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In a practitioner enquiry approach, is reflexivity the same as researcher metacognition?

Kate Wall, Professor of Education at University of Strathclyde Elaine Hall, Reader in Legal Education Research at Northumbria University

The connection between metacognition and reflexivity might feel like a relatively academic link to make but, for the two of us, it is about securing practitioner enquiry in the teacher domain rather than a perceived othering of the knowledge and skills. It is about privileging teachers’ metacognition as both useful to the enquiry and a key outcome that practitioner enquiry is trying to facilitate.

‘If methodology and pedagogy are both potentially forms of enquiry, then we are interested in the catalysts that enable the enquirer to unlock this potential.’

In arguing for a productive bridge between methodology and pedagogy in practitioner enquiry, we have suggested that there is a useful commonality between the tools, thinking and core principles of each domain (Wall, 2018; Hall & Wall, 2019). Indeed, we come close to arguing that research methodology and pedagogy are the same activities, divided only by descriptors in what can be seen as an outdated demarcation dispute. If methodology and pedagogy are both potentially forms of enquiry, then we are interested in the catalysts that enable the enquirer to unlock this potential. Please note that we do not assume that either researcher or teacher identity automatically confers reflexivity. Indeed, in our experience researchers may have to consciously activate to engage in reflexivity because of their familiarity with the paradigmatic structure of their research field, its expectations and tools, and teachers may similarly be limited in the framing of their questions by the dominant culture of the school.

There are productive similarities of cognitive and affective process between definitions of metacognition, where we have drawn on models of reflective and strategic thinking (Moseley, 2005) and then developed this working definition for teachers:

‘the skill of reflecting back on what worked, or not, and why, and how you might interpret the outcomes and act as a result’

and definitions of reflexive processes undertaken as part of an enquiry (Corlett, 2013, p. 455):

‘[it] is more than reflecting on an experience; it involves questioning the bases of our interpretations, our ways of doing and, thus, of self.’

In pedagogic terms, this cognitive and affective process would be the teacher’s thinking about the experience of the teaching and learning (Portilho & Medina, 2016). In research terms, it would be the experience of research practice; in both cases it is an examination of the practical evaluation of the endeavour, the critical analysis of thoughts and the phenomenological examination of feelings about the approach, process and outcome. Here we argue that winding these strands together makes for a stronger thread.

The concept of the reflective practitioner is, in pedagogic terms, well established (Erlandson & Beach, 2008), but to move beyond reflection to strategic action can be seen as risky. Cycles of practitioner enquiry are seen as one way to facilitate this active stance in teachers by prioritising the action aspect of the PLAN-DO-REVIEW cycle as equally important to the review. When research techniques are used to support the reflection then it bolsters the warrant for the action. Pedagogic metacognition provides a secure rationale both internally to the teacher and externally in discussing her work. The emphasis in the narrative of the process, however, tends to be on the work, rather than the worker.

In qualitative research, reflexivity is primarily discussed in terms of researcher positionality and subjectivity, evaluating the impact of ‘this’ researcher on the environment, their choice of question and method and the kinds of interpretation they favour. The positionality discussion provides a secure internal rationale to the researcher and external justification in discussing her work. The emphasis in the narrative of the process in this case tends to be on the worker, rather than the work. In both cases, there is a danger of inner monologue, recursive thinking and fixed focus. What we want is dialogue: for this we need two separate ‘selves’ that are courteously engaged in discovery both about the ‘project’ and about one another.

By combining both concepts in practitioner enquiry, the inner dialogue is enhanced: the teacher’s focus on outcomes in the classroom is juxtaposed with the researcher’s consideration of her power in setting and answering the questions as well as judging what constitutes evidence. For both ‘selves’, prior understandings are respected and respectfully challenged. The researcher is invited to engage with the ethical and practical imperatives of the current learners in the actual classroom; the teacher invited to step back and consider a number of perspectives and timescales. This perspective shift is a cornerstone of effective coaching practice (Lofthouse, 2019) and we are essentially suggesting this conscious use of ‘selves’ as self-coaching.


Corlett, S. (2013). Participant learning in and through research as reflexive dialogue: Being ‘struck’ and the effects of recall. Management Learning, 44(5), 453–469.

Erlandson, P., & Beach, D. (2008). The ambivalence of reflection – rereading Schön. Reflective Practice, 9(4), 409–421.

Hall, E., & Wall, K. (2019). Research methods for understanding professional learning. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Lofthouse, R. (2019). Coaching in education: A professional development process in formation. Professional Development in Education, 45(1), 33–45.

Moseley, D. (2005). Frameworks for thinking: A handbook for teaching and learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Portilho, E. M. L., & Medina, G. B. K. (2016). Metacognition as methodology for continuing education of teachers. Creative Education, 7, 1–12.

Wall, K. (2018). Building a bridge between pedagogy and methodology: Emergent thinking on notions of quality in practitioner enquiry. Scottish Educational Review, 50(2), 3–22.

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