Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE)

Who are SIFE?

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Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) are a unique subgroup of English Language Learners (ELLs); they are also sometimes referred to as SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education). These students have had limited formal schooling because of political or social conditions in their native countries. Some students arrive from rural areas where schooling beyond the early elementary years is oftentimes nonexistent. Refugee students are often students with interrupted formal education; they sometimes suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of horrific experiences in their home country or in the refugee camps.


The SIFE population poses a particular challenge for educators since most students lack the basic skills in their native language or first language (L1) that are required to transfer literacy to English. These students are often placed in classes that correspond with their age-level irrespective of their current level of L1 or second language (L2) proficiency or prior academic skills. Working with this specific population requires teachers to understand the needs of these students by becoming familiar with their native cultures and being trained in basic English-language development methodology, such as sheltered instruction. The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) Model is a specific model of sheltered instruction that makes grade-level content (i.e. science, social studies, and math) more accessible for ELLs while promoting English language development. In addition, teachers of SIFE are advised to maintain flexibility during instruction and provide students with high expectations for achievement. It is also important for teachers to work closely with content-area educators (especially when implementing content-based instruction through the SIOP Model) while actively communicating with administrators, parents or guardians, on behalf of their students.

Resources for Educators


Michigan English Language Teaching (ELT) Blog- This blog features an interview with noted authors Andrea DeCapua and Helaine Marshall about their new book Breaking New Ground (please see above), and their thoughts on Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE) and the Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm (MALP) instructional model: Part 1& Part 2

Yes, Students with Interrupted Formal Education Can Catch Up by Mary Ann Zehr

The writer presents a story about how Students with Interrupted Formal Education Can Catch Up.


Breaking New Ground: Teaching Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education in U.S. Secondary Schools by Andrea DeCapua and Helaine Marshall

"Today’s public schools are brimming with students who are not only new to English but who also have no schooling or a large break in their schooling. These students create unique challenges for teachers and administrators. Breaking New Ground builds on the introduction to SLIFE presented in Meeting the Needs of Students with Limited or Interrupted Schooling (University of Michigan Press, 2009). Breaking New Ground introduces readers to and engages them in the implementation of an instructional model that has been developed over many years of working with SLIFE. Central to the instructional model and the practices presented in this book is the belief that teaching students with limited or interrupted education should in no way be considered remedial. This book provides a complete presentation of the MALP (Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm) instructional model from theory to practice and guides readers to reflect on each element of the model, learn why and how it is essential and effective, and determine how they can use it in their own teaching of SLIFE. Breaking New Ground offers a new understanding of the SLIFE population, introduces a new instructional model, and teaches readers how to address the needs of their students using project-based learning infused with MALP."

Crossing Cultures in the Language Classroom by Andrea DeCapua & Ann Wintergerst

"Crossing Cultures in the Language Classroom links theory with experiential activities that will be helpful for use in teacher training or certificate programs. The goals of this book for the teacher educator are to expand cultural awareness, to acquire an in-depth understanding of what culture is and its relationship to language, and to comprehend and implement observations of cultural similarities and differences. Topics discussed in the book include: culture shock; nonverbal communication; societal roles; and pragmatics. A great in-service workshop text for teacher training programs."

Grammar for Teachers: A Guide to American English for Native and Non-Native Speakers by Andrea DeCapuaLearning in ESL Class.png

"The purpose of Grammar for Teachers is to encourage readers to develop a solid understanding of the use and function of grammatical structures in American English. It approaches grammar from a descriptive rather than a prescriptive approach; however, throughout the book differences between formal and informal language, and spoken and written English are discussed. The book avoids jargon or excessive use of technical terminology. It makes the study of grammar interesting and relevant by presenting grammar in context and by using authentic material from a wide variety of sources."

Mastering the American Accent by Lisa Mojsin, M.A.

"This combination book and audio instructional program is designed to diminish the accents of men and women who speak English as their second language. It will help them speak standard American English with clarity, confidence, and accuracy. Specific exercises concentrate on vowel sounds, problematic consonants such as V, W, B, TH, and the American R, employ correct syllable stress, link words for smoother speech flow, use common word contractions such as won't instead of will not, and more. Additional topics that often confuse ESL students are also discussed and explained. They include distinguishing between casual and formal speech, homophones (for instance, they're and there), recognizing words with silent letters (comb, receipt, and others), and avoiding embarrassing pronunciation mistakes, such as mixing up party and potty. Students are familiarized with many irregular English spelling rules and exceptions, and are shown how such irregularities can contribute to pronunciation errors. A native language guide references problematic accent issues of 13 different language backgrounds. Correct lip and tongue positions for all sounds are discussed in detail. Enclosed with the book are four compact discs that use male and female voices to coach correct American-style pronunciation."

Meeting the Needs of Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education by Andrea DeCapua, William Smathers, and Frank Tang

"Today’s public schools are brimming with students who are not only new to English but who also have no schooling or a large break in their schooling. These students create unique challenges for teachers and administrators. This handbook is a welcome new resource for secondary teachers and administrators working in areas with burgeoning immigrant populations, as well as ESL instructors and researchers. The book addresses some of the many issues facing the subpopulation of English language learners who have limited or interrupted formal schooling, helping dedicated teachers and administrators to meet this subpopulation’s highly specific literacy development and content-area knowledge needs. Meeting the Needs of Students with Limited or Interrupted Schooling is grounded in research but goes beyond it to offer practical guidance on fostering the success of students from limited or interrupted schooling backgrounds by providing student case studies, model programs and classes, and helpful teaching techniques and tips."

Multicultural Partnerships: Involve All Families by Darcy J. Hutchins, Marsha D. Greenfeld, Joyce L. Epstein, Mavis G. Sanders, and Claudia L. Galindo

"This is a must-have, research-based guide for all schools serving culturally diverse elementary and middle grade students and their communities. It's filled with fun, practical, highly effective strategies for raising awareness and engaging all families in their children's education a sure path toward increased student success! Get detailed examples and step-by-step guidelines for implementing successful... Multicultural Family Nights, Workshops for Parents, and Curriculum Connections. Much of the reproducible material is also provided in Spanish - giving educators an even broader reach!"

The SIOP Model Books and Resources This website provides a listing of SIOP Model books and resources that are used to implement the Model in the classroom.

Understanding Your Refugee and Immigrant Students: An Educational, Cultural, and Linguistic Guide by Jeffra Flaitz

"Understanding Your Refugee and Immigrant Students is an excellent resource for educators who work with refugees and immigrants. This well-researched volume-including interviews with students from the profiled countries-provides a wealth of information about the specific schooling traditions, practices, circumstances, and expectations that follow these individuals to their new homes in North America and influence their learning experience. The author has focused her research on 18 countries that contribute a majority of refugees and immigrants to the United States: Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Iran, Laos, Liberia, Peru, Somalia, Sudan, and the Ukraine. Each country profile features: statistics about the country, a historical synopsis, an overview of the county's official education policy, cultural perspectives, and a problem-solution section containing classroom strategies. The linguistic systems of the languages featured are also included for teacher reference. Also included is information about teacher-student relationships, discipline and class management, and appropriate non-verbal communication. This volume provides invaluable insight into refugee and immigrant students' cultural and educational backgrounds and gives instructors the tools to translate this information into effective classroom strategies."

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TESOL Convention 2013

TESOL Convention Presentations:

Digital Presentations

ELLs & The SIOP Model This presentation displays information about the SIOP Model and why it should be used with ELLs, especially SIFE.

The SIOP Model Presentation This presentation provides an overview of the SIOP Model and its 8 components; it also discusses how the Model can be used effectively with ELLs.

Students with Interrupted Formal Education A Prezi created by Evan Jenkins that provides information about SIFE.

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Guides, Teacher Resources, & Tutorials

A Resource Guide for Educating Refugee Children and Youth in New York State This resource guide provides educators with a basic understanding of refugee students, the reasons their families have left their countries, the resettlement process, and ways to provide a learning environment that welcomes students from all backgrounds.

Free Materials for Teaching English Language Learners This website provides free teaching materials for English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) educators.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder This booklet provides information about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its associated symptoms. It also shares information about what teachers can do in their classrooms to help refugee students who suffer from this.

Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants An information booklet available in a variety of languages, that contains information about housing, jobs, education, and healthcare in the United States.

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Journal & Website Articles

Enabling Academic Success for Secondary Students with Limited Formal Schooling by Catherine E. Walsh A study of the Haitian Literacy Program at Hyde Park High School in Boston. "This publication is for educational practitioners and those in universities, agencies, and organizations who work with schools in designing programs that will enable to academic success of these students [SIFE]."

How to Support ELL Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFEs)by Kristina Robertson and Susan Lafond

"This article provides a profile of SIFEs and their needs, recommendations of best practices, and examples of the kinds of quality school-wide and classroom support that will accelerate their academic achievement."

Migrant Students: What We Need to Know to Help Them Succeed by Giselle Lundy-Ponce

An article about migrant children and the difficulties some migrant families encounter when arriving to the United States. The article also describes the barriers faced by migrant students in regards to achievement and it shares information about Migrant Education Programs (MEP) across the United States. Educators will benefit from learning about how to provide strategies that promote success and will have access to resources recommended by ESL specialists.

Students with Interrupted Formal Education: A Challenge for the New York City Public Schools A report issued by Advocates for Children of New York about SIFE students and the challenges that they face when they are enrolled in public schools.

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Professional Organizations

CCER Coordinating Committee for ESOL Resources - A networking organization for local ESOL teachers.

New York State TESOL"Supports professional educators concerned with the education of English language learners at all levels of public and private education in New York State."

TESOL International Association An international association of TESOL educators dedicated to advancing "professional expertise in English language teaching and learning for speakers of other languages worldwide."

Videos & Documentaries

Childhood in Translation A documentary project about how immigrant families are affected by language barriers.

Nickel Street Smiler This is a documentary about a refugee resettlement in Buffalo, New York.

Rain in a Dry Land A documentary about the lives of two Somali Bantu families as they journey from Africa to America.

Refugees in the ELL ClassroomA listing of YouTube videos about teaching refugee students.

Speaking in Tongues A film that focuses on how communication barriers are being addressed in the multilingual America. It is specifically about four kids growing up bilingual in one city.

Starting Small | Teaching Children Tolerance A video about five early childhood education programs in which teachers and children build classroom communities by promoting tolerance. Teachers can order the 'Teaching Tolerance' kit for free.

Videos for Learning about Refugees On this website, there are a variety of interviews with resettled refugees sharing their experiences, challenges, and successes in the United States.

SIFE - The Road to Success from Ken Browne on Vimeo.

This is a documentary on the SIFE (Students with Interrupted Formal Education) Class. At the Ithaca City School District.

Meeting the Needs of Students with Interrupted Formal Education & Refugee Backgrounds


Advocates for Children of New York A website dedicated to supporting children who are at greatest risk for school-based discrimination and/or academic failure due to poverty or ELL status in the New York City area.

Center for Applied Linguistics A comprehensive website that includes information about ELLs in addition to information about immigrant and refugee integration.

Colorin Colorado A website with a variety of resources for bilingual and ESOL educators, administrators, librarians, and families. The website also includes guides, toolkits, webcasts, and other web resources for teachers and ELL students to utilize in the classroom.

Cultural Orientation Resource (COR) Center A website that provides technical assistance regarding the cultural and community orientation refugees receive either before their resettlement or after their arrival in the United States.

Dr. Andrea DeCapua's Website Dr. DeCapua is a widely known researcher, author, and teacher trainer. She specializes in intercultural awareness training and has presented her research at several national conferences, including the TESOL conference. She created the MALP (Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm) model with colleague Helaine Marshall in order to support ELLs who struggle in the classroom; this model has been effectively used with SLIFE.

MALP Education- This website provides teachers with an understanding of the Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm (MALP) instructional model and how it can be used effectively in a variety of classrooms.

Migration Policy Institute A website dedicated to the study of the movement of people worldwide.

Multicultural Education Pavilion This website contains a variety of resources for educators including articles, links to other useful websites, reviews, teaching resources, workshops and conferences, and so much more!

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) An introduction to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which includes definitions of key terms and information for helping students cope with PTSD.

Ten Ideas for Teaching SIFEs A website that provides tips for teachers who have SIFE in their classrooms.

The Geneseo Migrant Center A website that offers access to a variety of resources about migrant workers; information about scholarship opportunities for migrant students are also listed on this website.

The SIOP Model This instructional framework was developed by Echevarria, Vogt, and Short (2000) to provide a way for teachers to systematically implement instructional features for improving the academic success of ELLs. "The SIOP is compromised of 30 items organized around the categories of preparation, instruction, and review/assessment." Language and content objectives are woven into the lessons in a specific content area in order for to promote subject matter competence and English language proficiency. Sheltered lessons are consist of an abundance of supplementary materials, clear meaningful lessons, as well as concrete examples (i.e. realia).


SIFE Investigation This wiki explains SIFE and uses a case study in order to explain some of their unique characteristics.

SIFE Resources for Educators This wiki provides resources for educators about effective programs for SIFE.

SIFE Wiki A wiki that discusses the impact of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act on students with interrupted formal education.

Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education Wiki A wiki designed by MALP creators Andrea DeCapua and Helaine Marshall.