Nobody likes a label

At certain times in my life I’ve been categorised. A cold Brit, who drinks tea on the dot of 5 o’clock and who has a higher moisture tolerance when it comes to the weather. Of course, I’ve been equally likely to categorise those I meet. “Oh, so you went to that school?” “Ah, one of your grandfathers is Sicilian, and the other is from the Basque Country – that explains it!”

If I stopped for a moment before opening my mouth, I would remember of course that categories cannot define a person. We are each made up of our unique experiences – an amazing blend of all the places we’ve been and all the people we’ve known. So, why are we happy to define students in our schools with labels?

We do it for convenience’s sake and because it is human nature to try to define and categorise. It helps a busy teacher who has a million and one things to juggle every day. Full Diploma, ELL, and Learning Centre are just some of the ways we put a label on our students every day.

Another thing that a teacher does every day is choose the battles that they want to fight, and those that can wait for another moment. I’m not ready to mount a one-woman mission to eradicate labels. But one thing I could do is try to change a label to one that is more affirming of my students’ skills, experiences and identities. And that’s why I’d like my students to be known as multilingual learners rather than English language learners. So, here’s to trying to change one label and hopefully make a difference to how people see my students. I’ll keep you posted!


4 thoughts on “Nobody likes a label

  1. You will not be alone fighting this battle at school!! Labels, as you said, help teachers categorize their students, and get the help we think they need (Learning Center students, ELLs, gifted) but many times, those labels can have a tremendous impact on students. It has been proved that labeling students by ability, for instance, limits their potential to learn. I once read that labeling students is one way of treating them with a fixed mindset. So, let’s all fight together labeling, and promote a growth mindset in our classes!!

    If you are interested in reading the article I mentioned above, please go to:


    1. Thanks for your thoughts and for sharing that very interesting article. I was interested to see that Hattie’s research was quoted, showing that: “… ability grouping has an effect size of .12 and not labeling students has an effect size of .61.” So we can see that labeling students can have a positive effect, but NOT labelling students can have a far greater effect. I think one of the most damaging effects that labelling can have is that we can then take it as some kind of permission to see all students with the label as exactly the same. This leaves little chance for personalised learning to take place. Do you see that happening as well?


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