin working on a task without a plan, they often feel confused and overwhelmed. This lack of organization can lead to giving up easily, getting distracted, or veering off track. By taking the time to plan, students can avoid these issues. Planning may involve activities like previewing the task, setting goals, deciding on an approach, and connecting the new information to previously acquired knowledge. The following strategies can be helpful in the planning process.

Building prior knowledge: Teachers can assist students in building a foundation of prior knowledge by making connections between new information and what students already know. This can involve activities such as group brainstorming to answer a question, watching introductory videos or demonstrations, or discussing relevant pictures or objects. Having a strong background of knowledge allows students to make accurate predictions and prioritize information during lessons.

Goal setting: Encouraging students to set goals and track their progress leads to a 32 percent increase in achievement. Teachers can assist students in setting short-term goals related to the specific skills being learned, as well as considering the student’s long-term personal goals and values.

Planning the process: Many of us have experienced setting goals only to lose motivation and fail to follow through. To help students avoid this, teachers can guide them in thinking about the changes they need to make in their daily behavior and habits to bridge the gap between their current state and the desired outcome. Students can create a plan or checklist and use it to monitor their daily progress or the small steps towards their goal.


Students who struggle with monitoring their learning progress often struggle to know when to seek help or become overly dependent on their teachers to ensure they are on the right track. They may lack self-efficacy, which is the belief that their efforts will influence their outcomes, or fail to adjust their approach when it proves ineffective. When students engage in monitoring, they assess their level of understanding and evaluate whether the selected strategy is effective. The following strategies can aid in monitoring.

Metacognitive talk: When students are learning a new skill, teachers can model their thinking process by verbalizing their thoughts. This makes the thinking process visible for students and helps them develop the complex cognitive skills needed for a particular subject. Teachers can also encourage students to participate in discussions that contribute to knowledge construction, rather than merely demonstrating what they already know. Strategies such as think-pair-share or explaining their thinking process visually can aid students in comprehending that there are multiple approaches to problem-solving or task completion.

Analyze, prioritize, summarize: Students can learn various methods of summarizing information and identifying essential facts, details, and keywords. One strategy that students find enjoyable is creating a

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