By Jun Li, Lorine Erika Saito and Kara Mac Donald
Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) and Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE) has been a topic of growing interest in ELT. Work around these subgroups of ELLs raises awareness of these learners’ specific needs, offers effective instructional approaches and interventions for language learning, supports students social acculturation, and emotional wellbeing, and advocates for policy reform. Three CATESOL members, Judy O’Loughlin, Brenda Custodio and Jose Franco, who have worked extensively in this area, are contributors to this edited volume. The volume showcases their academic engagement in support of SIFEs/SLIFEs, as well as many other well-known ELT researchers and professionals.
In this initial chapter, the editor shares his intention for the volume to improve conversations around and instructional practices for Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE). In particular, the focuses of the book, literacy development and education for refugees and immigrants, are both personal and professional passions for him. He shares why these issues are so important to him based on personal experiences, academic readings and historical events in his native country, Cuba. In doing so, he reveals the power of literacy and the yoke of constraints in the absence of literacy. He shares the structure of the books and importance of each topic. He closes the chapter by reiterating that the objective of this volume is to improve work around SLIFE through the contributions of the various authors who hold distinct views and approaches to meeting these students’ need, which broaden the discussion of literacy both theoretically and pedagogically.
The authors begin the chapter with a reflection on the topic of literacy and how its conception is socially fabricated, and depending on the understanding of its definition, there can be an intended or unintended inequalities that are established. However, the focus is most often on educators being asked to identify the skills that students lack to participate in society, rather than what they possess. They even refer to the fact that the word limited in the designating title may in fact be problematic itself by initiating the conversation with an assumption of a shortfall. The goal of the authors is to broaden the term and understanding of SLIFEs and frame the discussion into a conversation to problematize SLIFE and diversify what kinds of students the term encompasses. The term and model overall is one of a deficit view and prompts stigmatization of the learners, as they are seen as not possessing the valued literacies and educational background valued in developed countries. They also raise issue with the operational definition for learner identification and class placement. Learners can have quantitative math skills that are developing or developed, and the same for reading, but are not able to be successfully assessed due to language barriers, familiarity with assessment formats, school traditions, culture, and/or trauma. The terms and processes also divide students into a have (i.e. level appropriate skills) or have not i.e. not yet level appropriate skills), and the dichotomy groups students (e.g. SLIFE) into one common allocation, when they in fact have very differing needs and abilities. So, they raise the question as to how using the term SLIFE and its constructs benefits such learners, and argue that there needs to be a broader, but also, more specific, understanding of who such students are to fully meet their needs. The chapter closes with an example situation from Venezuela as to how the term SLIFE very much reflects the experiences of Venezuelan students experiencing disruptions in their education due to social, economic, and political turmoil, although they may not typically be labeled as such within the field.
Part II: Overview of Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education
Chapter 3: Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education in Primary and Secondary Classrooms in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and the UK by Luis Javier Penton Herrera
The chapter specifically explores SLIFE in K-12 in the United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, highlighting six main challenges such students encounter across the diverse contexts. The term is defined and the value of having a specific term to identify such students from other ELLs, while aslo sharing some data to highlight the size of the population. Then, the chapter offers a discussion on SLIFEs in K-12 in the United States, followed by a subsequent section examining similar learner groups in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, with a specific focus for each as relevant to the country. The major challenges described for primary and secondary students are identification, age of arrival, socio-emotional needs and integration, language and literacy learning, assessments, and parental support and involvement. First, identification of SLIFEs is difficult as data is out of date, school districts do not track this status, and students are often inappropriately assigned to classes and/or learner designation groups. Second, depending on the age when a student arrives, he/she has different abilities to reach full academic and literacy potentials. For example, those that arrive at an early age and enter primary school for the initial years have an easier time acquiring the language and academic competencies compared to a learner that arrives at high school age and has already experienced several years of interrupted or absent schooling. Third, many SLIFEs have come through very difficult situations in their home country and/or refugee camps and carry significant unaddressed trauma. Fourth, there needs to be dedicated time allocated to getting to know about SLIFEs cultural, language and educational backgrounds with the support of learners’ L1 before moving to formal content instruction. Fifth, the topic assessment is highly complex and entails various considerations, for example, SLIFEs are not evaluated on their L1 literacy level and prior formal testing experiences may be very distinct that in the English-speaking country. Sixth, the availability of parental involvement and support is often challenging, as there may have been different guardians at distinct time periods, parents may have been lost during conflict, and individuals’ social-cultural understanding of what is expected and needed in English-speaking educational setting may not be fully known. These six main challenges make SLIFEs a distinctive group of learners that need a range of specific personal, emotional, and academic support.
The chapter examines an even further specific group of SLIFEs, learners that enrolled in literacy education and second language learning for adults (LESLLA) educational programs. It describes the characteristics of this group of adult learners and the diverse contexts in which they are enrolled across the already described English-speaking countries. The author emphasizes that this population arrives with very distinct educational experiences: limited formal education and literacy to advanced post-graduate degrees, which prompted the term LESLLA to distinguish particular needs from the larger SLIFE population. LESLLA was first coined as Low Educated Second Language and Literacy Acquisition for Adults, and was subsequently adjusted to Literacy Education and Second Language Learning for Adults, which identifies mature aged individuals with little or no literacy in their first language learning English as a foreign language. The chapter reviews an understanding of literacy, factors resulting in low first language literacy, low first language literacy is not as a deficit, and closes by examining the English-speaking context previously introduced in the book, as well as others, with regard to LESLLA.
Chapter Five: Why, How, and Where to Advocate for English Learners with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education by Heather A. Linville and Luis Javier Penton Herrera
With SLIFE being an international concern, the chapter provides avenues to advocate for SLIFEs in elementary, secondary, and adult education, and resources for addressing their unique and diverse needs in the school contexts. The focus is not only on the development of literacy in the target language (e.g. English or that of the country of asylum or final residence) but also first language literacy instruction. The authors first explain why it is paramount that we as ELS/EFL and general subject educators have an understanding of SLIFE specific needs, as the experiences and struggles of SLIFEs are a global concern, many SLIFEs needs are not fully met if at all, and education is a human right. Additionally, the authors highlight that literacy is not solely about individual development, but it is also now connected with social change and therefore, a societal obligation. With the practical stage and theoretical frame established, the authors move to a tangible, or procedural, framework for how to advocate for SLIFEs, offering an explicit five step process that is applicable across national and local contexts. This model of advocacy is followed by case study description of implementing the five step model presented.
Teachers, both new and veteran, have not been prepared by the pre-service and in-service training for addressing the needs of students that come with trauma due to conflict contexts when resettled through refugee programs. These students need safe space to share and process their experiences and the associated lingering impact of trauma. The chapter shares an account of one teacher and the response to learner trauma, and the chapter sets out immediately with a retelling of a classroom experience where a student shared something devastating and impactful and how the teacher addressed the situation in a short snippet. The teacher compassionately and professionally led the lesson with the student’s response and followed up after the lesson to ensure the well-being of the student. However, this was her personal instinctual and compassionate educator reaction, it was not as result of any formal training on how to effectively support students in such instances. The remainder of the chapter explores the role of storytelling in the classroom and the drawbacks of associating individual experiences with stereotypical socio-cultural images. The remainder of the chapter describes how the classroom is an ideal place for exploring the trauma story, with focus on hearing the trauma story and responding to knowing it and processing it for the learner and the educator with respect to self-care. The authors close by stating what is known: understanding and caring is not sufficient and the chapter closes with discussion and reflection points for teachers.
Custodio & O’Loughlin examine the existing literature and requirements for US-based pre-service teachers in the field of TESOL and specifically, students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE). Using existing research, two major studies were outlined with both general guidelines and as well as requirements in teaching English learners. Ballantyne et al. (2008) categorize the levels of training and certification needed to teach English learners by state. The Education Commission of the States, (2014), looks at state-by-state requirements for teaching English learners and discovers that neither address the needs of SLIFE. The National Education Association provides recommendations and best practices for all pre-service teachers in teaching English learners, and similar to the previous studies, they are missing information on addressing SLIFE. One study however addresses SLIFE, which identifies the limited scope of literacy in secondary pre-service teacher requirements. Short et al. (2018) raises four factors in addition to the TESOL standards for consideration: overage, students with socioeconomic/academic needs, long term English learners, and SLIFE. In addressing the needs of SLIFE, a newcomer program is recommended to provide the environment and support needed into the transition. The chapter ends with recommendations for pre-service teacher programs, policy considerations for local and state agencies, current classroom teachers, and raising visibility for teachers of SLIFE with trauma.
DeCapua and Marshall provide background and context to SLIFE for teachers in order to better understand learning processes and avoidance of deficit mindset. What is stressed is the difference in learning paradigms based on students’ interrupted and limited/lack of formal schooling. The learning process may differ from the experience in formal schooling, which focuses heavily on independent tasks to show levels of achievement and literacy as the marker of academic success. For SLIFE, this contrasts their experience and the needs may be situated in life skills rather than literacy skills with competence demonstrated through real-world problem-solving rather than abstract thinking. Additionally is the consideration of collectivism for most SLIFE, who may do well in group work and prefer oral language activities rather than written. These ideas raise issues of equity within the classroom and how teachers are able to be more inclusive in practice. To meet these needs, DeCapua and Marshall introduce Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm® or MALP®, which provides an instructional model to understand the learning paradigm through three areas: conditions for learning, processes for learning, and activities for learning. Further are recommendations to include MALP within teacher preparation programs and end with a real-world example of MALP application in a 10th grade language arts classroom.
Ledger & Montero describe the journey of a secondary teacher, Sara, who began with a reflection of her empathy with a SLIFE friend who experienced trauma. In her adulthood, she describes her teacher preparation program which addressed English learners, but from those with formal schooling background. SLIFE was missing altogether. It was through her teaching that she understood the differences with SLIFE literacy and academic development, which differed from the development she learned in school. The requirements for focusing on teaching subject matter content in ESL were incongruent with addressing SLIFE, who were moved into different classes in spite of not meeting course expectations. Sara shifted to a student-centered approach and meeting students where they are at, rather than focusing on meeting the course content. At the same time, Sara was afforded an opportunity to collaborate on an ELD early literacy program with colleagues that educated them on SLIFE needs and pedagogical practices through extensive professional development. Examples of changes in teaching SLIFE include small group instruction, drawing from students’ experiences to contextualize learning, and hand-picking text that is relatable and relevant to students’ lives and making connections. These shifts create an investment for SLIFE learning. The authors end with recommendations on teaching about SLIFE within teacher preparation for both literacy strategies for SLIFE and addressing the psychological needs of students experiencing trauma.
Ivette et al., address adolescent SLIFE and specific characteristics that may include varying levels of oral language skills, which are typically strong but may encounter limited foundational literacy print skills. In creating a space for learning, it is important to design an effective learning environment for SLIFE which includes the following: creating a safe, flexible, and welcoming environment, building trusting relationships, engaging and meaningful lessons, understanding the needs are developmental not remedial, focusing on oral to written language, being culturally responsive, and incorporating visuals and music within lessons. Separate is teacher consideration in the approach to teaching literacy which outlines emergent literacy instruction, structured literacy and balanced literacy approaches. Within balanced literacy, it begins with assessment, student goal setting, and literacy stations that offer a varied approach to reading through: independent reading, guided reading, independent writing, beginning print, vocabulary, word study, and reading aloud. Each of these stations are described with either student examples or templates to use in the classroom. The last area addressed is competency-based training that centers on developing the skills needed for a specific job. Within this is the need to continue developing literacy skills through student assets. An example of a Getting to Know you Activity is highlighted in a case study and separately, a template is provided to show how this information can support student interests that translate directly into the job market. Aside from these recommended practices are challenges due to the limitations of the individual teacher’s training and background in teaching SLIFE. Particularly in secondary settings, secondary teachers are not trained in emergent literacy and in many cases, professional development to build these skills are not required.
Casanova and Alavrez address the systemic inequities within SLIFE educational experiences, particularly for SLIFE adolescents. Latinx comprise the majority of SLIFE in the US including unaccompanied minors. As they enter newcomer programs it is often assumed that they are entering with the same foundational background and academic skills as other English learners. This subgroup, however, is quite different with many entering with trauma and requiring social and emotional support. SLIFE from Central America are escaping for survival and youth are experiencing a host of stressors prior to their migration that involve historical unrest and violence as well as poverty. Their receipt recently in the US has been mixed, heightening the levels of stress experienced by Latinx SLIFE in schools while acculturating to US and family culture. A major misconception of educators is to push for assimilation, yet this ends with a damaging impact in losing one’s language culture. In response to this is adapting culturally sustaining pedagogies which honor SLIFE backgrounds, languages, and cultures into the classroom. A focus on educators building academic resilience within students through the environment they create is needed. SLIFE building resilience will lead to positive outcomes later in life through protective factors such as: community-based actions and voluntary service, creation and participation in school clubs, family, peer, and mentor support networks. This includes applying the community cultural wealth model to acknowledge the forms of cultural capital that exist within Latinx SLIFE. Specific strategies that align with the aforementioned areas are highlighted through an academic (i.e., student centered practices like writing a migration story), social emotional (i.e., asking the Three Whys), and cultural activities (i.e., creating an identity poem).
Chapter 12: Supporting Queer SLIFE Youth: Initial Queer Considerations by Ethan Trinh
Trinh proposes ways to support queer SLIFE youth where queer is defined as both sexuality and gender, and relatedly, a pedagogical lens that is fluid and nonlinear. Queer SLIFE youth is also inclusive of those identifying as queer as well as those exploring, becoming, or in-between their gender and sexual identity. In addition to the challenges SLIFE youth face, the perception of LGBTQ+ across several continents around the globe remains hostile. Those in immigration detention centers are at greater risk for experiencing violence, sexual assault, as well as those in receiving countries who hide their identity for fear of being physically harmed. This has long-term consequences that impact queer SLIFE youth both emotionally and physically. In addition is the discrimination faced, with little data tracking these experiences. Within US schools, queer immigrant youth have reported feelings of being unsafe, bullied, and discriminated against at higher rates than US born identified queer students. On top of this are the added complications of language, race/ethnicity, and physical appearance as well as trauma experienced prior to their arrival. Three considerations are provided in supporting queer SLIFE youth to build their social and emotional skills and awarness: 1) acknowledging students’ identities, 2) adding the discourse of difference to create more inclusive curriculum, 3) developing community oriented projects. In the end, Trinh advocates for finding ways to uncover queer SLIFE hidden stories in the classroom as a way to honor students’ identities and create a space for critical dialogue.
The authors provide background information and instructional strategies to support the linguistic and social-emotional needs of the increasing number of elementary-age students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE) from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. This group of English Learners (ELs) are normally academically behind their peers due to limited language and literacy skills and are experiencing stress caused by life events, unfamiliarity to a new school, and biased attitude from educators. A list of strategies is offered to promote SLIFE’s integration and engagement in new schools, such as learning about their background, using visuals, valuing their assets, and explaining classroom expectations. The involvement of families is also crucial to facilitate integration and literacy development of SLIFE. To encourage family engagement, a detailed plan with a concrete example is presented to illustrate the procedure of planning and implementing a successful family event involving wordless books. Prior to an event, resources and family information should be gathered to create a supportive environment. The event can be divided into three segments that dedicate time to parents, children, and family to learn and practice reading strategies and activities demonstrated by educators. The authors conclude the chapter by suggesting adding knowledge of supporting SLIFE and utilizing wordless books as part of professional development for educators.
The authors begin by addressing the needs of supporting students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE) from the perspective of global sustainability and social justice. To help learners, especially minority and underserved students, succeed in classrooms and workplaces, problem-based service learning (PBSL) is introduced to develop 21st century skills (such as collaboration, critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, etc.) for adolescent and young adult SLIFE. Prior to integrating a PBSL activity into the classroom, detailed planning and explanation of the model are expected from the teacher to set goals and motivate learners. In this model, teachers are facilitators while students are consultants who collaborate in groups to find solutions to a real-life problem to serve community members. After receiving a topic and a group arrangement, students follow a seven-step guide to complete their project: 1. planning group tasks, 2. researching the background, 3. developing a problem-solution plan, 4. implementing the plan, 5. reflecting and connecting feedback, 6. communicating with the community, and 7. celebrating and evaluating. Three PBSL examples are provided by each author from their SLIFE classrooms at middle school, high school, and community college levels: build an indigenous garden to address the sustainability of desert landscapes, donate handcrafted models of monuments and landmarks to the school library, and present information on Native Peoples to local third-grade classes.
Drawing on experiences of teaching migrants in New York City, the author presents a Scroll-Based Curriculum to better serve adult students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE). This innovative curriculum is grounded in the instructional model of Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm (MLAP), a student-centered framework that values learners’ knowledge, culture, experience, needs, etc. Specifically, it emphasizes the importance of fostering interconnectedness in a classroom community and using relevant and contextualized learning materials to promote learning. Inspired by MLAP and challenged by an atypical classroom environment in a warehouse, the author managed to use a roll of kraft paper as a whiteboard where students were invited to write down their basic information, which was later transcribed to Word documents, organized in a loose-leaf binder, and used as meaningful learning materials. Gradually, this method of learning evolves into the Scroll-Based Curriculum that supplements assigned textbooks with information gathered from a class survey, a mind map, or pictures from students’ daily lives to “publish” their own materials to use agency and claim ownership. The chapter ended by elaborating on three practical classroom projects with detailed daily lesson plans: elicit students’ knowledge about their home country, learn American history via a field trip to a patriotic location, and celebrate multiculturalism by examining history from different perspectives. In conclusion, the Scroll-Based Curriculum can engage students by maximizing their contribution to classroom discussions.
Chapter 16: The Case for Explicit Instruction for Adult SLIFE by Zohar Beatrice Friedman, Rachel Joyce Laitflang, and Alon David Pilosoph
The authors advocate the effectiveness of explicit instruction for adult students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE) considering their specific learning needs. Rooted in the human cognitive architecture that working memory is easily overwhelmed without the interaction with schema stored in long-term memory, explicit instruction emphasizes “teacher-centered and fully-guided instruction” that requires clear learning objectives, deliberate planning of the sequence, controlled amount of information, and comprehension check for adult SLIFE who are at novice level of formal schooling as well as knowledge and linguistic content. Drawing from their practice in an adult education center in Israel, the authors provide case studies to illustrate the successful outcome of implementing the research-informed explicit direct instruction (EDI), a model suggested by Hollingsworth and Ybarra (2018). These case studies focused on the three components of EDI learning objectives: the content information of the class (concept), a measurable task for students to complete (task), and the settings or parameters to achieve the objective (context). The chapter concludes with an analysis of the challenges in implementing EDI, which requires a curriculum with more logically progressed scope and sequence, as well as professional educators with abundant content knowledge.
The author encourages practitioner-researchers to adopt an innovative and inclusive research approach, Participatory Digital Visual Methods (PDVMs), to empower Literacy Education and Second Language Learner Adults (LESLLA) by eliciting their voices and by involving community partners. This asset-based visual method includes four components: use artifacts in an interview (Photo-elicitation), take photos to document community issues (Photo Voice) and create videos or films by using footage taken by the participants to address community issues (Video Voice and Community Filmmaking). By presenting adequate research articles of utilizing RDVMs in both research and language classrooms, the author demonstrates the powerful impact of RDVMs on LESLLA learners who are elevated to be “co-researchers, authors, and advocates” to bring changes to their community while developing L2 with authentic real-life resources. A detailed six-step approach is also suggested to introduce PDVMs to LESLLA classrooms. The author ended the chapter with an example project where LESLLA learners created a community mural using their stories as part of a community movement to address inequality in adult education to demonstrate the procedures to implement PDVMs.
The authors argue that post-puberty students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE), who may struggle with explicit learning, can still make progress in acquiring morphosyntax to improve reading based on a wealth of research findings. Studies showing similar developmental stages of acquiring morphosyntax among L2 learners demonstrate that the innate Universal Grammar, proposed by Chomsky, exists in language learners with various ages and linguistic backgrounds. The authors further summarize numerous studies of morphosyntax development of L2 English learners into a table consisting of morphosyntax order (word order, verb types, agreement/tense, pronouns, syntax) and Organic Grammar, represented by a syntax tree that starts with a verb phrase and gradually progresses from negation, aspect/tense, agreement to a complementizer phrase. To provide a comparison, they outlined studies of L2 Italian learners into a table consisting of morphosyntax order and the three macro stages of language varieties (Pre-basic, Basic, and Post-basic). Both tables confirmed a similar path of morphosyntax progression of L2 acquisition regardless of the L1 background and age. The results also reinforce a positive approach of viewing overgeneralization errors, with individual learner variation, as “place holders” that learners employ temporarily until the correct forms are acquired. For learners with limited literacy, studies show that their errors, although more recurring and persistent, are highly systematic in showing their progression towards a higher level.
The author offers insights on supporting the development of literacy education and second language learning for adults (LESLLA) by analyzing her experience designing and co-teaching a four-month English class to ten adult refugee women with limited formal schooling and literacy at a refugee resettlement agency. Drawing on research studies about the distinctive features of LESLLA learners and effective instructional strategies, the author established an instruction routine with four activities in the first month: a conversation practice with a question prompt, letter/sound introduction of five to six lower-case letters accompanied with handwriting practice, vocabulary instruction with the help of pictures or realia, and verb practice through total physical response (TPR) activities. Adjustments to address the needs of the multi-level student group were added in the second month, together with the development of emergent literacy and numeracy skills. The last two months focused on contextualizing language use and developing relationships by using relevant content with personal connections. The success of this program helps the author develop a deeper understanding of the challenges (related to childcare responsibility, trauma, cultural adjustment) and strengths (displayed through resilience, motivation, and prior life knowledge) of LESLLA learners. Four instructional strategies are offered at the end of the chapter: making connections with learners’ lives, building a class routine with familiar language, utilizing literacy strategies for children, and fostering community to support one another.
The book addresses a large population of English learners that is constantly growing due to conflict and an expanding definition of SLIFEs and is a comprehensive volume addressing a variety of SLIFE contexts. This makes the book accessible and beneficial for English educators across the globe.