Full Discussion - Generation 1.5 Students - Strategies for Innovation in Community College ESL, February 4 - 8, 2008

Generation 1.5 Students

A discussion of how to best serve the needs of the Generation 1.5 student.

I believe we do have a hard time getting enough students fed into our program and with the appropriate background to succeed if they do come to us. It is a real problem. There are some workplace ESL programs which are run through our Corporate and Continuing Education Office, but those students rarely, if ever, come to us. And they serve the employees of specific companies as opposed to the community at large.

Our ESL program is within an academic department in the college (Communication and Languages) and so is run like every other. ESL students pay the same tuition and fees as all other students at the college. We do not receive special government funding beyond what the state and counties provide for the college as a whole as a part of our yearly budget.

Finances are probably a big reason why we are getting fewer students at the low levels. Community programs are free or low cost; although in the scheme of higher education, the community college is less expensive, it may still be out of reach of many students.

In terms of having a more comprehensive program, we are limited by a small staff, and the unlikelihood of being able to expand given college budgeting restraints. In addition, our three full-time faculty members (including myself) not only teach 15 credit hours per semester but also do the administrative work required. We do advising, scheduling, and the many other tasks associate with keeping the program afloat. The only "official" administrative support for the program is through the 3 hours of overload I receive to serve as Adjunct Coordinator.

The belief that they can attend college does not seem to be a problem with our population although I can certainly see that it could be. A growing problem for us (and many around the country) is the disconnect between high schools and colleges in terms of student preparation. Either the high schools do not think the students are college-bound and so don't bother to give them a college-prep course of study, or there is simply a growing gap between the expectations of each. Additionally, students seem to think that a high school diploma equates to college readiness.

We do our best to advise students, but we don't always have enough time - and as professors primarily - may not know ourselves what all of the options for students are.

Kevin Hinkle


Are many of your students what we now refer to as generation 1.5 students? (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigrant_generations)

They have had much or most of their education in this country, but may still need extensive help with academic English, especially in writing?

If so, are there any special things that you have tried to help this population?

Do you also have international students?

Joy Reid has written extensively about "ear" learners (generation 1.5 learners would likely be here) and "eye" learners and how their needs are so different. Ear learners are those who were immersed in an English-speaking environment and have learned their English orally. As you suggest, they have strong Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills or social language, but may not have developed the academic language required for success in the community college. Eye learners are just the opposite: they have learned English through books and lack the fluency of ear learners, but are more likely to have more standard English. While these two groups share some common needs, they are also very different in others. It's a real challenge. Getting these ear learners prepared for the college is something that lots of people are talking and writing about.

There is also the problem with the first group that they speak English and often are offended when told they need more English, especially when it's ESL!

In effect you are teaching only credit ESL, is that right? Are there linkages with any of the programs in the community that are teaching lower level ESL?

Jodi Crandall


I think that's a fantastic conceptualization. As you know, I am not well-versed in learning theory, but I can't help believing that these kinds of ideas would be invaluable to teachers. I would love to hear from the group whether they think most of their teachers are "up on" these kinds of insights from learning theory and apply them. Or is this part of the "professional development" challenge we face. It seems to me that it would be tragic if we don't have the resources to help teachers tap into as much of this as there is.

Forrest Chisman


We have a small but probably growing group of Generation 1.5 students (I wrote a dissertation on Generation 1.5 students for my PhD from NYU - completed in late 2005). Some Gen. 1.5 students do take some ESL while others end up going the developmental studies route. Largely this depends on how resistant they are to ESL. We simply can't force somebody to be motivated for something they do not think they need. We find they are much more excited by developmental coursework than by ESL - and we feel that they are more likely to be successful there. I should add that the Generation 1.5 students I see at RVCC are not as severely underdeveloped in terms of academic skills as Gen. 1.5 students in somewhat more urban locations. As so many discover, there are no magical answers. This is where I gnash my teeth at the lack of cooperation between high schools and colleges. I feel cooperation could mitigate the rather devastating effect of being told in college that your English is not at all what is expected for academic success.

We do have some international students and a fairly significant number of au pairs who are working for the many wealthy families that live in this part of New Jersey.

Our ESL is all credit (unfortunately all but the highest level of reading/writing is credit in name only; it doesn't count towards a degree but is called credit for billing purposes - similar to developmental reading and math courses for native speaking students). Fortunately, we did convince the college to award 6 real credits for the highest level reading/writing course which can count towards RVCC graduation only as a general elective.

Kevin Hinkle


Fascinating and important information, as always. If this wasn't the last day, I'd ask others whether they find Generation 1.5 students do better in Developmental Education. I've heard different versions of this story, and in some colleges they are steered away from developmental education. Heck, I'll ask anyway. Or maybe your Ph.D. Dissertation provides the answer. Does it? If so, what did you find?

Forrest Chisman

Hello everyone,

I saw the postings referring to Generation 1.5 students and I felt I should share some of my experiences. In addition to the lack of motivation, there is a strong emotional side that affects many of these students. I'll share a little about two of my student when I teaching at the local community college, they seem to typify characteristics of the whole group.

The first student graduated from the local high school. She had a "B" average and was quite smart. However, when she found out that she was unable to move into regular classes due to her lack of reading and writing skills, she became depressed. Several weeks into the semester, our conversation after class started with her asking me, "What good is a high school diploma anyway?" I can't tell you how this made me feel.

The approach that other faculty members and I used with her over the next two semesters was to acknowledge her existing knowledge and skills, while adding equipping her with new English language skills. We also made sure that we tied everything into her goal of becoming a nurse. She graduated from our program and entered into regular classes where she is doing quite well.

Though her problem was related to gaps in her English skills, she had many of the same frustrations, which seem to accompany college graduates and professional students trying to resume their careers in the US.

My next student did not fare quite as well. However, in addition to similar factors with her education she had an additional dimension. This was the fact that she was of Indian decent, but had been born in Panama. She was very frustrated socially be the time she came to us because she looked Indian but couldn't speak any of the Indian languages to communicate with the other Indian students, so she felt she was missing this cultural connection. This was enhanced because many of the Spanish students did not accept her. She confided in me that this had been going on since her and her family immigrated to the US when she was ten. This isolation left her empty and detached. When she struggled with an element of the lesson, she looked at it as being another part of her that was isolated. She lingered in our program until she asked for permission to go into the adult education classes. After a year there, she was wanting to come back.

I wish this was the exception, but it is not. In our county, nearly 70% of the students classified as English language Learners do not pass their High School, End of Instruction Test. Each of these students has a complex history of social and emotional issues, which have to be addressed in order to ensure that they are able to achieve their academic goals. I am not saying we should be councilors, but as Instructors, we should take the time to learn about who our students are and maintain an awareness of each students emotional strength as well as their academic strength.

John Warrior


Thanks for clarifying generation 1.5 for me; I've encountered them for some time now but didn't have a "label" for them: just those whose spoken English would not indicate that they were ESOL in a traditional way, but whose writing and "academic English" needed a great deal of help. (Of course this is true of "native-born" HS graduates as well.... They do share some grammatical and structural issues with more traditional ESOL students, and are quick to deny that they are ESOL, which can be frustrating. I have pointed out to my colleagues that a great number of these students come to the Writing Center, as a "hidden ESOL" population, and our administration and faculty seem to treat them differently, as US-born or raised students intending to live here, as differentiated from "international students" who would need more specialized support. I know this issue has shown up in passing in discussion, but it's the first time to my knowledge that anyone has talked about it.

Bonnie Odiorne

Dear John,

I don't know if this will help your students, but I've used this personal anecdote from time to time.

Before my dad went to college, he had been raised by a Norwegian speaking mother and English speaking father. His dad had little education. Dad really needed the remedial English class his freshman year. Out of that particular class came several doctors and college presidents.

While everyone is unique, people can do wonderful things with their lives. The above examples are just our stereotypical success stories.

Mary Jane Jerde

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