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English Learner Profile: The Progressing English Learner

According to Fisher, Frey, & Rothenberg, there are four types of English learners:

  1. newcomers who are literate in their first language

  2. newcomers who are not yet literate in any language

  3. students who have been in US schools for several years and are developing English proficiency as expected

  4. long-term English learners with conversational English who have not developed academic language and literacy in any language.

In this series of posts, we go into depth about what these learner profiles mean for planning effective instruction. We unpack each learner profile and offer suggestions for designing effective instruction that builds on multilingual students' strengths and supports their English language and literacy development.

In this post, we discuss our third English Learner profile, the Progressing English Learner!

PROFILE 3: The Progressing English Learner

These multilingual learners have been enrolled in US schools long enough that they are no longer considered newcomers, but they are not yet considered long-term English language learners. Each year, they gain at least one level of proficiency on annual English language testing. They are making the progress we would expect of students who are learning new content while acquiring a second language.

For MLs who fall into this category, scaffolded instruction helps them access the grade-level curriculum. When we use scaffolds (i.e., visuals, sentence stems, manipulatives, modeling, modified materials, vocabulary banks, first-language support, etc.), we make the language barrier easier for students to overcome.

The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) is an evidence-based framework for designing scaffolded instruction for MLs. It involves setting content objectives and language objectives for each lesson. The language objectives help students use English to communicate about the content they are learning. When we teach in this way, MLs gain grade-level knowledge and understandings while also developing their language skills. Our instructional time becomes doubly valuable!

Tips for supporting the Progressing English Learner:

  • create grade-level content objectives and language objectives for each lesson

  • provide language scaffolds to ensure students can understand and participate in the lesson

  • monitor progress and compare with true peers to ensure MLs continue to make expected growth

  • engage in a cycle of student observation followed by teacher reflection–ensure instruction is sufficiently rigorous and supportive depending on the ML’s current level of language proficiency

  • encourage students and families to continue using their first language to support their emerging multilingualism

Continue the Series

We hope this series will be helpful to you as you get to know your multilingual learners! Continue reading the series here:

The Four Profiles of English Language Learners (and How to Teach Them)

Profile 1: The Literate Newcomer

Profile 2: The Language and Literacy Novice

Profile 4: The Persistent English Learner

What have been your experiences working with Progressing English Learners? What challenges have you encountered, and what successes have you had? Share in the comments below!


Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Rothenberg, C. (2010). Implementing RtI with English learners. Solution Tree. [Amazon]

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