SLIFE student

Have you noticed any changes to your English learner (EL) population lately? As educators of ELs, we are aware that world events often have an impact on our newly arrived ELs’ backgrounds. In this point in time in which immigrants and ELs are often the topic of conversation among policymakers, it is important to consider the strengths and challenges that a small but significant subgroup of ELs brings. Students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE) are a group of ELs whose presence can have a profound impact on schools and educators.

This post will provide you with a definition of SLIFE, share some statistics on SLIFE, and highlight SLIFE’s strengths. It will briefly detail some considerations for SLIFE instruction, families, and programming. It will end with information on our new online SLIFE course at SupportEd as well as some resources for further information on SLIFE. 

SLIFE Definition and Challenges

SLIFE are students with limited or interrupted formal education. Certain states and districts have their own unique definition of SLIFE, but generally they come from a home in which a language other than English is spoken, have gaps in their education from their home country, and are below grade level in reading and mathematics. They may have attended school in the U.S. but can have gaps in language and literacy due to ineffective instruction. They generally have little or no home language literacy, are at risk for dropping out of school, and need support beyond traditional English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs. In addition to academic needs, SLIFE often present socioemotional challenges stemming from poverty, poor health, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), family separation and/or reunification, and changes in family roles in the US.


SLIFE Statistics

Even though SLIFE represent a relatively small proportion of ELs, estimated to be between 10% and 20% of ELs (Advocates for Children of New York, 2010; de Velazco & Fix, 2000), their challenges can overwhelm districts, administrators, and teachers. Certain school districts that we have worked with have seen a dramatic increase in the number and percentage of SLIFE they are enrolling with few resources in place. When a school or district experiences an unexpected rise in SLIFE students, they may not have policies and practices in place to address SLIFE’s unique socioemotional and academic challenges described above that often extend beyond ELs’ need to acquire English.


SLIFE Strengths

Instead of focusing solely on the challenges that SLIFE bring, we like to frame our work with SLIFE and their educators around SLIFE’s many strengths. Some strengths that SLIFE tend to bring to their education include resiliency, problem solving, cultural pride, strong family ties, motivation, and sense of community. In addition, SLIFE’s “funds of knowledge,” or “the skills and knowledge that have been historically and culturally developed to enable an individual or household to function within a given culture” (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992), can be a helpful place to begin once the teacher identifies them.

Considerations for Instruction

The Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm (MALP) can provide a useful frame of reference for the instruction of SLIFE. Many SLIFE need immediate relevance and interconnectedness in order to learn. Over time the MALP framework combines processes so that SLIFE can be successful in U.S. Schools. The framework starts with shared responsibility and introduces features of American school culture such as individual accountability and written word as a means of transmitting information. The model progresses to focus on new activities with familiar language and content to develop skills to complete academic tasks (DeCapua & Marshall, 2011). Some other considerations for instructing SLIFE include building upon students’ home languages and oracy as well as carefully choosing and adapting instructional materials.

Considerations for SLIFE Families

We should also consider families of SLIFE, who would like to deeply support their children but may need some extra assistance to do so. Schools and districts should discuss providing additional support services for SLIFE families, such as after-school tutoring, trauma support, language classes for adults, and cultural liaisons so that their children can be successful in school.

Considerations for Programming

There are many aspects of effective programming to consider. These include identification of SLIFE, enrollment process and materials, and program models. When identifying and enrolling SLIFE in districts, districts should have a clear identification process, consider providing an oral interview in the home language to determine students’ backgrounds, and provide literacy and math assessments in the home language (New York State Department of Education, 2011). In terms of effective programs, small classes should be provided for SLIFE with support for both academic as well as socio-emotional growth, an intensive skills focus, and appropriately scaffolded instructional strategies. Many models for SLIFE exist, including newcomer programs, stand-alone models, integrated ESOL models, and extended learning opportunities (Custodio & O’Loughlin, 2017).

SLIFE Online Course: Get Started

Dive deeper into SLIFE with our 12-hour facilitated online course. Our interactive online SLIFE course is developed by a team of experts at SupportEd. In this 6-week course, partcipants will be able to meet the following objectives:

  • Apply understanding of the strengths and challenges of specific SLIFE populations to advocate for SLIFE in your context
  • Use strategies for supporting and engaging SLIFE and their families
  • Develop SLIFE-specific lessons and activities by applying a framework for the effective instruction of SLIFE
  • Set goals for using best practices to facilitate an instructional program and school climate that incorporates the academic, social, emotional, and cultural needs of SLIFE in your context

Participants will receive 12 hours of professional development upon completion. Get started and save your seat for our online SLIFE course here. For more information, please email

When we fully understand what experiences SLIFE bring to their schools, we are better equipped to provide appropriate resources for SLIFE and their families, improving their chances for academic and personal growth. We look forward to working with you to fill your toolbox with useful strategies for supporting SLIFE and to build a network of support.

SLIFE Resources

Custodio, B., & O’Loughin, J. (2017). Students with interrupted formal education: Bridging where they are and what they need. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

DeCapua, A.  & Marshall, H. (2011). Breaking new ground: Teaching students with limited or interrupted formal education in U.S. secondary schools. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press ELT.  

DeCapua, A., Smathers,W., & Tang,L. (2009). Meeting the needs of students with limited or interrupted schooling. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press ELT.

Keppler, L., Morales, L., Cortada, J., Austin, M. (2015). WIDA Focus On SLIFE: Students with interrupted or limited formal education. Retrieved from

Moll, L., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory Into Practice, XXXI, 2, 132-141.

New York State Department of Education. (2011). Guidelines for educating limited English proficient students with interrupted formal education. Retrieved from

Robertson, K.  & Lafond, S. (2012). How to support ELL students with interrupted formal education (SIFEs) [blog post]. Retrieved from