Coping with the Demands of Academic Literacy: Generation 1.5 ESL Community College Students and the Challenge of Reading to Learn while Still Learning to Read




Flowers, George A.

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This quantitative study conducted in the ESL program at a large community college investigated the symbiotic relationship between reading and second-language learning from the perspective of the class of post-secondary functional bilinguals sometimes referred to as Generation 1.5. These students are long-term, resident second-language (L2) English learners/speakers who receive much or all of their K-12 education in the United States while retaining roots in another language and culture. In this study, a convenience sample of 118 first-time enrollees in multiple sections of an intermediate ESL reading course completed a personal inventory that solicited information on matters related to L2 reading. These data were supplemented by scores on assessments of vocabulary, results from an established survey of reading strategies, and course outcomes derived from student records. The validity and potential usefulness of the Generation 1.5 model was assessed by comparing results for Generation 1.5 study participants to those for participants who received their K-12 education outside of the United States. Affirming similar findings derived largely from small-scale, qualitative studies, results from this study indicated comparative advantages for Generation 1.5 bilinguals in areas such as vocabulary breadth and depth, knowledge of English syntax, and self-reported proficiency in constructing meaning from English-language texts. Nevertheless, a higher proportion of foreign-educated study participants successfully completed the course. Consistent with themes emerging from Generation 1.5 research and L2 reading research, results from this study were interpreted as evidence of a lack of sustained engagement by many Generation 1.5 ESL students deriving in part from the inherent difficulty of reading in a second language but also reflecting a widely shared perception that for Generation 1.5 students the rewards of participating in college-level ESL are not commensurate with the considerable cognitive investment required, especially in ESL courses that do not count toward degree requirements. The study concludes that the language-support needs of post-secondary Generation 1.5 bilinguals might be better served through a combination of ESL-supported mainstream placements and ESL course offerings that integrate reading and composition in the simultaneous development of language, literacy, and content knowledge.



English as a Second Language (ESL), Reading instruction, Community college education, ESL, Generation 1.5, Language minority students, Reading in a second language, Second language acquisition, Second language learning