Wrapping Up the Semester: Two Ways to Capture Thoughts for Next Time

Thinking Allowed

Now that the semester is winding down it is important for you to take a few minutes to think about how your courses went – what worked well, what could use improvement, what new things would you like to try next time?

Here are two ways to capture your feelings and ideas about your courses so that you can recall what changes you would like to make prior to teaching these courses again.

1.Take Notes

The first way is easy – create a document or note and brainstorm ideas related to the course. Since I use Blackboard all the time, I create an “item” called “Notes for Next Time” and list things I would like to change. On this list I put everything from announcements I would like to tweak to clarification of research directions. I keep it at the top of my “Start Here” page, hidden from students, to make sure I see it right away when I roll the course.

“Notes for Next Time” can be left in the course all semester so that you can capture ideas as they occur to you throughout the term.

Here is an example:

Notes for Next Time

2. Reflect

The second way to ensure you capture your ideas for improving your courses is a little more formal.

Spend a few minutes reflecting on your course, mulling over the high points and the rocky roads, and capture those thoughts in a dedicated document.

Guiding questions on the “Instructor’s Course Reflection” form posted below will help you through the process.

Download the PDF, reflect, and respond honestly. Keep it with your syllabus or other course materials you plan to update for the next time you teach the course, and you will be able to easily remind yourself of what you want to change, focus on, or implement.

Teaching, like learning, is a process of continuous improvement. Hopefully these suggestions will help you meet your instructional goals.


Judith Littlejohn

Instructor’s Course Reflection Form


Checklist for Digital Content Accessibility

All digital content – on websites, in courses, in blogs, everywhere – must be accessible.

Accessibility is not difficult; it requires attention to detail and a bit of patience until you grow accustomed to using heading styles and alt tags. It can, however, be stressful if you feel that you have no idea what needs to be done or how to begin.

Here is what to check for in your courses, whether they are online, hybrid, hy-flex, or brick-and-mortar:

Text and Links:

  • All text is in a font size of at least 12 pt.
  • Only sans serif fonts are used throughout the content (such as Calibri or Arial).
  • All bulleted or ordered lists are designated using the editor toolbar (not dashes from your keyboard).
  • Text is not underlined unless it is a hyperlink.
  • Hyperlinks use descriptive text to provide meaning and context for links. (Links are not designated with text such as “read more” or “click here.”)
  • Text formatting (shape, color, and styling) is not used exclusively to convey information. Example: do not designate “homework assignments are red, quiz due dates are blue”. Instead, use, “homework assignments have red ‘hw’ indicators, quiz due dates have blue “Q” indicators.”


  • Headings have been created using heading styles.
  • A logical heading structure has been used so that subheadings have been designated and nested appropriately. (Follow an appropriate outline structure with headings.)


  • Images do not blink, flash or use sparkling animation.
  • All pictures, charts, and graphs that contain information or data also have alternate text or a text description that conveys the same information.
  • Images of text have been avoided except where a particular presentation of text as images is essential to the information being conveyed. If that happens, provide a text transcript of the text that is in the image.


  • Scanned image PDFs are not used.
  • Proper heading styles and structure have been used throughout all documents.
  • PowerPoint presentations have been created using templates with master slides.
  • Each slide in a deck has a unique title.
  • Accessibility checkers in programs such as Word and PowerPoint indicate that the content follows your intended reading order.
  • Documents (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.) are formatted and saved as HTML or PDF accessible.


  • Tables are used for tabular data, not for layout purposes.
  • Complex tables with merged or split cells have been broken down into smaller simple tables.
  • Tables include properly identified column and/or row headings.
  • Headings repeat on each page


  • Course can be navigated with only a keyboard.
  • Navigation menu items are consistent throughout the site.


  • Text and background color have sufficient contrast on all documents and site pages.
  • These color combinations are avoided: red/black, red/green, and blue/yellow.
  • Color alone is not used to indicate meaning. Example: You could not have a list of items and state that the items in red are overdue; they must also have a clear “late” indicator other than color.


  • All audio content includes transcripts.
  • All videos include synchronized, and correct, captions.

Check Your Content:

Once you have completed your course content, here are a few checks you can do to ensure your information is digitally accessible:

  • Try navigating your course with your keyboard. Can you do everything you would need to do as a student? Watch this keyboard accessibility video for more information.
  • Download a browser extension that will run an accessibility check. WebAIM’s WAVE tool works in Blackboard using Chrome or Firefox.
  • For Microsoft Word documents, select “Check Accessibility” to generate a report about the accessibility of your document. Google the version of Word that you are using to get instructions for accessing the tool. Watch this Productivity/Accessibility video from the Office of the Texas Governor for more info.
  • For PowerPoint presentations, select the “Outline” view to see the reading order of the text from your PowerPoint. (Using the pre-made PowerPoint templates typically ensures proper reading order.)
  • Try to highlight some text within your PDF documents. If it highlights, you’ll also want to see the Adobe Accessibility Report to ensure that the reading order in your document is correct.
  • Select the HTML view in your editor toolbar in Blackboard and check the semantic structure of your content. Are all of your headings appropriately identified?
  • Use a tool like the Paciello Group’s Colour Contrast Analyser to ensure that you have sufficient contrast between your text and background.




Checklist items are derived from Section 504 and Section 508 of the United States Rehabilitation Act, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, WCAG 2.0 requirements, Office of Civil Rights rulings involving online education, and principles outlined by the National Center on Universal Design for Learning.

Interactive checklist at Angelo State University

Website Accessibility Infographic from Digital Ink

Top image from Digital Ink

About Metacognition

Thinking about One’s Thinking |  Putting Metacognition into Practice   by Nancy Chick

Thinking about One’s Thinking

Metacognition is, put simply, thinking about one’s thinking.  More precisely, it refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of a) one’s thinking and learning, and b) oneself as a thinker and learner.

Initially studied for its development in young children (Baker & Brown, 1984; Flavell, 1985), researchers soon began to look at how experts display metacognitive thinking and how, then, these thought processes can be taught to novices to improve their learning (Hatano & Inagaki, 1986).  In How People Learn, the National Academy of Sciences’ synthesis of decades of research on the science of learning, one of the three key findings of this work is the effectiveness of a “‘metacognitive’ approach to instruction” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000, p. 18).

Metacognitive practices increase students’ abilities to transfer or adapt their learning to new contexts and tasks (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, p. 12; Palincsar & Brown, 1984; Scardamalia et al., 1984; Schoenfeld, 1983, 1985, 1991).  They do this by gaining a level of awareness above the subject matter: they also think about the tasks and contexts of different learning situations and themselves as learners in these different contexts.  When Pintrich (2002) asserts that “Students who know about the different kinds of strategies for learning, thinking, and problem solving will be more likely to use them” (p. 222), notice the students must “know about” these strategies, not just practice them.  As Zohar and David (2009) explain, there must be a “conscious meta-strategic level of H[igher] O[rder] T[hinking]” (p. 179).

Metacognitive practices help students become aware of their strengths and weaknesses as learners, writers, readers, test-takers, group members, etc.  A key element is recognizing the limit of one’s knowledge or ability and then figuring out how to expand that knowledge or extend the ability. Those who know their strengths and weaknesses in these areas will be more likely to “actively monitor their learning strategies and resources and assess their readiness for particular tasks and performances” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, p. 67).

The absence of metacognition connects to the research by Dunning, Johnson, Ehrlinger, and Kruger on “Why People Fail to Recognize Their Own Incompetence” (2003).  They found that “people tend to be blissfully unaware of their incompetence,” lacking “insight about deficiencies in their intellectual and social skills.” They identified this pattern across domains—from test-taking, writing grammatically, thinking logically, to recognizing humor, to hunters’ knowledge about firearms and medical lab technicians’ knowledge of medical terminology and problem-solving skills (p. 83-84).  In short, “if people lack the skills to produce correct answers, they are also cursed with an inability to know when their answers, or anyone else’s, are right or wrong” (p. 85). This research suggests that increased metacognitive abilities—to learn specific (and correct) skills, how to recognize them, and how to practice them—is needed in many contexts.


Putting Metacognition into Practice

In “Promoting Student Metacognition,” Tanner (2012) offers a handful of specific activities for biology classes, but they can be adapted to any discipline. She first describes four assignments for explicit instruction (p. 116):

  • Preassessments—Encouraging Students to Examine Their Current Thinking: “What do I already know about this topic that could guide my learning?”
  • The Muddiest Point—Giving Students Practice in Identifying Confusions: “What was most confusing to me about the material explored in class today?”
  • Retrospective Postassessments—Pushing Students to Recognize Conceptual Change: “Before this course, I thought evolution was… Now I think that evolution is ….” or “How is my thinking changing (or not changing) over time?”
  • Reflective Journals—Providing a Forum in Which Students Monitor Their Own Thinking: “What about my exam preparation worked well that I should remember to do next time? What did not work so well that I should not do next time or that I should change?”

Next are recommendations for developing a “classroom culture grounded in metacognition” (p. 116-118):

  • Giving Students License to Identify Confusions within the Classroom Culture:  ask students what they find confusing, acknowledge the difficulties
  • Integrating Reflection into Credited Course Work: integrate short reflection (oral or written) that ask students what they found challenging or what questions arose during an assignment/exam/project
  • Metacognitive Modeling by the Instructor for Students: model the thinking processes involved in your field and sought in your course by being explicit about “how you start, how you decide what to do first and then next, how you check your work, how you know when you are done” (p. 118)

To facilitate these activities, she also offers three useful tables:

  • Questions for students to ask themselves as they plan, monitor, and evaluate their thinking within four learning contexts—in class, assignments, quizzes/exams, and the course as a whole (p. 115)
  • Prompts for integrating metacognition into discussions of pairs during clicker activities, assignments, and quiz or exam preparation (p. 117)
  • Questions to help faculty metacognitively assess their own teaching (p. 119)

Weimer’s “Deep Learning vs. Surface Learning: Getting Students to Understand the Difference” (2012) offers additional recommendations for developing students’ metacognitive awareness and improvement of their study skills:

“[I]t is terribly important that in explicit and concerted ways we make students aware of themselves as learners. We must regularly ask, not only ‘What are you learning?’ but ‘How are you learning?’ We must confront them with the effectiveness (more often ineffectiveness) of their approaches. We must offer alternatives and then challenge students to test the efficacy of those approaches.” (emphasis added)

She points to a tool developed by Stanger-Hall (2012, p. 297) for her students to identify their study strategies, which she divided into “cognitively passive(“I previewed the reading before class,” “I came to class,” “I read the assigned text,” “I highlighted the text,” et al) and “cognitively active study behaviors(“I asked myself: ‘How does it work?’ and ‘Why does it work this way?’” “I wrote my own study questions,” “I fit all the facts into a bigger picture,” “I closed my notes and tested how much I remembered,” et al).  The specific focus of Stanger-Hall’s study is tangential to this discussion,1 but imagine giving students lists like hers adapted to your course and then, after a major assignment, having students discuss which ones worked and which types of behaviors led to higher grades. Even further, follow Lovett’s advice (2013) by assigning “exam wrappers,” which include students reflecting on their previous exam-preparation strategies, assessing those strategies and then looking ahead to the next exam, and writing an action plan for a revised approach to studying. A common assignment in English composition courses is the self-assessment essay in which students apply course criteria to articulate their strengths and weaknesses within single papers or over the course of the semester. These activities can be adapted to assignments other than exams or essays, such as projects, speeches, discussions, and the like.

As these examples illustrate, for students to become more metacognitive, they must be taught the concept and its language explicitly (Pintrich, 2002; Tanner, 2012), though not in a content-delivery model (simply a reading or a lecture) and not in one lesson. Instead, the explicit instruction should be “designed according to a knowledge construction approach,” or students need to recognize, assess, and connect new skills to old ones, “and it needs to take place over an extended period of time” (Zohar & David, p. 187).  This kind of explicit instruction will help students expand or replace existing learning strategies with new and more effective ones, give students a way to talk about learning and thinking, compare strategies with their classmates’ and make more informed choices, and render learning “less opaque to students, rather than being something that happens mysteriously or that some students ‘get’ and learn and others struggle and don’t learn” (Pintrich, 2002, p. 223).

Metacognition instruction should also be embedded with the content and activities about which students are thinking.  Why? Metacognition is “not generic” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, p. 19) but instead is most effective when it is adapted to reflect the specific learning contexts of a specific topic, course, or discipline (Zohar & David, 2009).  In explicitly connecting a learning context to its relevant processes, learners will be more able to adapt strategies to new contexts, rather than assume that learning is the same everywhere and every time.  For instance, students’ abilities to read disciplinary texts in discipline-appropriate ways would also benefit from metacognitive practice.  A literature professor may read a passage of a novel aloud in class, while also talking about what she’s thinking as she reads: how she makes sense of specific words and phrases, what connections she makes, how she approaches difficult passages, etc.  This kind of modeling is a good practice in metacognition instruction, as suggested by Tanner above. Concepción’s “Reading Philosophy with Background Knowledge and Metacognition” (2004) includes his detailed “How to Read Philosophy” handout (pp. 358-367), which includes the following components:

  • What to Expect (when reading philosophy)
  • The Ultimate Goal (of reading philosophy)
  • Basic Good Reading Behaviors
  • Important Background Information, or discipline- and course-specific reading practices, such as “reading for enlightenment” rather than information, and “problem-based classes” rather than historical or figure-based classes
  • A Three-Part Reading Process (pre-reading, understanding, and evaluating)
  • Flagging, or annotating the reading
  • Linear vs. Dialogical Writing (Philosophical writing is rarely straightforward but instead “a monologue that contains a dialogue” [p. 365].)

What would such a handout look like for your discipline?

Students can even be metacognitively prepared (and then prepare themselves) for the overarching learning experiences expected in specific contexts. Salvatori and Donahue’s The Elements (and Pleasures) of Difficulty (2004) encourages students to embrace difficult texts (and tasks) as part of deep learning, rather than an obstacle.  Their “difficulty paper” assignment helps students reflect on and articulate the nature of the difficulty and work through their responses to it (p. 9).  Similarly, in courses with sensitive subject matter, a different kind of learning occurs, one that involves complex emotional responses. In “Learning from Their Own Learning: How Metacognitive and Meta-affective Reflections Enhance Learning in Race-Related Courses (Chick, Karis, & Kernahan, 2009), students were informed about the common reactions to learning about racial inequality (Helms, 1995; Adams, Bell, & Griffin, 1997; see student handout, Chick, Karis, & Kernahan, p. 23-24) and then regularly wrote about their cognitive and affective responses to specific racialized situations.  The students with the most developed metacognitive and meta-affective practices at the end of the semester were able to “clear the obstacles and move away from” oversimplified thinking about race and racism ”to places of greater questioning, acknowledging the complexities of identity, and redefining the world in racial terms” (p. 14).

Ultimately, metacognition requires students to “externalize mental events” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, p. 67), such as what it means to learn, awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses with specific skills or in a given learning context, plan what’s required to accomplish a specific learning goal or activity, identifying and correcting errors, and preparing ahead for learning processes.


1 Students who were tested with short answer in addition to multiple-choice questions on their exams reported more cognitively active behaviors than those tested with just multiple-choice questions, and these active behaviors led to improved performance on the final exam.



Originally written by Nancy Chick, Vanderbilt CFT Assistant Director

Revised by Judith Littlejohn, Instructional Designer, SUNY GCC – Updated URLs, changed images to CC images from Pixabay, added additional resources.

This teaching guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Licensehttps://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/metacognition/