Many schools around the country are seeing a dramatic increase in students with limited or interrupted formal education (referred to as SLIFE or SIFE). These students can arrive at any age, with a multitude of reasons for their lack of formal schooling.
Some students were not fortunate enough to have been able to afford school in their home country. Others attend school for a time, only to have to abandon their hopes of an education due to war, the need to support their families, or a lack of education services where they live.
One challenge facing the United States when trying to track data on SLIFE enrollments is that there is no national definition for SLIFE. While many states’ definitions share common characteristics, there is no single method of classifying exactly what identifies a SLIFE. Many states, such as Utah and Massachusetts, define “interruptions in formal schooling” as “at least two or fewer years of schooling than their typical peers.” However, this indicator can be misleading because the definitions of “interruption” and “typical” are vague. There is no clear threshold of time to indicate an interruption in formal schooling, and there are few guidelines of what characterizes a “typical” student.
Both experienced and newer educators are finding themselves ill equipped to fully support these unique learners, but there are steps they can take to integrate SLIFE into their classrooms and empower them as learners.
- Create a welcoming and inclusive classroom. Start with a SMILE! A smile is universal and can help to reduce the affective filter and thus begin the language-learning process.
- Create a culturally diverse classroom. Enjoy the diversity of your students and celebrate their unique backgrounds by using resources that they can identify with. The culturally rich media in Vista’s Get Ready/Get Reading series for grades K-6 and grades 6-12, for example, shows students from all around the world interacting with one another, and the embedded activities allow students to see themselves represented in videos, literature, and practice. These multicultural selections create a sense of connection for all learners.
- Be patient. Understand that SLIFE often do not feel confident enough to speak in their new classroom on Day 1 or Week 1 (often referred to as a “silent period”). Embrace the silent period and use it as an opportunity to provide CI (comprehensible input), while allowing ample time for student output. When a student feels that they are in a safe space to try out their new language, the words will come. Vista recognizes this need for a safe space to develop oral fluency. Our Bridges series embeds speaking practices throughout the curriculum, providing many opportunities for authentic academic language practice. However, if a student is not quite ready to try out their new language ….
- Allow for heritage language in the classroom. There is the belief that English-only classrooms best promote new language acquisition. However, as we noted in a previous blog post, studies have shown that L1 (heritage or home language) literacy readily prepares students for additional language development (L2, L3, etc.). By allowing students to speak in their heritage language, educators not only embrace the student’s rich background, but they also lower the affective filter by reducing the anxiety to perform before the student feels ready.
- Scaffold and model—ALWAYS! Oftentimes, educators recognize the need for differentiation strategies, but do not know where to begin. When there is a classroom filled with students with many unique needs, the task can seem daunting; but it does not have to be! Vista’s Connect series offers scaffolds in the wrap-around text found on every page of the teacher’s edition, allowing for seamless integration of many strategies designed to empower all students and create equity in the classroom.
- Be open to learning. Vista provides teachers with a wealth of opportunities to learn best practices, discover research-based strategies, and find support in the ever-changing landscape of education. We offer blog posts, webinars, and podcasts to support educators in their journey to language development instruction and we encourage you to engage with us!
By: Jody Nolf, M.Ed., Literacy Engagement Specialist
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