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The labels we use in our field and how these labels matter

  • 1.  The labels we use in our field and how these labels matter

    Posted 05-08-2022 02:15 PM

    Hello, My TESOL Lounge Community,

    Linked is a preview copy of the article Rai has written for the August issue of TESOL Connections. In this article, Rai looks at the terms and labels we use in the profession, specifically EL vs. MLL.

    We thought this could be a good launch pad for further discussion within my TESOL. TESOL Connections, with this article, was emailed to all members on Monday.

    Check out this article on how we use labels. Reading the article made me think about these questions:

    1. What labels do you use in your district/school? 
    2. How do labels limit? 
    3. How do labels make us have certain expectations and assumptions? 
    4. How do labels affect our students?
    We look forward to your response. Please let us know if you have questions for Rai, the author.

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    Yuliya Summers
    MyTESOL Lounge Coordinator/Volunteer
    TESOL MPC
    United States
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  • 2.  RE: The labels we use in our field and how these labels matter

    Posted 05-08-2022 03:23 PM
    Labels are great!!  They enable us to identifiy different students with different needs and serve our students appropriately, rather than teach a "one size fits all" approach.  Consider this..

    1. You go to the store and all the bottles, cans, boxes and packages have no labels. How do you know what to buy?
    2. The pharmacist is going to fill your prescription. S/he goes to the shelf and there are 1000 bottles of pills, all looking alike with no labels. So s/he just grabs the first bottle available and gives it to you.
    3. At the gas pump we (in the US) have several options, with prices varying by almost $1.00 a gallon per gallon. Without labels, how would anyone know which gas to buy and how much it was?

    We need to be able to differentiate medicines, foods, products, services...and students. Fixating on the word "label" is easy and trendy lately.  How  should teachers be able to differentiate students, and teach them at their level, without labels? Is it the word "label" you don't like, or the idea of classifying students in order to meet the needs of hundreds, or thousands, of students with limited resources.

    Allison Widmann, MSW, MPP, Certified TESOL

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    Allison Widmann, MSW, MPP, Certified TESOL
    ESL Teacher
    Language and Literacy, LLC
    United States
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  • 3.  RE: The labels we use in our field and how these labels matter

    Posted 06-08-2022 10:31 AM

    Hi Allison,

    I think there is always going to be tension between labels and reality. In your metaphor, every food in the grocery store has its own label telling what food it is.

    But in schools, we do the opposite giving broad labels to categories of students. The analogy would be more like you go to the grocery store and everything is labeled meat, produce, breads, grains, or spices. All your recipes use the same broad terms. You are forced to act as if pork is the same as shrimp and tomatoes are the same as mushrooms
    in the pharmacy metaphor, this could be disastrous as there are many medicines we label "painkillers" but they cannot be prescribed interchangeably.

    In many states, ESL students are labeled special needs along with kids with physical or learning disabilities. You can see why that might be problematic I hope.

    On the other side, I am often asked if my materials work for ESL or EFL. In the UK, they also have ESOL. I've used some activities in a variety of settings and found them effective. I don't know why I have to label them.

    I thought the article raised some interesting points as well.

    Best,

    Walton



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    Walton Burns
    Freelance Writer
    Senior Editor, Alphabet Publishing
    www.waltonburns.com
    www.alphabetpublishingbooks.com
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  • 4.  RE: The labels we use in our field and how these labels matter

    Posted 06-08-2022 07:25 AM
    Tangential to this: If we haven't gotten our e-mail copy of Connections, who should we bother about this?

    ---Amy West

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    Amy West
    United States
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  • 5.  RE: The labels we use in our field and how these labels matter

    Posted 08-08-2022 11:05 AM
    Hi Amy,
    Anyone who is having issues receiving email messages from TESOL can reach out to members@tesol.org. I'll follow up with you by direct email.

    Best regards,

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    Valerie Novick
    Senior Membership Manager
    TESOL International Association
    United States
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  • 6.  RE: The labels we use in our field and how these labels matter

    Posted 08-08-2022 09:32 AM

    Thank you for this post, Yuliya, and the article, Rai. This continues to be an important topic in TESOL, and in North America, where the default view of learning English as a new language has been based on a monolingually-oriented deficit perspective. This perspective has a long history in the US in particular, where it has persisted in national and state language policies and practices (e.g., the label "Limited English Proficient" encoded in ESSA (also called NCLB) 2000 to represent bilingual education still survives in school district documents), yet this perspective presents different manifestations and nuances globally. These manifestations have been produced within local and regional histories of conquest, colonialism, and migration.

    Speaking from the perspective of research in language education, there is plenty of documentation about the negative impacts of labeling on teachers and their students learning English (as Rai pointed to, in addition to documented harmful impacts on US English-speaking Indigenous and African American students, see for example the court's decision in Martin Luther King School Children v. Ann Arbor, MI Board of Education, 1979). Taking another view, there is research (see Alistair Pennycook and Nancy Hornberger, among many others) documenting the motivations and pitfalls for selecting English (or another "standard world" language) as a medium of instruction in contexts outside the US. The question of "what's in a name" brings to the fore who has the power to name and classify groups of people in a particular context. Labels may help an institution define its philosophy and/or how it will organize its language education programs yet may also obscure students' and teachers' competence. The questions Yuliya asked are a great way to understand what exactly labels do in a particular context, and we can look for "naming" operations that are helpful, as Allison implied. For example, how does understanding of "bilingual" as a continuum (see Hornberger, 2004) help? How does the change from "EL" to "multilingual student" help us in language education to understand our work, ourselves as educators, and our students? I have found it useful to engage international/multilingual students in discussion of this topic, and students appreciate the opportunity to explore meanings and impacts of labels on them.  All best, J



    ------------------------------
    Jessie Hutchison Curtis, PhD
    Part Time Faculty, Rutgers English Language Institute
    Chair
    TESOL Research Professional Council
    United States
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  • 7.  RE: The labels we use in our field and how these labels matter

    Posted 11-08-2022 08:11 PM
    Hi Jessie, thank you for sharing this research on labels. What a great idea to involve international multilingual students in discussing these issues . I am curious to learn what your students have discussed.



    ------------------------------
    Yuliya Summers
    MyTESOL Lounge Coordinator/Volunteer
    TESOL MPC
    United States
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  • 8.  RE: The labels we use in our field and how these labels matter

    Posted 12-08-2022 01:36 AM
    Thanks so much for this wonderful discussion of the importance of labels.

    I've "fought" bravely but with little success against any label that included

    English (Language) Learner

    since regardless of how long you have been speaking English (or any language), you are learning the language.

    It's often happened that the students I teach have taught me English words or collocations from their lives, professions, or other varieties of English -- e.g. the British use of revise vs the American review.

    Unfortunately, I'm not sure just adding "multilingual" makes the issue any clearer since many of our students aren't multilingual; it also hides the fact that helping students use English as a tool is our main focus.

    Interestingly, no math(s) teacher would consider the label "math(s) students" to be based on a deficiency since learning math(s) is a never-ending process, just as learning any language is.

    Even more unfortunately, I have no solution to offer. I just toss another small pebble into the murky waters of this discussion. But I am very grateful that this topic is being discussed so rationally.

    Thanks,
    Charles, a multilingual learner


    ------------------------------
    Charles Hall, Ph.D., dr.h.c
    Legal English, Teaching Training
    International Summer Language School -- TEFL Cert.
    https://isls.zcu.cz/english-general-information-tefl-students/?lang=en


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  • 9.  RE: The labels we use in our field and how these labels matter

    Posted 12-08-2022 09:04 AM
    Fluency in all the registers and variations of a language takes a lifetime, and thanks Charles for bringing us back to that.  I'm reminded that for the context of TESOL, we can think about what it means to be bilingual or multilingual, as this is a topic that has also evolved away from a hierarchical approach. The idea of bilingualism (and biliteracy) instead being layered and multidimensional have been much discussed: for example, continua of biliteracy (Hornberger, 2003); dynamic bilingualism as non-linear discursive practice and translanguaging as "what bilinguals do" when they select from their language repertoires (García, 2009); and linguistic repertoire (Blommaert & Backus, 2013), adding a biographical dimension to language learning (and unlearning, as these authors pointed out).

    These authors (and others) have helped me in my work in teacher education. I understand bilingualism in its broadest sense, to mean multilingual practice. It would be great to share more of our experiences (and/or students' experiences that they are willing to share) with labels and categories, when they help and when they are not so helpful, and why.

    ------------------------------
    Jessie Hutchison Curtis, PhD
    Part Time Faculty, Rutgers English Language Institute
    Chair
    TESOL Research Professional Council (RPC)
    United States
    ------------------------------



  • 10.  RE: The labels we use in our field and how these labels matter

    Posted 12-08-2022 11:28 AM
    Hello all,

    As I commented in my first post on this issue, I think labels are good, important and necessary.  They help us organize, understand and classify. When I vote, and I am fortunate to live in a democracy where I get the opportunity to elect my leaders, I am very careful to look at the "label" of the candidates, generally "R" (Republican), "D" (Democrat) or "I" (Independent). If we did not have labels how would we know what party potential leaders represent?

    We need to be careful with labels, though. We need to see beyond the label to the person ascribed or choosing the label, and labels are both chosen and ascribed.  In the US many young people are rejecting the "label" of male/female, wanting to be seen for who they are not the label given to them at birth. Except that label is necessary for a medical provider or in sports as the female body is inherently different from the male body. In the language world, it is important to know what students are native speakers of that language (English in the US/UK/Australia and others I don't know, Italian in Italy, French in France, etc.) so students who are not native speakers are not unintentionally held back in school, or even worse, deemed "stupid" simply because they don't know the language.

    Labels are guidelines, not carrying the weight of law unless we let them. We as teachers need to look beyond the labels students are given, or that they choose, or that we give them ourselves, and see the student for who they are and what their needs are. As people change, as cultures change, as society changes so too do labels.

    Regards,
    Allison Widmann, MSW, MPP, Certified TESOL (my label)

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    Allison Widmann, MSW, MPP, Certified TESOL
    ESL Teacher
    Language and Literacy, LLC
    United States
    ------------------------------



  • 11.  RE: The labels we use in our field and how these labels matter

    Posted 15-08-2022 10:43 PM
    What a rich conversation we have had in this thread. Thanks to Yuliya for posting and Rai for writing this piece. In classes that I teach with future educators, I always address labels that we use in week 1, and I always make the rationale for this discussion transparent to students. The rationale is that the language we use matters, that students' multilingualism is valid, and that we and future educators need to avoid calling our students by names that focus on their limitations, as such names send messages to our students and ourselves (for example, our students are somehow inferior). I have used Garcia (2009) for quite some time in class and I think it's time to adopt a new piece to facilitate this conversation, which makes this TESOL Connections post timely!

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    Shuzhan Li
    Ithaca College
    United States
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  • 12.  RE: The labels we use in our field and how these labels matter

    Posted 16-08-2022 09:57 AM
    Shuzhan, thank you for bringing the question of new work. This collaborative book by teachers and researchers may help. City University of New York-New York State Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals (CUNY-NYSIEB) (Ed.). (2021). Translanguaging and transformative teaching for emergent bilingual students: Lessons from the CUNY-NYSIEB project.  In addition to this book, there are resources (including videos) you may have seen here, CUNY-NYSIEB – CUNY-NYS Intiative On Emergent Bilinguals. 

    In response to a question I think Yuliya asked earlier, in my university teaching experience, my US students had gone through their K-12 education under the restrictive NCLB/ESSA policies which only ended in 2015 (the new ESSA was first implemented in AY 2017-2018 so we have yet to learn if/how policy changes have made a difference in US public schools). My students (those who had been in ESL classes during their K-12 school experience, even if they spoke English) spoke about how empowering it was to reconsider their language resources, to think of themselves as bi/multilingual speakers, and to consider intercultural citizenship that recognizes intercultural competence.

    With thanks for the opportunity to share.

    ------------------------------
    Jessie Hutchison Curtis, PhD
    Part Time Faculty, Rutgers English Language Institute
    Chair
    TESOL Research Professional Council (RPC)
    United States
    ------------------------------



  • 13.  RE: The labels we use in our field and how these labels matter

    Posted 16-08-2022 11:38 AM
    Thanks so much for bringing up that important issue of helping students identify as English+ rather than -English.

    It's interesting to see these same discussions for other target languages.

    For example, now German teachers talk about  the GFL vs GSL (German as a Foreign/Second) difference while the Czech classes I take are all still Czech for Foreigners.

    What are other target languages doing with this issue of labeling? Is it important or even considered?

    Additionally, however, in teaching any form of English, which for better or worse is the truly first global language, we should, as Jesse noted, be teaching/fostering/encouraging intercultural competence as  crucial tool.

    In these discussions, it's easy to forget that world-wide most interactions conducted in English are between two (or more) "non-natives" with no "native" speaker in sight or needed.

    Indeed we consider that for perhaps all contexts and for all audiences we are actually teaching "English as a Tool":

    EAT  :-)

    Thanks
    Charles 








    ------------------------------
    Charles Hall, Ph.D., dr.h.c
    Legal English, Teaching Training
    International Summer Language School -- TEFL Cert.
    https://isls.zcu.cz/english-isls-2018/?lang=en
    ------------------------------