“Explain Your Choice”: Metacognition as a form of reflection with student work

I’ve spent all my teaching career working with students on production skills–writing, design, audio, video, photo, social media, and others. And throughout the last decade+, I’ve wrestled with how best to (1) have students reflect thoughtfully on their production work, (2) integrate more metacognitive practices into my classroom, and (3) find more opportunities for students to build resilience and rigor that translates to their professional lives. After revision and revision and revision, I’ve come up with a term-long exercise that accomplishes those three goals.

In public communication professions, choice matters. And students need to learn that each choice comes with different outcomes. In some cases, ethics is a priority. In others, it is a matter of representation. With several important decisions to make, practicing explaining and defining choices as a student is a critical practice for us to impart. That’s why I shifted my focus from a final assignment reflection to a portfolio of reflections students participate in consistently.

I do this in two ways: (1) following portions of assignments or in-class activities and (2) as a traditional portfolio.

I’ve included each of these in a document you can access and make a copy of.

Individual Choices

For each production assignment, I offer students a chance to defend two to three production decisions they’ve made or two specifically address specific concerns.

Students can practice defending their decisions in the workforce by participating in regular reflection. It also allows students to think critically about what strategic decisions they are making in their work. By doing this, students can identify the choices they made and assess their purpose of it. When we ask students to cite materials to support their decisions, they are thinking about their learning metacognitively. They are now defending why they are applying what they learned in class to the content they are producing while also explaining the purpose of using specific skills, ideas, trends, etc.

Essentially, we’re giving students the tools to be critical content producers and not simply passive learners of the material. Students engaging actively through reflection enhance how students see the work they are producing while also providing outlets for them to think about the implications of their work on the public they serve (aka, it’s all about the audience beyond the instructor).

I also find it important to not only think about a choice specifically but to reflect on the rubric and how the student’s submission can be assessed. Here, I ask students to identify the assignment’s strength and use the rubric to think about why the student identified that strength. I do the same with a question or concern a student may have. I try not to use the term weakness, especially as many students don’t see that as a way to improve. Instead, students can identify a question or concern with the goal of improvement rather than a weakness being the opposite of a strength.

As a reminder, it is important to do this consistently. While it is certainly plausible to integrate these as one-offs in your curriculum, it is essential for student growth and metacognition for students to see reflection as a necessary tool in their careers. The use of reflection as a constant practice also shows the value we, as instructors, place on the metacognitive needs of students.

Make it a priority.

Portofolio Outcomes

Students have individual reflections on assignments and parts of assignments throughout the semester, but I also like to frame the final project of the semester as either a (a) compilation of assignments in the form of a portfolio or (b) an assignment that is built from all of the previous assignments. Regardless of which option I choose, I ask students to complete a final reflection that engages with each activity throughout the semester and how they contribute to the final product.

You can do this form of a reflection throughout the term and allow it to be a living document (i.e., digital, Google docs, Office 365). This can also be done at the end of the term when students are looking back at their work, pushing them to think about how each piece of their growth led to the conclusion of the term and the final summative assessment.

This is also an excellent opportunity for students to defend their choices in a portfolio or changes leading to the final assignment. It is also a way to provide student feedback on their overall grade and participation in class.

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