This week we began the 5th in a series of readings about groups of Native Americans across America before Columbus. When I asked the students, purely as review (since we had spent several classes talking about this last month) when Columbus came to the Americas, they started shouting out random numbers ("disparates", as we say in Spanish- nonsense). "20!" shouted one. "40" yelled another. "No - it's more like 100!!" said yet another.
I tried to not feel discouraged. Hadn't we just talked about this? And I had drawn the timeline on the board to show them the sequence of events, and then we had to take another step back to talk about the year 0 and adding on the years before, and so on. I thought they now had it in their heads; I was really wrong.
So, I re-drew the timeline on the board again, realizing that 1) I should have left it up in the first place so we could refer back to it many times and 2) it was partially my fault for not reviewing it with them.
More importantly, it was a reminder to me that I teach a mostly SLIFE population. SLIFE students are Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Schooling. Their families may have moved around a lot. Or, it's possible they couldn't attend school regularly because of the cost of uniforms or books. Perhaps the students could not go to school because of violence in their countries, whether war or gangs/crime. Because of their circumstances, SLIFE students tend to have large gaps in their academic knowledge, and sometimes don't know what we consider basics, such as holding a pencil, writing on a line, sitting in a chair, or raising their hands.
Within SLIFE, there can be a huge range as well. Just in my class, I have one student who was reading and writing at a 1st or 2nd grade level. Luckily, with an amazing one on one bilingual tutor, he is making progress. As far as my other students, their gaps are smaller but definitely evident. For 2 it has to do with moving around and during one of those moves, being in a large urban school system that didn't seem to pay much attention to whether they were making progress or not. For 2 others, their country has short school days and the instruction was probably 2 years or so behind their U.S. grade level. And for one student, I'm not sure yet. She remains a puzzle. I know that she lived in the country side, that her home is suffering from war and violence, and that her school language was already her second language, and she never became fully proficient in that. She will not talk about her home country and almost never asks for help.
Luckily, we live in a town that provides great services to our students. We have an amazing family center, we have interpreters for our beginner ELL students, and my ELL colleague and I are able to adjust the curriculum to their needs while pushing our students to gain content knowledge as well as English. Also, we have a relatively small ELL population compared to some districts.
Still, this is an area we need to learn more about. Our district leaders should start paying attention and educating themselves and our faculty about this population of students, which is growing all over the U.S.
All of our students are complex and unique individuals. SLIFE students have a few extra layers of complexity. If you're interested in learning more, one of my go-to websites is Colorin Colorado. Here is the link to their page about SLIFE students: