Identity, Culture, Metacognition: Tools and Themes for the First-year Seminar

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association (seminar session)
contact email: 

This seminar session is to be held at the 2020 Northeast Modern Language Association annual meeting in Boston, MA, 5-8 March 2020. The session seeks to foster a robust research-informed conversation among five to ten teacher-scholars about teaching undergraduate students in a first-year seminar (or similar curricular offering), employing identity, culture and/or metacognition as thematic content and/or instructional strategies. Successful candidates will submit a an abstract proposing a substantive, research-informed, thesis-driven paper that seeks to promote consequential, transformative learning.

In the view of many, the primary purpose of first-year seminars and similar courses is to support and guide undergraduate students in their early development as members of an academic community. Certainly, the first-year seminar teaches new students conventions of academic research; it inititiates them into the use of appropriate discourses, tools and techniques; it focuses their cognitive resources on disciplinary or interdisciplinary content (as general education or as a precursor to specialist courses). Gert Biesta offers another way of thinking about the range of possibility for teachers, suggesting that their role is not only to guide students in the development of knowledge, skills and expertise (qualification), but also to help learners develop a personal sense of intellectual identity, responsibility, and autonomy, becoming thoughtful, critically engaged human beings, rather than being passive objects of others’ influence (subjectification). Teachers help students develop appropriate curiosity about -- and respect for -- collective social life in cultural communities (socialization) [Biesta 39].

Institutions can use the first year seminar to increase retention, by helping less-prepared student to develop good strategies for use in learning. Indeed, when targeted to learners with particular needs (first-generation undergraduates, students whose first language is not English, other kinds of “cultural outsiders” or those with atypical sensoria or cognitive profiles), these kinds of courses may augment not only rates of student success in the near term, but also the quality of student satisfaction and student persistence over the long term. They can help students develop “grit” and a growth mindset, a result that has an impact over the very long term. Furthermore, when first-year seminars gently or vigorously challenge students and successfully invite them to step outside of a shell of their comfortable prejudice or facile understandings, they can have even greater impact. They can increase student capacity for empathy and foster skills in cooperating and collaborating with those different from themselves. The first-year seminar can serve all of these purposes as part of students’ early learning in a college or university setting while also fostering responsible, other-focused, ethically courageous national and global citizenship. However, we do not always tap the full potential of first-year-seminar-style courses because we focus on the first and most obvious purpose of such courses, discipline-focused knowledge transfer and academic skills development. How can a focus on identity, culture, metacognition help us do more than teach qualification?


Biesta, G. (2012). Giving teaching back to education: Responding to the disappearance of the teacher. Phenomenology & Practice 6(2): 35-49.


This session will center on pedagogical visions or teaching practices in actual or imagined first-year seminar courses -- employing the concepts of culture, identity, and metacognition -- as academic content or as instructional approaches that seek to fulfill the complex and robust set of educational goals evoked above. Please submit an abstract of 300 to 500 words describing your proposed seminar paper of at least 1200 words but not significantly longer than 4000 words (approximately 3 to 13 pages, exclusive of reference list). The deadline for abstract submission is 30 September 2019

Abstract submission URL:

NB: A cogent, complete draft paper should be submitted by 20 January 2020, to be shared with all seminar participants. All participants are expected to read each other’s papers in preparation for the session. when you submit an abstract, please include a statement acknowledging these obligations and articulating a commitment to fulfill them.

Please address any questions to