Proficiency

students working on laptops

All teachers need to understand the developmental process that EL students must go through to become proficient with the English language. This process involves broadly-accepted stages of development. EL students move through these developmental stages at different rates, but all EL students will pass through these stages. Two points of understanding are important before examining the stages of proficiency.

  1. All learning is language based. Proficiency with the complicated structure of the English language requires one to be able to speak, understand the spoken word, read, and write the language. These challenges are considerable for all students, but particularly so, for EL students.
  2. "Conversational" language development is different from "academic" language development. Conversational language is informal dialogue and acquired readily through daily conversation with family and friends. Academic language is the formal language of school, guided by the rules of grammar and dependent on content vocabulary. It is not uncommon for students to be quite fluent in conversational skills and yet demonstrate continuous difficulty with the complexities of academic language success.
Stages of Language Acquisition General Student Behaviors

Level 1 - Entering
  • point to objects
  • say yes or no
  • speak hesitantly

Level 2 - Expanding
  • produce one- or two-word phrases
  • use short repetitive language
  • focus on key words and context clues

Level 3 - Developing
  • engage in basic dialogue
  • respond using simple sentences

Level 4 - Emerging
  • use complex sentences
  • state opinions
  • ask questions

Level 5 - Bridging
  • converse fluently
  • understand grade-level activities
  • argue and defend points
  • read on grade level
  • write an organized passage

These developmental stages conform quite similarly to the features of Blooms Taxonomy, now a staple of classroom teacher understanding. Blooms Taxonomy categorized the learning process from lower ordered thinking skills to higher ordered thinking skills. In similar fashion, EL students apply language skills in ever-increasing difficulty as they work towards proficiency. The essential understanding for teaching EL students is that students must be provided instruction that matches their level of proficiency. The Franklin County Schools website Teacher Resource link offers suggested strategies for EL students according to their proficiency level. This is a valuable resource that will help teachers understand what they should fairly expect their ELs to be able to do, and also, what they should not be expected to do.

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