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Who Are the Students We Call SIFEs?. 1. Presentation to Teach for America February 27, 2012 MANY THANKS TO DR. LUNINE PIERRE JEROME (BPS) AND DR. ESTA MONTANO (OELAAA*) FOR THE CONTENT CITED / USED HERE! EMAIL US with comments/questions!: HEIDI PEREZ HDPEREZ@LAWRENCE.K12.MA.US

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Who are the students we call sifes
Who Are the Students We Call SIFEs?


  • Presentation to

  • Teach for America

  • February 27, 2012





  • EMAIL US with comments/questions!:







Working focus group oelaaa
Working Focus Group / OELAAA


  • Determine a definition for Massachusetts

  • Determine efficacious procedures for identification, appropriate diagnostics and assessments to inform programming

  • Determine what qualifications a teacher may need to teach SIFE

  • Current working definition:

  • Massachusetts Definition of SIFE (Student with Interrupted Formal Education)

  • SIFE (Student with Interrupted Formal Education) refers to an English language learner, who is typically a newcomer between the ages of 8 and 21 and has experienced an interrupted education or has little to no schooling experience. Interruptions may be due to gaps in academic history, possibly caused by unavailability of schooling, civil unrest, immigration, transience, trauma, or other factors that would limit the student’s ability to perform and achieve in a Massachusetts classroom with students of a comparable age group.

  • Moreover, a Student with Interrupted Formal Education may have experienced limited schooling, characterized by a non-rigorous quality of education in the home country, which is incomparable to schools in Massachusetts. This may include a shorter school day and/or school year, and a weak curriculum. Also, students may have been educated by teachers who were not high school or college graduates.

  • Based on assessments, the student’s academic level is a minimum of two years below grade level in literacy and numeracy and lacks the general knowledge and/or practical life skills required in a typical Massachusetts classroom.

Constructing a common language
Constructing a common language…


  • Immigrant students

  • Lack of schooling / disrupted or weak educational background

  • Lack literacy in L1

  • Rural areas / war torn areas

  • 3 years behind academically

  • Literacy / numeracy / academic / content

  • High-risk for drop out

What makes a sife different from an ell
What makes a SIFE different from an ELL?


  • Are over-age for their grade level

  • Have needs beyond the traditional ESL or Bilingual program

  • Are socially and psychologically isolated from mainstream students [and maybe the ESL population as well]

  • And are not SPED!

What profiles of students might be found in a typical sife program
What profiles of students might be found in a “typical” SIFE program?


  • Diverse educational backgrounds

  • Various skills, interests, backgrounds, life experiences

  • Different learning styles

  • Multiple lives

  • Multiple levels of English proficiency

  • Limited self-concept as a learner

  • Prior educational experience may misalign with MA curriculum expectations

  • Account for about 10% of ELLs

Causes of limited formal schooling
Causes of Limited Formal Schooling


  • Need to work to support family income

  • Need to provide child care for family

  • Live in remote locations away from schools

  • Lack parental supervision

  • Displacement / frequent moves due to economic need or political turmoil

Literacy levels
Literacy Levels


  • Pre-literate – no exposure to literacy

    • May speak a language with no written form

  • Non-literate – no access to literacy

    • Language may have a written form and strong literary tradition but students do not have access to literacy instruction

  • Semiliterate – not a high level of literacy

    • Some literacy development but below grade level expectations of U.S. schools

The challenge academic literacy
The Challenge: Academic Literacy


  • SIFE “not only need to develop cognitively demanding grade-level academic language proficiency while learning grade-level content knowledge, they must also confront the additional challenges of developing basic literacy and numeracy skills and acquiring basic academic knowledge, all within the relatively short time from of secondary school.”

  • (DeCapua et. al., 2009, p. 3)

The challenge academic literacy1
The Challenge: Academic Literacy


  • SIFE students are unable to do these because the skills are not used in context:

  • Defining, Categorizing, Classifying, Synthesizing, Critical thinking, Decontextualization

  • SIFE are able to use the skills they have when they are required within context!

What do sife need
What do SIFE need?


  • “…systematic, explicit and targeted at diagnosed need…what gets taught is what is needed by the student. Now how do we find out what is needed? We diagnose in language and we diagnose in reading: looking at both the language and the literacy profiles determines how we instruct…” instruction “has to be quick, it has to be purposeful, it has to be focused on academic English language, and it has to be focused on literacy attainment – word recognition, comprehension, and again, focused on diagnosed needs.”

  • (Schifini, 2002, Natl. Conference on Newcomers Programs, p. 39)

Sife and us school dichotomies
SIFE and US School dichotomies:


  • U.S. schools stress future purpose – Ss implicitly understand they are learning for the future

  • SIFE are used to immediate application – they observe, practice, get feedback – learning is pragmatic and it parallels life

  • U.S. schools expect transfer of prior learning to new learning

  • SIFE lack prior knowledge to transfer to new learning

  • U.S. schools foster independence/individual responsibility

  • Most SIFE come from a collectivistic culture/interconnectedness in primary/shared responsibility

  • U.S. schools use written language to process learning

  • SIFE may be used to oral language only to process learning

  • …The list goes on and on!

Who are the students we call sifes
What to do about SIFE?[there is too much to present today – maybe a Part II on methods, practices, strategies?]


  • Consider learning environment: learner-centered? Knowledge-centered? Assessment-centered*? Community-centered?

  • BPS currently uses an assessment-centered learning environment for their two levels of SIFE programming. An assessment-centered learning environment is alternative:

  • Requires in-depth understanding

  • Requires use of skills learning

  • Is holistic and integrative

  • Allows for more flexibility ( especially time)

  • Embeds a stress-free/cooperative environment

What to do about sife
What to do about SIFE?


  • Successful SIFE programs use

    • Thematic units

    • A pedagogical mode that is interactive and experiential

    • Engages in constant dialog between students and students and students and teachers

    • Dialog is both oral and written

    • Integrated curriculum

    • Integrated language processes

    • Uses multiple intelligence theory to plan lessons

    • Creates individual student plans – themes are the same, goals are the same, activities are differentiated

What to do about sife1
What to do about SIFE?


  • When designing programming and lessons, a MALP model can provide the framework you need:

from: DeCapua, A., Marshall, H. (2011) p. 49

If your interest has been piqued
If your interest has been piqued…


  • DeCapua, A. and Marshall, H. (2011) Breaking New Ground: Teaching Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education in U.S. Secondary Schools. Ann Arbor: MI. University of Michigan Press.

  • DeCapua, A. and Marshall, H. (2009) Meeting the Needs of Students with Limited or Interrupted Schooling. Ann Arbor: MI. University of Michigan Press.