Generation 1.5

Evaluating Canadian-born English Language Learners

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Valuing English Language Learners

Multiculturalism is at the heart of Canadian identity; it is deeply woven in the fabric of our nation. Diversity is a large part of what makes Canada unique and special. Across the country, most schools reflect this incredible mosaic. Students can bring a range of experiences, background knowledge, and linguistic abilities to the classroom. This dynamic must be recognized by educators and appreciated in the classroom. All students have the ability to develop mutual respect and learn from each other. Diverse classrooms can help students appreciate each other’s differences as well as similarities. It is up to educators to empower English language learners especially and ensure that they receive the necessary supports to be successful. There is no doubt that the face of education has changed drastically over the years due to the influx of newcomers and Canadian-born English language learners (ELL’s). Educators must therefore develop a solid understanding of who ELL’s are and how they can be best supported in class. This type of understanding is essential in an increasingly globalized world and diverse country like Canada. As our population grows and continues becoming more diverse, it is imperative to recognize and support the range of unique needs in our schools. Moreover, ELL’s contribute to the cultural and linguistic diversity of our classrooms. In more recent literature, there has been an increasing focus on Canadian-born ELL’s. In January of 2013, the Ontario Ministry of Education released an entire monograph focusing on this unique group of language learners.[1] In order to adequately respond to the unique needs of Canadian-born ELL’s it is necessary to investigate who makes up generation 1.5, what challenges they face, and how educators can support them in the classroom. Research based theory and practice will also be discussed. Through such an understanding, educators can ensure their practice is responsive and effective for all learners. This paper will aim to help educators better understand generation 1.5 and the valuable role they play in Canadian classrooms.


[1] Ontario Ministry of Education. Capacity Building Series Monograph “Canadian-born English Language Learners.” Web May 29. 2015. <http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesLNS/Monographs/ CapacityBuildingSeries/CBS_CdnBornELL.pdf>.

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The chart above shows the performance of Canadian-born English language learners compared with the performance of Canadian-born English speakers.

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Generation 1.5- Canadian-born English Language Learners

Elizabeth Coelho defines English language learners as being students who are in the process of acquiring English language skills.[1] Coelho asserts that such learners may include new immigrants or native born children.[2] Most classrooms across Ontario have a significant number of ELL’s who require special attention and programming. According to the 2013 “People for Education Report”, 72% of English elementary schools and 55% of secondary schools contain English language learners.[3] This is a number that continues to grow with the changing demographics and immigration trends. More recently, a new type of ELL has become prominent in Canadian schools. Students requiring language support also include those born in Canada. In a 2013 monograph by the Ontario Ministry of Education, it is noted that the majority of ELL’s in Ontario classrooms are indeed Canadian-born. [4] More specifically, a 2011 CBC article noted that in the Peel Board alone, 30 062 out of 87 807 students (about 30%) require additional English language support.[5] Of this number, 25 227 are born in Canada. They may have limited exposure to English as another primary language exists. Generation 1.5 is made up of students who are born in Canada and whose first language is not English. Some examples may include Aboriginal students whose first language is not English.[6] This category may also include children born into communities with distinct cultural and linguistic traditions.[7] As research indicates, Canadian-born ELL’s or generation 1.5[8] students are clearly a reality in our classrooms today. Another reason why educators need to be informed about these ELL’s is that they are often underachieving. In the Ontario Ministry of Education monograph it is reported that “Canadian-born ELL’s do not reach the same achievement level as their domestic and immigrant counterparts.”[9] As such, it is critical to understand 1.5 learners so that they can be supported appropriately in the classroom.


[1] Coelho, Elizabeth. Adding English: A Guide to Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms. Toronto: Pippin Publishing, 2004, 10.

[2] Ibid, 15.

[3] People for Education Report. “Language Support.” Web 26 May. 2015. < http://www.peopleforeducation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/language-support-2013.pdf>.

[4] Ontario Ministry of Education. Capacity Building Series Monograph “Canadian-born English Language Learners.” Web May 29. 2015. <http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesLNS/Monographs/ CapacityBuildingSeries/CBS_CdnBornELL.pdf>.

[5] “30% of Candian Students need ESL: Peel Board.” CBC News Online. 8 March.2011. Web. 25 May. 2015.

[6] Ministry of Ontario. Supporting English Language Learners: A Practical Guide for Ontario Educators Grades 1-8. ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2008, 5.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Schecter, Sandra R. “The Predicament of Generation 1.5 English Language Learners: Three Disjunctures and a Possible Way Forward.” Canadian Journal of Education 35, 4 (2012): 308-340.

[9] Ontario Ministry of Education. Capacity Building Series Monograph “Canadian-born English Language Learners.” Web May 29. 2015. <http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesLNS/Monographs/ CapacityBuildingSeries/CBS_CdnBornELL.pdf>.

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Challenge 1: Difficulties Identifying Canadian-Born ELL’s who Need Support

When taking a closer look at generation 1.5 learners, it is clear that they may present unique challenges. Unlike ELL’s born outside of Canada, the generation 1.5 group can be difficult to identify in a classroom setting. They may present vastly different profiles in comparison to foreign-born ELL’s.[1] One significant difference is that this group of learners may appear to have sufficient English language skills at school. It is likely that these students have developed conversational skills which enable them to be social and not stand out from peers.[2] Jim Cummins identification of BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) highlights two areas of language development that educators must distinguish between.[3] BICS involve oral language used in social contexts and to meet everyday needs.[4] Sentence structures and vocabulary are limited in this category.[5] BIS involves language such as face-to-face conversations, simple sentences with some high frequency words, and personal experiences.[6] CALP Research suggests that ELL’s may take anywhere from five to ten years to catch up to their peers CALP.[7] Even with adequate social language, this group of learners may experience more difficultly with complex conversations and more academic texts.[8] As a result, Canadian-born ELL’s may go unnoticed as needing additional language support.


[1] Schecter, Sandra R. “The Predicament of Generation 1.5 English Language Learners: Three Disjunctures and a Possible Way Forward.” Canadian Journal of Education 35, 4 (2012): 309.


[2] Ontario Ministry of Education. Capacity Building Series Monograph “Canadian-born English Language Learners.” Web May 29. 2015. <http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesLNS/Monographs/ CapacityBuildingSeries/CBS_CdnBornELL.pdf>.


[3] Cummins, Jim, Rania Mirza, and Saskia Stille. “English Language Learners in Canadian Schools: Emerging Directions for School-based Policies.” TESL Canada Journal 29.S16 (2012): 25-50.


[4] Coelho, Elizabeth. Adding English: A Guide to Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms. Toronto: Pippin Publishing, 2004, 153.


[5] Ibid.


[6] Ontario Ministry of Education. Capacity Building Series Monograph “Canadian-born English Language Learners.” Web May 29. 2015. <http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesLNS/Monographs/ CapacityBuildingSeries/CBS_CdnBornELL.pdf>.


[7] Coelho, Elizabeth. Adding English: A Guide to Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms. Toronto: Pippin Publishing, 2004, 153.


[8] Ontario Ministry of Education. Capacity Building Series Monograph “Canadian-born English Language Learners.” Web May 29. 2015. <http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesLNS/Monographs/ CapacityBuildingSeries/CBS_CdnBornELL.pdf>.

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Challenge 2: Early Interventions for Generation 1.5 in Kindergarten

The next challenge for educators is that large numbers of generation 1.5 students are entering school in kindergarten with limited English language skills. This is a reality in many cities across Canada including Vancouver. In the 1990’s, numerous Chinese immigrants came to British Columbia after political uncertainty in Hong Kong.[1] These types of immigration waves continue to impact and have important implications for educators. Second generation children may live in varying cultural and linguistic environments that differ from school.[2] The Vancouver Sun noted that “almost half of the 1500 students enrolled in kindergarten required extra language lessons under the ESL program.”[3] Language backgrounds for these students can vary tremendously. They may speak a language at home and are beginning to learn English.[4] Or these students may be accustomed to hearing a first language at home but they respond in English.[5] Some students may even use a combination of their first language and English.[6] Teachers need to therefore be cognizant of early intervention strategies to support ELL’s appropriately based on their use of a first language and English. In some school boards, additional ESL support does not occur in kindergarten. As such, classroom teachers need to be prepared and knowledgeable to help ELL’s and their families. Appropriate teaching and learning strategies need to be put it to place to ensure that students have positive first experiences with their language development.


[1] “ESL Programs See Rise in Canadian-Born Students.” Vancouver Sun. 26 Oct.2012. Web. 24 May. 2015.


[2] Coelho, Elizabeth. Language and Learning in Multilingual Classrooms: A Practical Approach. Toronto: Channel View Publications, 2012, 13.


[3] “ESL Programs See Rise in Canadian-Born Students.” Vancouver Sun. 26 Oct.2012. Web. 24 May. 2015.


[4] Ontario Ministry of Education. Capacity Building Series Monograph “Canadian-born English Language Learners.” Web May 29. 2015. <http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesLNS/Monographs/ CapacityBuildingSeries/CBS_CdnBornELL.pdf>.


[5] Ibid.


[6] Ibid.

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Challenge 3: Lack of First Language Literacy Skills

Generation 1.5 ELL’s are also unique because of the challenges they face with first language literacy skills. There is much research suggesting that a child’s first language can be used to support their learning of a second language through transferring skills.[1] A strong correlation seems to exist between the two and educators can use this knowledge to their advantage. Learning two or more languages can positively impact mental flexibility, problem solving, and overall communication skills.[2] Students who have received schooling outside of Canada will likely have literacy skills in their first language. 1.5 generation learners however may lack literacy skills in their first language.[3] Unlike foreign-born ELL’s, 1.5 learners in the public school system have not received formal language instruction in their mother tongue. As such, generation 1.5 ELL’s are unique in the sense that they don’t have strong first language literacy skills that can be transferred to acquiring English.


[1] Schecter, Sandra R. and Jim Cummins. Multilingual Education in Practice. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2003, 6.


[2] Ministry of Ontario. Supporting English Language Learners: A Practical Guide for Ontario Educators Grades 1-8. ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2008, 8.


[3] Schecter, Sandra R. “The Predicament of Generation 1.5 English Language Learners: Three Disjunctures and a Possible Way Forward.” Canadian Journal of Education 35, 4 (2012): 327.

Challenge 4: Supporting ELL Parents Appropriately

Another challenge that exists surrounding Generation 1.5 is the role of parents. In the field of education, parents must be partners in their child’s learning at school. Educators must however be sensitive to the language abilities of our ELL parents. They are likely educated outside of Canada and may have varying English language abilities. Parents may also be unfamiliar with Canadian schools and procedures.[1] Teachers need to make sure that they are aware of potential circumstances like these that may impact programming. Schools often expect parents to help their children with academics and complete activities that may be outside their realm of understanding. When it comes to 1.5 generation parents, educators must consider the demands they place with activities such as homework. Parents should not be discouraged to get involved with school activities or ask questions. Positive rapports need to be developed with sensitivity and caution. In one study at York University, researchers found that linguistic minority parents felt unable to respond to the school’s expectations.[2] In particular, these parents were concerned about helping with subject matter learning.[3] Teachers may want to provide examples of what is expected or post pictures of their anchor charts on the class site, blog, or twitter feed. Teachers can also suggest students use Khan Academy to watch demonstration videos for common math procedures. Homework activities could also involve parents with simple games such as using a spoon to practice transformational geometry. Teachers need to emphasize that it’s okay to make mistakes and return to school with questions. Every effort should be made to connect to student home lives and cultural backgrounds. These are all examples of how subject specific demands can put less pressure on ELL parents and involve them in positive ways to the parent teacher partnership.


[1] Coelho, Elizabeth. Language and Learning in Multilingual Classrooms: A Practical Approach. Toronto: Channel View Publications, 2012, 13.


[2] Schecter, Sandra R. “The Predicament of Generation 1.5 English Language Learners: Three Disjunctures and a Possible Way Forward.” Canadian Journal of Education 35, 4 (2012): 327.


[3] Ibid.

Key Strategies and Classroom Applications

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Creating Differentiated, Inclusive, and Culturally Responsive Learning Environments

After discussing the nature of generation 1.5 ELL’s and related challenges, it is useful to review key strategies for the classroom. There are several supports teachers can provide for 1.5 learners to help them develop socially, emotionally, and academically. ELL’s should be receiving the necessary accommodations and modifications to help them access the curriculum. Accommodations may involve simplifying vocabulary and sentence structure, providing visual supports, encouraging the use of sentence starters or prompts, cloze activities, word banks, and incorporating manipulatives. Modifications, or changes to grade level expectations may involve reducing the number of or the complexity of expectations. For example, instead of having ELL’s answer ten comprehension questions, they could be required to only do five. Furthermore, students should be included in classroom activities with the necessary supports. The focus for educators should be on providing opportunities for ELL’s to experiment with language and practice skills. A 2013 Ontario Ministry of Education monograph asserts that ELL’s should be seen as “full members of the school community, who have specific learning needs, rather than as a separate group who must prove themselves linguistically before they can claim their full entitlement.”[1] All students bring a range of experiences with them that should be honored and integrated into learning curriculum. This contributes to creating a rich, inclusive community of learners. Teachers must ensure their practice is culturally responsive and inclusive of all learners. An effective learning environment reflects students’ identities and can be achieved with diverse bulletins, multilingual signs, student work, and much more. Creating opportunities for students to connect their background knowledge with curriculum will make learning more meaningful. A culturally responsive classroom environment can show students that we are different in some ways, but similar in many as well.


[1] Ontario Ministry of Education. Capacity Building Series Monograph “Canadian-born English Language Learners.” Web May 29. 2015. <http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesLNS/Monographs/ CapacityBuildingSeries/CBS_CdnBornELL.pdf>.

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Emphasizing the Importance of Oral Language Opportunities: Modelling, Cooperative Learning & Accountable Talk

Another strategy for helping 1.5 students is by providing plenty of oral language opportunities across all subject areas. Oral language development is an integral part of a child’s learning in all subject areas. The Ontario Ministry of Education sums up the importance of oral language by stating that it is a

“fundamental means of communication with others and the cornerstone of learning in all areas. Through talk, students not only communicate information but also explore and come to understand ideas and concepts; identify and solve problems; organize their experience and knowledge; and express and clarify their thoughts, feelings, and opinions. When they converse about information and ideas, they become aware not only of the various perspectives of other speakers and writers but also the language structures and conventions they use.”[1]

Regardless of the specific activity used, teachers need to create a learning space where students feel comfortable taking risks. This can be achieved by reinforcing the idea that mistakes are okay to make and they are part of the learning process. All learners need to be motivated and praised so that they are willing to try new things and experiment with their language. Modelling appropriate oral language is yet another strategy that contributes to speaking success. Generation 1.5 learners may be exposed to varying forms of English and therefore need correct structures modeled and used in context. This can be done by teachers and between classmates during cooperative learning activities. Small group activities such as jigsaws and think pair shares can provide ELL’s with opportunities to hear language and practice it with peers.[2]It also provides them with the chance to receive feedback, problem solve, and collaborate with a variety of learners.[3] ELL’s need to build oral language proficiency skills through activities that are meaningful and relevant. Accountable talk plays a huge role in this development. It involves discussing high interest topics that relate to students.[4] Students are expected to actively listen, critically think, and respond appropriately.[5] Being an active participant can significantly impact a child’s self-esteem and sense of belonging in the classroom. In the Ontario Ministry document Many Roots Many Voices, educators are reminded that “classroom talk determines whether or not children learn, and their ultimate feelings of self-worth as students. Talk is how education happens!”[6]


[1] Glass, Jennifer, Joan Green, and Kathleen Gould Lundy. Talking to Learn: 50 Strategies for Developing Oral Language. Ontario: Rubicon Publishing, 2011, 7.

[2] Glass, Jennifer, Joan Green, and Kathleen Gould Lundy. Talking to Learn: 50 Strategies for Developing Oral Language. Ontario: Rubicon Publishing, 2011, 9.

[3] Ministry of Ontario. Many Roots Many Voices: Supporting English Language Learners in Every Classroom, A Practical Guide for Ontario Educators. ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2005, 22.

[4] Glass, Jennifer, Joan Green, and Kathleen Gould Lundy. Talking to Learn: 50 Strategies for Developing Oral Language. Ontario: Rubicon Publishing, 2011, 9.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ministry of Ontario. Many Roots Many Voices: Supporting English Language Learners in Every Classroom, A Practical Guide for Ontario Educators. ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2005, 19.

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Instructional and Assessment Methods & Handling Mistakes

The final suggestion for ELL’s involves providing students with supports to access curriculum. This can be achieved with instructional and assessment accommodations. Generation 1.5 students need visually rich learning experiences so that they can make associations and develop their vocabulary. Word banks, word walls, and sentence starters are all examples of easy strategies teachers can use to help students develop critical vocabulary. Rephrasing and repeating important ideas or words can help ELL’s build comprehension and confidence in what is being taught. ELL’s also need opportunities to collaborate with others and experiment with language. In addition, educators must provide multiple, ongoing assessments to best capture student progress and needs.[1] A variety of assessment tools should be used to allow 1.5 learners the chance to demonstrate what they know and can do.[2] Some practical assessment strategies may include anecdotal notes, observations, demonstration of learning, matching activities, interviews, or interactive journals.[3] Lastly, teachers need to support ELL’s by ensuring that mistakes are not emphasized. Instead mistakes need to be handled with care so that students don’t get discouraged from trying. Teachers can rephrase what was said and respond back with correct punctuation or pronunciation. This way mistakes do not become a hindrance to language learning and self-confidence. Clearly there are numerous supports teachers can provide for 1.5 learners to help them develop socially, emotionally, and academically.


[1] Ministry of Ontario. Supporting English Language Learners: A Practical Guide for Ontario Educators Grades 1-8. ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2008, 61.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Supporting English Language Learners- Engaging Students with Interactive Activities

Every Teacher - A Teacher of English Language Learners - preview.video.2
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All students deserve equitable opportunities to access curriculum and be successful. As the Canadian education system continues to flourish with diverse learners, it is up to educators to ensure that ELL’s are well supported in the classroom. Generation 1.5 ELL’s make up a unique part of this group and must not be overlooked. 1.5 learners differ in several ways and require careful consideration by educators. All across Canada, Generation 1.5 is growing. As such, teachers need to be aware of the unique challenges they pose. Educators also need to pay close attention to student backgrounds and profiles so that supports can be put in place early on. As seen with the statistics from British Columbia, more and more 1.5 ELL’s are entering kindergarten with limited English language abilities.[1] Early interventions are key to ensuring that every student is set up for success. There must be awareness around students BICS and CALP so that language instruction reflects student strengths and needs. Tremendous research on ELL’s suggests that oral language plays an essential role in a student’s development and proficiency.[2] There is no doubt that parents also play a key role in this development. Through an evaluation of the challenges faced by Generation 1.5 parents, it is clear that teachers need to be sensitive to the demands they place through initiatives such as homework. Numerous classroom strategies need to be put in place to help 1.5 ELL’s develop socially, emotionally, and academically. After a thorough discussion of Canadian-born ELL’s, related challenges, and classroom supports, it is evident that these students play a vital role in our classrooms. It is therefore imperative that we continue working to ensure that all students have equal opportunities to be successful, life-long learners.


[1] Ministry of Ontario. Supporting English Language Learners: A Practical Guide for Ontario Educators Grades 1-8. ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2008.

[2] Ibid.