Jill A. Watson, Ph.D.
Minnesota English Learner
Education Conference (MELEd)
November 14, 2014
Six Key Program
Components for
Serving English
Learners with
Limited or
Formal Education
1. Characterize the needs of Students with
Limited or Interrupted Formal Education
(SLIFE) in Minnesota schools, as a basis for
exploring key program components to serve
these students.
2. Reflect on, rate, and discuss Six Key
Components of SLIFE Program Design with
reference to your school site(s).
SLIFE students bring a unique
learner profile to Minnesota schools
They have come of age in an oral
paradigm rather than a paradigm
of literacy.
Cognitive and social maturation in
an oral paradigm brings with it
certain affordances.
Affordances of Orality
 Specific
Skills: transfixed listening, oration,
memorization, stories, proverbs, fixed expressions,
long / epic poetry
 Manner
of acquiring and evaluating knowledge
Orally developed cognition: affects values, thinking
Role of elders and tradition
Everything relates to the direct community,
Knowledge comes from tradition and experience
Knowledge is contextual, practical, of immediate
References: Bigelow & Watson (2012), Goody (1968), McLuhan (1964), Olson (1994), Olson &
Torrance (1991), Ong (1982), Tarone, Bigelow, & Hansen (2009), Watson (2010, 2012)
Learning challenges for SLIFE
students in our schools
1. Learning based on abstraction & formal
categories rather than experience, tradition, or
the teaching of elders
 Sesame
Street: “This episode was brought
to you by the letter M.”
 Abecedary
Organizing according to abstract
 Luria’s
(1976) example: tools and wood
Separate these items into the two groups they belong in.
What is money good for?
The coin story took place in an economics class with
many SLIFE members. The teacher taught a mathenriched, 2-week unit on various strategies for saving
money, including calculations predicting how much
one could save under various scenarios and why one
should do so.
At the end of the final review she held up a quarter
rhetorically and asked the class to review why they
should save money—essentially, check off the list that
she had taught them, and that they would be tested
A SLIFE student emphatically called out a very
unexpected one-word answer that puzzled the teacher.
What do you think he called out?
Question: Why should we save money?
He called out...
Surprised at this answer from one of her best
students, who had done well on homework
and quizzes of the material, the teacher asked
him to say more.
“You can see your history on the money! See,
here is the president. Tells you where you
come from.”
Learning challenges for SLIFE students
2. Learning by definition: Focus on decontextualized
vocabulary or formalities of definition rather than
experience, tradition, or the teaching of elders
Meaning as derived from dictionaries, textual, or technological
authority rather than direct experience or the teaching of elders
Establishing definitional proof
“Copy the vocabulary words and write their definitions”
Dinosaur Train on PBS: Your mom says you are a tyrannosaurus, but
are you really?
Determining definitional sufficiency (eg. Frayer model):
Does ______ count as an example of ______?
Example of an activity practicing definitional sufficiency from ESL
Sheltered Science (WIDA 1 & 2 combined, 75% LFS), MN high school
Learning challenges for LFS
students (cont.)
3. Learning that is based on formal reasoning
rather than experience, tradition, or the
teaching of elders
- Luria’s (1976) example:
In the far north, where there is snow, all bears
are white. Novaya Zembla is in the far north
and there is always snow there. What color are
the bears in Novaya Zembla?
There is very low awareness of
SLIFE student needs in K-12 schools
Teachers (even ESL) are often unaware of their particular
profile and needs
Teacher ed programs provide little if any preparation to
teach SLIFE.
Most states, schools, districts, federal funding agencies,
and national expert panels do not recognize this group as
distinct from English learners with significant or age-level
prior schooling
A few exceptions:
New York has a state education policy regarding LFS
Boston: under consent decree to educate LFSs
Some schools cater to LFS needs
MN legislature passed a definition of SLIFE into law, spring
First-ever EL SLIFE definition in
MN law: passed spring 2014
An English learner with limited formal schooling is
defined as a student who:
 comes from a home where the language usually
spoken is other than English, or usually speaks a
language other than English
 enters school in the United States after grade 6
 has at least two years less schooling than the English
learner's peers
 functions at least two years below expected grade
level in reading and mathematics
 may be preliterate in the English learner's native
language (HF 3062, 2014).
Students and a parent from 3 MN districts on capital
steps after testifying before Joint House-Senate
Education Committee chaired by Sen. Torres Ray and
Rep. Mariani. Student is holding bill that passed!
Summary: Who are SLIFE?
Raised in an oral paradigm—everyting is negociated orally
Strong skills / preference for characteristic oral modes of
living and valuing
Typically refugees from war-torn countries, but some
New to the English language and American culture
No or very limited prior formal, Western-style education,
very significant gaps in academic skills compared to age
peers, including other ELs with similar initial Eng. proficiency
No or very little literacy in any language, including the
native language(s); little if any alphabetic awareness,
literacy skills
Age is a major factor: the older one is at literacy /
schooling onset, the harder the attendant skills are to
Diverse, valuable individuals who have been dealt a very
cruel hand by fate, but who can learn and grow, who
want and deserve a better life and a great education
It is a very long way to travel from no
school experience at all, or, for the
lucky few, from a school like this one in
Dadaab camp in Kenya:
Or this Karen school in a camp in
Or this one in Mexico…
To the palaces of literacy we are
accustomed to in the Western academic
The George
Baltimore, MD
We live in a culture that David G. Smith (2006) has
characterized as hyperliterate, so saturated in artifacts of
literacy that we find this stash of obsolete books, to be
discarded, in a metro area school basement…
Orality to literacy: A journey
across a formidable abyss
 What
does it mean for educators in the receiving
community to recognize this abyss?
 How
can our practices reflect that we know
something about SLIFE needs and are ready to
educate SLIFE students when they arrive?
 What
components should appropriate
instructional programs for SLIFE contain?
Six Key Program Components for
Serving SLIFE
Layered Presentation, Reflection, & Discussion
 Components
are based on SLIFE research and
actual practices and problems in MN schools
 Not just a yes-no issue: quality and routinization
are paramount if the practices are to benefit SLIFE
 Present 1 component, then 30 sec. reflection &
rating using handout
 After 3 components, small group discussion (2
discussion times)
Six Key SLIFE Program Components
1. Implement custom intake and placement procedure
Determine SLIFE student English proficiency per WIDA
 English and Academic Language Development Levels in all modalities
Take specific steps to determine student / family level of prior schooling and literacy
 Base SLIFE identification protocol on new SLIFE definition in MN law
 Prior schooling, number of years, quality, location (abroad, U.S.)
 Custom intake forms (Marshall, 2013)
 Native language literacy assessments
 Speak to family about prior schooling, use interpretors
Inquire about and record cultural and linguistic background and make connections
 What is their home culture and language(s)? Are any staff or student in school of
similar background? Make connections via mentor or buddy program.
 Deliberate, on-going connections with relevant ethnic community organizations
Take specific steps to learn about health and trauma issues
 Refugee camp, family separation / loss, flight
 Psycho-neural problems resulting from witnessing or participating in violence (eg. child
soldiers & others) affect learning and memory (Neuner et al., 2009)
 Assess health and developmental status
 Many Karen students (@ 30%) have hearing problems
 Many Somali students have trouble with fine motor tasks
Take specific steps to learn and verify age and incorporate in learning path planning
 The older the preliterate student is, the harder it is to acquire academic literacy, and
the longer it takes, with more need for repetition.
Key SLIFE Program Components (cont.)
2. Ensure meaningful, on-going communication among intake
personnel, ESL teachers, nurse, counselors, Gen Ed teachers,
SpEd teachers, social worker, school psychologist,
administrators (grade-level dean or other)
Essential to share key information to build and adapt
appropriate schedule, create support plan, from the
beginning and throughout the learning path
Share ESL services list with all staff: WIDA level, prior schooling,
languages, cultural backgr., special needs
SLIFE PLC: create structured routine for all involved parties to
check in about SLIFE: eg. 4 – 8 X / year
Create vehicle for all staff to update with notes about
struggling students, eg. Google doc
 Take
specific measures to ensure that all staff understand
the new SLIFE definition in MN law, and know how to refer
unidentified students who may be SLIFE
Key SLIFE Program Components (cont.)
3. Identify building and district resources, both available and
possible, and match to needs
Identify & empower SLIFE expertise in building / district (eg. EL
T who has had training & experience)
Identify specific learning needs and staff who have that
teaching skill, eg. if SLIFE student needs phonemic awareness
development--which staff know how to teach it?
Reading T, SpEd T, elementary T as resources for ESL T, share
Which GenEd Ts are good at working with ELs? Schedule &
resource with appropriate leveled materials, clustered
Identify specialized programs already available or that you
can acquire, eg.:
Intervention staff / periods already in place or launchable
After-school program: Homework & learning skills lab
Find / create leveled books, recorded books, and materials that make
learning meaningful, eg. New Reader’s Press, Linmore, etc.
Lab time, can be monitored by a variety of staff
Raz-Kids Reading, Rosetta Stone in English, Accelerated Reader
Read 180 is NOT a good choice for low level SLIFE
5 minute group discussion
Share ratings of what is important & difficult to
Share what you are doing
Discuss ideas, questions, priorities, challenges, &
Key SLIFE Program Components (cont.)
4. Implement a progressive, targeted scheduling strategy
in middle and high school
Immediate push-in to PE, Art, FCS, Industrial / Ag Arts; modified
Sheltered content courses for SLIFE—WIDA levels1 & 2, and some
Level 3. It is best NOT to cluster SLIFE with schooled ELs, especially
at level 1.
If sheltered content scheduling is not possible (due, eg. to low
numbers of SLIFE & ELs), create Basic Skills focus within ESL
classes—ESL Basic Math, Science, Social Studies
Clustered scheduling for core content when SLIFE are ready, with
ESL teacher meaningfully co-teaching, or para support
Schedule graded resource period (guided study hall) for SLIFE in
MS and HS
Connect with Gen Ed re: assignments, materials
Computer lab period—English, literacy, numeracy
Can be supervised by support staff
Plan for the fact that SLIFE typically need to repeat a level one or
more times—work with ESL teachers to determine exit criteria for
each level
Key SLIFE Program Components (cont.)
5. Review and customize SpEd referral,
assessment, and service policy
We know in advance that many SLIFE will have learning
challenges– our procedures must stand ready to respond
to their needs
Customize and shorten referral wait time: SLIFE teachers
report that 2 years’ waiting time for SpEd referral is too
long, especially for MS and HS students. Districts have
discretion on this.
Customize referral and child study process: all
stakeholders on alert that SLIFE students often experience
learning challenges that make them eligible for special
education support.
Take measures to ensure that this DOES NOT mean that
SLIFE are always or automatically SpEd eligible
Cross-reference with medical and intake records
Administrators: communicate attentiveness to the unique
profile of SLIFE as a priority to SpEd and all staff
Key SLIFE Program Components (cont.)
6. Build capacity in the domains of supervision, instruction,
and support to develop expertise in instructional strategies,
curricular models, policies, and procedures that are
effective with SLIFE
A. Ensure availability and use of effective configurations, materials, & practices,
for example:
Scheduling flexibility, adjustment of roles, on-going communication
Phonemic awareness & initial literacy building materials, leveled & recorded
books, realia, document cameras, field trips
Front-loading vocabulary, background-building, academic thinking instruction,
and oral interaction strategies in every class. Lessons that use only reading and
writing doom SLIFE to fail.
Curricular model appropriate for SLIFE, eg. Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm
Partner with immigrant community, elders in the school
B. Incorporate professional time into SLIFE teacher schedules
Considerable extra time is needed to: interpret intake, schedule, connect
with families, create custom materials for multiple re-entry of content,
leveled materials
Case-load approach: how many SLIFE does T serve?
C. Expert SLIFE Professional Development & Expectations based on it for key staff
Include SLIFE best practices in teacher observation protocols: every T who has SLIFE
ESL teachers, select Gen Ed, SpEd teachers: PD to practice
Counselors, social workers, support staff: know & intentionally address SLIFE needs
5 minute group discussion
Share ratings of what is important & difficult to
Share what you are doing
Discuss ideas, questions, priorities, challenges,
& resources
Evaluating and Extending
 What
components are the most important
for your program?
 Which
are or would be the most difficult to
 What
other components should a good SLIFE
program have?
 Other
ideas, questions, comments?
SLIFE Projects & Resources
 MinneSLIFE:
Regular meetings and a spring mini-conference
focusing on supporting LFS students and teacher
All are welcome, membership not required
Website: MinneSLIFE Google Site
Like on Facebook: MinneSLIFE
 Mutually
committee within MinneTESOL
Adaptive Learning Paradigm
Curriculum model designed for SLIFE (Marshall & DeCapua)
MALP books, presentations
Thank you for attending!
Contact me with questions, materials requests,
or to continue the conversation:
Jill A. Watson, Ph.D. / [email protected]

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