ESL/EAL/ELL hmmmm moment

Does the ‘S’ in ESL stand for Second or Subsequent?

Does the ‘A’ in EAL stand for Additional or Acquired?

Which term is politically correct? Do they all mean the same thing? Which one should I use? And for goodness’ sake, why do they keep changing the abbreviation?!

EAl lang tree

These are some of the questions that I have asked myself many times since becoming a student in the Faculty of Education. In the past few years, all things ESL/EAL/ELL have become much-discussed topics. As future teachers, we hear “Your classrooms will include high percentages of immigrant students for whom English is not their first language” so often, it is no wonder that this is on our minds! The shifting focus of ‘person-first’ language in regards to students with special needs has made me think about the language we use to define these students who have a language other than English as their first.

Here was the thought that popped into my head last night:

ELL = English Language Learner. But some students who are labelled ‘ELL’ have a proficient command of the English language. Comparatively, many people who are raised with English as their first language do not use it properly. So it seems rather unfair to call students who have a differing mother tongue ‘learners’ of the English language when, really, we are ALL English language learners. 

As a self-proclaimed “Grammar Policewoman” and English enthusiast, I am often drawn to online quizzes with titles such as: “These are 100 vocabulary words that high school graduates of today should know. Do you know them all?” and “Can you recognize these common grammatical/spelling errors?” Admittedly, even I (as someone who prides herself in being knowledgeable about English language in general) learn new vocabulary words and obscure grammatical rules. A native English speaker with university education, even I continue to be an English language learner (and I will never cease to be).

So, my question is: Is “English Language Learner” truly the best phrase to define our students who speak other languages before English? I truly believe that all of my students, and all members of society, are English Language Learners. Labelling only immigrant families as ELLs supports a power imbalance, placing native English speakers, “those who have already learned all there is to learn about English,” above those still learning it.

EAL hello

So… Which term do I prefer?

I can understand why we have stepped away from the term ESL, as it was most often taken to mean “English as a Second Language,” which was an unfair representation of students for whom English was the third, fourth, fifth, or higher language in their repertoire. If we change the ‘S’ to instead stand for Subsequent, however, this abbreviation becomes more open-ended.

I would argue that EAL meaning “English as an Acquired Language” would apply to every English speaker out there, as we all had to acquire English at some point (whether at age 1 or 15).

Personally, I believe that “EAL” (English as an Additional Language) is the most fitting way to describe these students. It places both English and the preceding language(s) in a positive light. The word “Additional” carries the connotation that it was another language added into the student’s repertoire: a plus, a bonus. It does not undermine the primary language; English is not the language of utmost importance, but another addition into an already rich background. It does not state whether English is the second, third, fourth, fifth language the student learned, but merely that it was not the first. It is for these reasons that I will use EAL as my abbreviation of choice when referring to my students who have added English to theDVDir list of spoken languages.

Put into metaphorical terms, EAL refers to a student’s known languages much like a DVD, with English being the Additional or Bonus Features on the disc. You don’t originally buy the DVD for the Bonus Features, you buy it for the movie (the primary or first known language)! But the Bonus Features are there as a surprise, a little extra treat. Similarly, we have to value students’ mother tongues first and foremost, as they are the Main Feature in the child’s linguistic package.

What are your thoughts on the ESL/EAL/ELL debate? Please leave me a comment to let me know!

Until next time,


first post of 2015 + book haul

Hello and happy 2015! I am excited to be back at the university for my sixth semester (which includes my 3 week block for pre-internship!).

To ease my disappointment that the holiday season, once again, flew past, I decided to use the bookstore gift cards I got for Christmas to buy some new treasures for my growing classroom library collection.

I highly recommend these gems to any teacher or parent. They all have great messages behind them.

1. “One” by Kathryn Otoshi

one otoshiOne of my classmates (@Cass_Hanley) showed me this wonderful book during a Health Education class, as it focuses on bullying. Written in very simple language, with vivid splashes of colour, this book is a great way to introduce students to a touchy and relevant topic.

one otoshi 2

one otoshi 3

2. “Zoom” by Robert Munsch

zoom munsch

Robert Munsch is a classic author to include in any book collection for young kids. His comical characters and situations delight readers and make his books easy to listen to over and over. I particularly like this book because the main character is a fun-loving young girl (who just happens to use a wheelchair). She goes to the store to buy a new wheelchair and cannot find one that is fast enough for her liking. This book is a fun ride!

3. “The Dot” by Peter Reynolds

dot reynolds

I found this book last semester while searching for children’s books about self esteem. This cute little story really emphasizes the fact that we are all artists. The main character, Vashti, cannot draw anything in art class until her teacher encourages her to just “make a mark and see where it takes you.” I think that this book is a great reminder for teachers to truly value their student’s artwork.

dot reynolds 2

4. “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

tango richardson

My instructor (@jmachnaik) showed me this awesome book in ECS 210 last year. I instantly fell in love with it. #1 because it is about penguins. #2 because it is a true story from the Central Park Zoo in New York. And #3 because it introduces kids to families with same sex parents. Roy and Silo are a penguin couple and do all the same things that other penguin couples do, but they have no egg to care for. Another penguin couple ends up having two eggs and cannot care for both, so the penguin caretaker gives one of the eggs to Roy and Silo to raise as their own. Such a heartwarming tale! Your insides will feel as fuzzy as little baby Tango looks.

tango richardson 2

5. “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss

lorax seuss

I fell in love with this book while taking a class on Environmental Studies, and included it in the unit I created for the class. Dr. Seuss packs in his usual whimsical language and fantastical characters, along with a powerful message of preserving the natural beauty and resources that Mother Earth has given us. A must have for a classroom!

lorax seuss 2

6. “The Book with no Pictures” by B. J. Novak

no pictures novak

I learned of this quirky and unique book during my ERDG class. I have not tried it out on students myself, but I have a feeling that it will always result in non-stop laughter. The premise of the book is that it has no pictures, but that does not mean it is boring. Quite the opposite actually, as the reader ends up saying a multitude of silly things (because the reader MUST read all of the words that are written in a book). A very clever way to show students the power of the written word and to interest them in books without illustrations. A fairly new book, but I hope it becomes a classic.

no pictures novak 2

Children’s literature holds a special place in my heart because of the wonder and lightheartedness that it sparks within us. It is so nice to see today’s authors including important social justice issues within their books’ pages.

What is your favourite piece of children’s literature? 

Until next time,


accidental ageism

I haven’t blogged in so long, I almost forgot the little rush of giddy I get when I start typing out a post. Needless to say, it’s great to be back in the blogosphere!

A little update: I have moved home for the summer and am waitressing at a local restaurant (and boy, it is quite an eye-opening life experience for a 20 year old who has never served before), which I find to be enjoyably fast-paced and pleasing for the pocketbook.

This is just going to be a short post about a tongue-in-cheek moment I had the other day while at work: I had finished serving a table of four (two young children and two older adults), and when the woman from the table came to the till to pay, I was making conversation, as is customary. Casually, and not thinking anything of it, I asked her, “Out for supper with the grandchildren?” Imagine my embarrassment and guilt when she answered, “Actually they are mine. Surprising at my age, isn’t it?” with a small laugh. Mortified into a loss of words, I just gave her what, I hope, looked like a crinkly-eyed smile rather than the grimace I felt inside.

After she left, I couldn’t help but kick myself for my wrongful assumption. Granted, this circumstance of subconscious labelling wasn’t especially harmful or degrading in comparison to others, but it was definitely a reminder to myself that, no matter how much I have learned about stereotyping and discrimination, I am still human, make these mistakes, and can’t possibly know someone from a glance.

This situation actually reminds me a lot of a video that went viral a few weeks ago. It involves a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent that really blows some stereotypes out of the water. If you haven’t already seen it, I suggest you give it a watch:

And here is one of my absolute favourites about judging people from a glance and how inaccurate it is:

Hope you enjoyed this ‘food for thought’ entry! Have you ever had an embarrassing ‘assumption’ moment?


technique doesn’t make a teacher


This is the image that many people will automatically think of when they hear ‘teacher.’ But is standing at the front of the classroom, lesson plan in hand really capturing the breadth and depth of the teaching profession?

This week, I read an article (I included the link at bottom of this post) by Parker J. Palmer titled “The Heart of a Teacher.” Although this piece had many memorable messages, the one phrase that I connected most with was:

“good teaching cannot be reduced to technique”

As my peers and I are now approaching the end of our second year (and therefore, the halfway point in completing our degree), I feel that there is a slowly rising panic inside of many of us because we have not had very much explicit instruction or practice regarding how to lesson plan or actually teach a class.

This quote really made me rethink the imminent importance of learning these things. You can have the best lesson plan in the world, but will it truly matter or make a difference if you don’t know how to incorporate social justice and anti-oppressive practices into your teaching practice? Are you actually fulfilling your job as an educator by merely planning activities for children to learn from if they are never relevant to students’ lives and real world issues?

So, to my fellow future teachers: take a deep breath and realize the merit of the strong foundation being built for us. We are challenging and reshaping our personal beliefs and ideas about teaching; we are understanding the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion in our practice; we are questioning the constructed ideas of students, teachers, classrooms, and schools that our experiences as students have created and perpetuated.

When we came into this program, perhaps we viewed lesson planning and organization of learning experiences as the sole duty of a teacher, but I think now we all realize that our future careers are much more complex than we may have originally believed. Rather than worrying about when we are going to learn the ins and outs of managing our own classrooms, focus on what’s important about what we are learning right now and what we have already learned in the program. I think that a teacher who is in tune with their inner values has already mastered a large portion of being a successful educator. All the rest will come with experience (which, don’t worry, we will get A LOT of in our next two years as pre-interns and interns).

For now, just enjoy the journey – and don’t forget to look back at how far you’ve already come.


news awareness, gender equity, and music’s influence – oh my!

Over the past few days, a few things have come to the attention that I thought would be worthy of sharing with all of you:

News Awareness This one is a personal development target for myself. I have never been one who turns on the the news on TV to catch up with national and global happenings, mostly because I find the news to be very disheartening, monotonous, and skewed in its representation of different perspectives. However, I have realized recently that, as a teacher, I have a responsibility to keep up with important current events that my students may have been hearing about and have questions about that we can address as a class. As of now, if a student came up to me and asked, “Teacher, what’s happening in Ukraine?” I would have no way to answer them. That is not what I want for my future classroom. So I have perused the App Store on my phone and downloaded a handful of news apps that I am trying out in order to spark myself to get with the times and avoid future embarrassment over my obliviousness to recent news stories. I’ll let you know which ones I have found most helpful after I have given them all a fair shot!

Gender Equity In my ECS 210 class, groups of us are doing Inquiry Projects on a topic of our choice, and mine is “Gender Equity.” My instructor (check out her blog and Twitter account!) lent our group a couple of textbooks to pull ideas from, and I found one particularly insightful: “Rethinking Early Childhood Education” (by Rethinking Schools, Ed. Pelo, 2008).

Image (this is what the book looks like)

Here are just a few of the points that I gleaned from my short time reading:

  • Science kits in toy stores had NO female figures (girls or women) on the boxes –> What does this say about our society’s beliefs about girls’ interests and capabilities?
  • The word ‘tomboy’ makes a girl into a boy, simply because she doesn’t act in a stereotypically associated ‘girly’ way –> just because of her actions, she can no longer retain her identity as a girl? Is it, then, abnormal for girls to be ‘tomboys’? And what could be a possible alternative for this word ‘tomboy’? I’d argue that she is a girl just as much as her female classmate dressing up as a princess, wouldn’t you?
  • Game Boys have a similar effect –> Does this mean girls can’t play with them? Do you think a video game console today would be named something similar that rejects one gender? Is this just an innocent mistake, or does it have deeper repercussions?
  • The children’s story “The Three Little Pigs” creates a hierarchy of living spaces. Houses made of straw or sticks are significantly symbolized as ‘less than’ those of bricks, when people in other countries live in these types of ‘lesser’ homes. –> Yes, this one isn’t related to gender, but I found myself so taken aback that I just had to include it. It makes me wonder what other, hidden messages we are portraying to children in classic fairy tales and fables…
  • Something that I realized as a result of this lens of gender… There have been types of Lego that are specifically advertised towards girls because they have pink and purple pieces and all the sorts of things that little girls will (presumably) like. Aren’t these blatantly ‘girly’ toys just perpetuating these stereotypes, though? Why can’t girls play with normal Lego? This is creating the idea that girls can’t use boys’ toys and must have their own, separate, girly-fied versions. I see no reason for boys to have superhero dolls to nurture or girls to have frilly Lego to build princess castles with. I don’t think we need to change the nature of the toy in order to try and market it towards a certain audience.

girl lego







Music’s Profound Influence While listening to an “Epic Film Scores” playlist on my Songza app (which I HIGHLY recommend that everyone download!), I could easily recognize which movies certain tunes came from – sometimes within just a few bars. As a huge lover and advocate of music, I enjoyed this simple reinforcement of how easily music sticks with us and embeds itself into our memories – often infused with a deep, emotional connection. This is the driving force behind my firm belief in using music daily in my future classroom – if a song I sing in a Grade 1 class can be recognized fifteen years later when my students are in high school because of something they learned from it, or the way it made them feel, then I am definitely doing my job right. Music is such a powerful force, why not harness it for learning?

Thanks for reading! Until next time,