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,

-KKF

blind obstacle courses and paperclip shuffleboard

Hi everyone! It has been a long time since my last post – I’m glad to be back. 🙂

First things first, I have started my In-School Mentoring through Big Brothers of Regina and I am absolutely loving it! My match is an enthusiastic and talkative Grade 5 student named James (I have changed his name for privacy purposes). The mentor training prepares you for a mentee that may be shy and closed off for the first few sessions, but James is very outgoing and 10 seconds after he met me, he decided “Okay, you’re my new mentor, so I am going to tell you everything I can about me in our 60 minutes together!” He completely charmed me with his willingness to share his life, and we had a lot of fun getting to know each other the first meeting. We played a game where one of us came up with a question (ex. What is your favourite season?) and then wrote our answer in our own colour (mine was blue) and also tried to guess the other person’s in their colour (James’ was black). We were both excited when we guessed each other’s favourite animals correctly (see below).

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During our second meeting, we played a few games, and the biggest hit was ‘paperclip shuffleboard’ (an idea I found on this site – check it out!) James was especially excited when he came back from behind and beat me in the last round. In fact, he enjoyed this game so much that he asked if we could play it at our next meeting! Here is a picture of the setup I used (it’s super easy, a ton of fun, and can be played with a variety of materials and on many different surfaces):

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Finally, at our third meeting, we played homemade Battleship and, again, I got whooped! We finished our session with a blind obstacle course, which I was delighted that James ALSO loved and requested that we play next week. This is a great game to build trust in the person directing you, and it also lets the speaker practice giving clear instructions.

Me, blindfolded and ready to be led around the obstacle course James set up!

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Secondly, I have had two practicum sessions for my KIN 120 class (Rec and Persons with Disabilities). My partner, who is also in Elementary Education, and I were ecstatic to find out that we were paired with an awesome little six-year-old boy. He definitely keeps us busy, but we are both loving it! Our first session was in the gym, and we played about 25 different games in 50 minutes – haha. Our second session was in the pool at the university and was also a blast. It is a lot easier to make sure that your student doesn’t outrun you when they are in water :p My partner and I have planned a lesson for our session in the gym tomorrow – if you’d like to check out the rough draft of our activity plan, here is the link.

Thirdly, I have been learning A LOT in my ELNG 200 class. The biggest realization that I have had as a result of this class is that I am very envious of anyone who is bi/tri/multilingual! After I am finished my degree and have settled in to teaching, I would love to work on learning another language! I will put that on my bucket list. I am now also very interested in DLBs (dual language books) and if you want to see one that I have found that can be read in Hindi, Telegu OR English, you can click right here!

Lastly, I have always been fascinated with how much children in school are expected to (and do) know these days. When I was volunteering in elementary classrooms in high school, I realized that students were learning geometry in Grade 1 and 2, whereas I am pretty sure these concepts were not introduced to me until Grade 4! My grandparents have also told me that the math I did in Grade 11 and 12 is equivalent to what was taught in university in their generation. Clearly, the education system is expecting a lot more out of students these days; or are students simply coming to school with more home-based knowledge nowadays? I just find it interesting to think that someday I will be teaching Grade 1 students to multiply – haha. What do you think? Are kids these days at a more academically advanced level than when you were the same age?

That’s all for now! Until next time, go forth and learn something new! 🙂

-KKF

third semester eye openers

I can’t think of a better reason to stay up than to do a blog post! Here are some of the interesting tidbits that have happened in the past few weeks…

1. My Field Experiences/Practicums This Semester

I have had two sessions at Balfour Collegiate working with ESL students and have really enjoyed it! One big realization I had was a result of talking with the cooperating teacher (that is so graciously letting 30 pre-service teachers into his classroom this semester), who was in the Elementary program, like me, when he was in university. He told my two other classmates and I that you can end up getting offered a Grade 11 Chemistry job right out of university, and you take it! I always find it interesting when teachers end up in different grades and subject areas than they were trained for. While I think it is beneficial in some situations to have the flexibility of a BEd. giving you the certification to teach any grade, I also feel that I would feel uncomfortable, unconfident, and totally out of my element in a high school. I suppose sometimes that is the best way to get your foot in the door and try something new and challenging, though!

However, volunteering in a mixed Grade 9-12 ESL class has really opened my mind to the possibility of ending up working with high school students at some point in my career. I feel that if I did, by some chance, end up in a high school, I would like to teach ESL students because, like Elementary, the teacher for the tutorial sessions works with all subjects, not one specialized area.

Another thing that I’ve been pondering lately… Why are there so many different acronyms for students who speak English as an additional language? ESL, EAL, ELL, oh my! Can’t they just pick one to use? haha

2. I am part of the Ambassador program at the U of R and I just got an e-mail from the head of the Ambassador program yesterday asking if I wanted to have a Campus For All Ambassador buddy. I was so excited and honoured to be given this opportunity! As an Education student, we are always ecstatic to get the chance to work with others and add these wonderful experiences to our resume. We keep hearing that all resumes and portfolios look the same, so it is really the additional experiences you have that will make you stand out and get you a job. There are hundreds of Ambassadors at the U of R, so I was tickled pink that the coordinator thought of me as a candidate! I’m sure I will have more to tell you about this once I get to meet my buddy and do some events with him!

If you want to learn more about the Campus For All program at the U of R, check their page out here!

3. I never posted some pictures of activities I did during my final tutoring session, so here you go:

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This is a reading board game I whipped up! It turned out really well and I’d love to use it again someday (sorry the image is so small. The spaces read: “Pick up a new word,” “Use your word in a sentence,” “Move ahead 3 spaces,” “Say a word that rhymes with yours,” “Read 2 new words,” “Spell your word,” “Move back 2 spaces,” “Act out your word,” “Make a new word using letters from yours,” “How many syllables in your word?,” and “How many vowels in your word?”). The only thing I would change is maybe making corresponding piles of word cards to pick from for certain spaces, because not all of the word cards I made could be easily used for all of the space tasks. For example, some of the words were very short, so you couldn’t arrange their letters to make other words; or some of the words were abstract terms that couldn’t be acted out.

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This is a fun little drawing activity that I linked to the online resource Bembo’s Zoo (check it out – I LOVE it!). It is a fun way to incorporate language into art.

4. Today in my ECE (Early Childhood Education) class, the instructor was teaching us the Waldorf ECE approach by actually treating the students like we were Kindergarteners, and I absolutely LOVED it! Some students were hesitant and embarrassed to sing the songs and perform the actions, but I thought it was a nice change of pace from the normal university class. This just affirmed for me how overjoyed I am to be heading towards a career that will let me sing songs and dance and fingerpaint and tell stories every single day! I truly am blessed! My work with the ESL students has opened up my eyes to the possibility of working with teenage students, and now my ECE class has me considering all the awesome aspects of working with Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten students as well. Don’t get me wrong, Grade 1 will probably always have my heart, but I am finding, more and more every day, that it isn’t about the age of the students to me, it is simply the act of teaching and fostering a love of learning that draws me to this field. It’s a nice epiphany to have and it makes it easy for me to say that I can enjoy any Grade that I may teach in the future.

This semester is shaping up to be a very busy (but wonderful!) one, so I am sure I will have more things to share soon! I hope whoever and wherever you are, you have a splendid day!