Who Are Generation 1.5 Students?

Definition of Generation 1.5 Students

Generation 1.5 students cannot be simply and easily defined as they fall into a broad range. So this cannot be a one size fits all definition. Some Generation 1.5 students immigrated to the U.S. in elementary school or high school or they have migrated from U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico. Some are the children of wealthy families who are living with relatives while they receive an education here. Probably the most commonly identified Generation 1.5 students were born in this country but grew up speaking a language other than English at home. What Generation 1.5 students have in common is that they share characteristics of both first and second generation immigrants (hence the title Generation 1.5), but they do not fall into traditional categories of English as a Second Language students. They are U.S. educated but do not have English as a home language. They have very diverse prior educational experiences and a wide range of English language proficiency and academic literacy. A common trait is limited or no literacy in the “home” language.

Characteristics of Generation 1.5 students

  • They typically speak 2 or more languages fluently.
  • They are aural and oral learners, having learned English through listening and speaking and not through reading and writing. Their language is fluent and shows thorough knowledge of social customs, U.S. culture, and idioms. They often sound like native speakers.
  • They have a limited knowledge of academic English. They are often identified as having weaker literacy proficiency than native speakers.
  • They have never acquired or are losing literacy in their home language. Some may not be able to communicate effectively with their family members.
  • They have cross-cultural identification, or confusion about cultural identification. They identify both with U.S. culture as well as home culture. Sometimes Generation 1.5 students may develop language characteristics in common with the social group they socialize and/or identify with.
  • They have done most or all of their schooling in the U.S., but their education has been inconsistent, a hodgepodge of differing placements, pedagogies, programs and teaching practices. A common problem is that these students have been placed into low ability classes in U.S. high schools so they have had limited experience with academic reading and writing. Another common problem is that the students identify themselves as lacking skills and ability. They often see themselves as less capable than native speakers.

What are the concerns for these students in our college classes?

Generation 1.5 students have slipped through the cracks for years because no one foresaw the types of issues that might arise. Some Generation 1.5 students have been inappropriately placed in ESL classes because they have some characteristics of non-native speakers in their writing. These courses, while appropriate for students who have grammatical proficiency in their first languages but lack knowledge of culture, vocabulary, and social customs, do not address the needs of the orally fluent Gen. 1.5 students. Other students in their earlier schooling were placed into low ability courses, where the instruction consisted mostly of drill, short answer or writing from models. So the students had little experience with their own writing or reading others’ writing. Since many of these students have relied on their ears to tell them what is correct and what is not, they have problems detecting correct and incorrect forms in their writing. Because the students have made the same mistakes over and over, these errors have become automatic for them. As Generation 1.5 students do not have literacy in their home language, they do not have the ability to compare grammars in home language and English and lack terminology. Generation 1.5 students have not had much exposure to reading and writing and generally avoid it. They rely on oral/aural skills.

Tips for Instructors of Generation 1.5 Students

  1. Be aware of students’ prior academic experiences in reading and writing classes and make up for lacks.
    Since the students have typically had very little experience with revising their writing or writing from sources, show them how. Give them explicit directions about criteria for editing writing and how to apply them. Show them methods of research and how to document sources in smaller assignments before they take on the larger projects. Instruction in smaller increments is helpful. They often have not had the same introduction to these skills as other high school students in college-bound courses.
  2. Help promote critical and academic literacy.
    Show them the difference between academic and other types of writing and make them aware of the purposes and conventions involved. They also need to have challenging and authentic writing tasks. Find ways to have them be actively engaged in questioning, discussing, reading, and evaluating. Remember that these students have great fears about their own academic abilities and so have a tendency to make themselves invisible in the classroom.
  3. Teach students the grammatical terminology they need so that they understand grammatical errors!
    A Part of Speech guide sheet may be helpful. Make general grammar information available and easy to understand. (This seems like a no-brainer, but handbooks and on-line grammar resources are often not helpful since they cover too much and the directions are geared towards instructors.)
  4. Do not over-mark.
    When you do, the student will be overwhelmed and will assume that the task of learning and correcting is too great. Put errors in priority order. Focus on a pattern of errors. Do not mark all the errors in the paper at once.
  5. Highlight or underline patterns of errors. 
    After you have explained to the students what the errors are and how to correct them, give them time to correct errors on their own in class. The students should identify types of errors and correct them on their own.
  6. Teach from the students’ own writing.
    Contextualize grammar assignments. Make student quizzes from errors the students have made in their papers.
  7. Have the students keep an error log so that they can remember types of errors they have made and gradually unlearn fossilized errors.
  8. Have the students compare Before and After papers, so that they can see their progress.
  9. Tell the students that the types of errors they are making come from the way that they learned the language and not because they aren’t smart or good students.
    The correction process is very difficult and takes time. Reward them for the effort they are taking and the progress they are making.
  10. Allow and require revisions and rewrites.
    Remember that the students have not had a chance to learn that writing is a process yet and this is their chance. Help them to learn how to do it.
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