All across the United States, students who are limited in English proficiency are entering school. Some are immigrants who fled their native countries, and others are US-born citizens growing up in a house where English is not spoken. Instructing English language learners (ELLs) requires effective strategies not only for increasing their English proficiency, but also for building their academic skills. ELL students who enter US schools with some formal education in their backgrounds tend to gain English skills fairly quickly and effectively because they are able to transfer their academic skills to learning English.
Some immigrant students, however, enter US schools without having had a continuous formal education in their native language. This could be due to not attending school at all in their native country or to attending a school that had inadequate resources to educate students effectively. Or students might have attended school in their country and gone back and forth between their home and the US, learning some concepts in one language, but not in the other.
These students with interrupted formal education (SIFE or SLIFE) have an additional challenge in US schools. Not only do they have to learn to speak English, they also have to learn to read and write in English while growing in their age-appropriate academic skills—all without a strong foundation in basic skills. Furthermore, SIFEs have to adapt to new surroundings at the same time as learning to understand the rules and structure of formal education in a foreign environment. For all these reasons and more, SIFEs are at a higher risk for dropping out of school than your average student. This can create extra challenges for teachers who encounter SLIFE students in their classrooms.
- Providing support groups for SLIFEs and their families, within the school and in the community
- Hiring bilingual staff to assist with supplemental academic instruction as well as with adapting to the school environment
- Pairing up SLIFEs with highly responsible classmates, preferably those who also speak the SLIFE’s language, to assist with understanding classroom and school procedures
- Implementing a collaborative process between teachers, administrators, and counselors who can work together to meet the needs of SLIFEs
- Setting up flexible school scheduling for older SLIFEs in order to accommodate their work schedules
- Incorporating sheltered instruction—which includes the use of visual supports, modeling, demonstrations, and collaborative learning opportunities—in the classroom
- Adding culturally relevant materials and adapting standards whenever possible to make learning most effective and accessible to SLIFEs
- Increasing exposure to explicit literacy and English language instruction to build strong basic skills and English proficiency
- Introducing learning strategies that can be transferred across various subjects
Considering and implementing these types of strategies will give SLIFEs the best possible opportunity to learn and thrive in US schools.
By: Angela Padron
Also read: It’s Back to School Time—Again!