In 1998, more than 90% of the ESL students at the southeastern U.S. community college where I taught had completed high school outside the U.S.; within 3 years, the college’s ESL enrollment had grown from 16 to 160 students, almost 90% of whom were U.S.-educated English learners (ELs). Like many other college ESL instructors, my graduate TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) program had focused on pedagogy for adult ELs educated outside the U.S., but by 2001 my classes had many more EL students who had graduated from area high schools and whose learner characteristics differed in significant ways from those I was accustomed to teaching. Although many of the newer students “sounded American” and were comparatively better acquainted with U.S. culture than their international classmates, their literacy skills were markedly different and in many ways less well-developed and sophisticated. Simultaneously, their writing and reading practices, while superficially resembling those of their English-only peers, revealed second language issues related to academic vocabulary and writing/reading fluency. These observations raised pedagogical questions about how and why these ELs were unique, which led to my wondering what their high school literacy experiences and preparation had been. However, searching for such information in academic sources was not productive, for little research exists on the acquisition of academic writing and reading skills of the group frequently referred to as generation 1.5 ELs, and even less examines their experiences as they negotiate the transition from secondary school to college (Harklau, 2004). Additionally, much of the available research has been done in settings where ELs have constituted a significant presence for longer periods of time (2004), and may not address situations in which generation 1.5 ELs are newcomers in school systems accustomed to teaching English-only students. To learn more about generation 1.5 ELs’ pre-college literacy preparation, I designed a study that examines the following questions:
• What is the experience of selected generation 1.5 ELs in their transition from high school to college literacy tasks?