Strategies for Teaching ELL Students with Interrupted Formal Education

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  • 0:03 Definition of SIFE
  • 1:04 Class Environment and…
  • 1:32 Class Environment
  • 2:20 ELL Instruction
  • 5:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

You probably have a few students in your ELL class who have not had continuity in their education due to different factors. This lesson provides basic guidelines for teaching these students.

Definition of SIFE

Do you have SIFEs in your classroom? Students with interrupted formal education (SIFEs) are newcomers who have not had continuity in education in their native country due to various factors. It's important to note that some SIFEs might also have their education interrupted once they are in the U.S.

Let's take the case of Pedro, who is from El Salvador. He was four months into third grade back in El Salvador when his family moved to the U.S. As newcomers, the family struggled to settle in their new country. Pedro stayed at home for ten months before his family enrolled him in a school in Texas. After Pedro spent four months in third grade in Texas, his family decided to move to Colorado. In Colorado, Pedro did not go back to school immediately. Instead, the family waited for the academic year to begin. Finally, Pedro gets enrolled in fourth grade. In short, Pedro is a student with interrupted formal education (SIFE). Let's now take a look at what teachers can do for SIFEs like Pedro.

Class Environment and Instruction

Pedro is now in fourth grade in Colorado. Soon it becomes clear that Pedro is academically behind in relation to other students in the class. Pedro's teacher should consider two elements of instruction to help Pedro. First, an appropriate class environment should be created to help SIFEs like Pedro feel comfortable. Second, the ELL instruction needs to be more specific for Pedro due to his academic situation. Let's analyze both instructional elements.

Class Environment

We can make sure that the class environment does not become intimidating for SIFEs by allowing students to know each other. This encourages friendship among peers and, thus, gives the class the harmonious environment all students need. Activities that allow students to play (such as drawing) and activities that encourage students to present a personal characteristic (such as 'My name is. . ., I am from. . ., My favorite meal is. . . ') are simple ways to help students get along.

Another way to create an inviting class environment is through class decoration. For instance, Pedro's teacher includes the flags of the countries of origin of her ELL students. When Pedro sees El Salvador's flag, he recognizes it and feels comfortable. Also, he can tell others that El Salvador is his country of origin when the opportunity comes up.

ELL Instruction

The second instructional element related to addressing the needs of SIFEs involves applying specific approaches when reading, writing, listening, and speaking are required. Let's look at some of these approaches.

1. Involve SIFEs in All ELL Activities

SIFEs should participate in all ELL activities with their peers. This gives SIFEs equal opportunity to learn and make progress despite the past interruptions in their education. To ensure success, teachers often need to pay closer attention to SIFEs to make sure they are on task. Pedro's teacher gives the whole class a listening activity and does not exclude Pedro. When the audio is done, she approaches Pedro to check on comprehension, vocabulary, etc.

2. Ensure SIFEs Learn Grade-Appropriate Content

You might assume that because SIFEs are academically disadvantaged when compared to their peers, they cannot possibly learn what's expected for their grade level. However, a guiding principle with SIFEs is that they must learn grade-appropriate content even though this means they need more guidance from their teachers. For instance, Pedro's ELL teacher always makes sure that he knows new specific terminology used in his grade for math, science, and other content areas.

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