Reflection and Metacognition (In A Nutshell)

I was surprised to discover that my notes for this section were much more limited, and consequently this overview is a bit shorter than the others, and in places more specific. Again, the specific supporting citations will reappear later in the longer version, which of course I’ll post here when I’m done with it. Meanwhile, let me know if I’m missing (or misrepresenting) anything.

A fifth fundamental property of constructivist learning environments is that they support reflection and metacognition.

To constructivists, reflection is a powerful mechanism for meaning-making, particularly as students sort out relationships between the actions they take, the consequences of their actions, and other variables affecting their experiences. Metacognition, the practice of thinking about one’s own thinking (including decision making and strategies), is also a powerful tool for students to promote their own cognitive development.

It’s no surprise, then, that constructivists call for learning environments which embrace reflective thinking, as opposed to prescriptive thinking – environments that support (or require) reflection on experience and reflection on action rather than mimicry of the teacher’s thinking. Many theorists suggest that good learning environments encourage the sort of automatic reflection that occurs as students encounter new experiences, measure them against their past, and make a decision about how to act. Still, these theorists also suggest that educators support students in practicing conscious and explicit reflection as well. This may be one of the most important roles a teacher can play in a constructivist learning environment. Ideally, a learning environment will include formal processes for such reflection and such support from the teacher.

As with other elements of constructivist learning environments, it is best if the processes of reflection and metacognition also hold some real-world relevance for students – or even for society. For instance, some theorists have suggested that reflection is an ideal way to learn ethics.

A video game or simulation can offer many opportunities for reflection, both in game and out of them game. A good game can provide the sort of automatic reflection constructivists are interested in, and (particularly with the support of a teacher) game playing is an opportunity to reflect on experience and actions taken. Such a period of reflection can be as important (and take up as much time) as the game playing itself. Students also engage in a manner of automatic metacognition as they work to sort out the rules of a game. Some games also include meta-rules that allow students to change the rules of the game. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORGPs), in particular, offer opportunities for groups of students to reflect on the consequences of their in-game actions – perhaps using formal processes such as after action reviews.