Learning in English, Living in Another

The Challenges Generation 1.5 Students Face in the Classroom

The term “Generation1.5 student” might be uncommon, but the phenomenon is anything but. These students were born in Canada, but do not speak English at home. In spite of a first language that is not English, these students are not included in ESL (English as a Second Language) programs because they are not considered by their schools to be English Language Learners.

Education experts refer to these Canadian-born students to be “Generation 1.5”— something in between the 1st generation immigrants and 2nd generation students. Their liminal status means that they are underserviced by school programs. Because Generation-1.5 students sound like native English speakers, their teachers conclude that any academic difficulties are cognitive- and not language-based. But recent research has identified three unique challenges these students face due to their in-between situation.

First, many parents of Generation 1.5 students are concerned with their children’s academic success, but are not equipped to facilitate it. Some of their concerns may be addressed by their children’s teachers, but the parents are often unable to provide support for their children’s developing English literacy at home.

Second, most Generation 1.5 students are not taught to read in write in the language that is spoken at home, and so do not receive the benefits of being bilingual; these benefits include cognitive advantages and full literacy in their home language. Conversely, new immigrants who join Canadian “ESL” programs and who maintain literacy in their first language not only benefit from the transfer of cognitive skills across languages, but also receive fully funded support to do so.

Third, while teachers express value for diversity through positive affect, they are not fostering the diversity of students’ learning through culturally responsive curricula that is intellectually challenging and academically rigorous. Research demonstrates that academically successful Generation 1.5 students receive supplementary support via after-school enrichment programs that fill the gaps left by the public-school education. The parents interviewed for the study all expressed distrust in the public-school system’s ability to present opportunities for career and social mobility.

If this is a common problem in Canada, what strategy can we use to address it? In the short run, parents of Generation 1.5 students may seek out high-quality after-school enrichment programs for their children. These programs can promote academic advancement and critical thinking that students may not be receiving adequately at school. In the long run, I hope that I and my colleagues can influence Ontario policymakers to introduce enrichment-oriented learning activities that better support the diversity of students in the public-school system, including Generation 1.5 students. Professional educators must be willing to question our assumptions about Canadian-born students and design teaching strategies targeted at Generation 1.5 students. Eventually, the Generation 1.5 phenomenon should be addressed at the level of teacher education, so that this vulnerable demographic is properly identified as having different life experience, rather than inferior language development.

Generation 1.5 students deserve greater attention. We need a commitment to responsive (and responsible) educational practices for these Canadian-born, linguistic-minority students.

Karine Rashkovsky, Honours B.Sc., B.Ed., M.Ed., Ph.D. (Education Policy) and Founder & Director of Brain Power Enrichment Programs. 
Karine is well-known for her passionate, quirky, and inspiring teaching from the heart, as well as her extensive knowledge in a variety of academic fields. Karine has co-authored Brain Power's math and problem solving textbooks, an advanced grammar and classical literature textbook, and research that has appeared in peer-reviewed journals such as Educational Leadership and Urban Education.  Karine's research interests include education policy, critical thinking education, and curriculum, teaching, and social justice. As an experienced and expert teacher, Karine has taught teacher-training courses at York University's Faculty of Education and has provided professional development training for private school educators. In addition to her above contributions, Karine is also the official Education Expert for Vaughan's SRC community and an Ontario Mentor for select top youth startups through the Vaughan Business Enterprise Centre (VBEC). Find out more about Brain Power Enrichment Programs at www.brainpower.ca.

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