Andrea DeCapua, Ed.D

Consultant and Researcher

Education and Second Language Acquisition

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Helaine W. Marshall, Ph.D

Hudson Graduate Center at Westchester
Long Island University
735 Anderson Hill Road
Purchase, NY 10577

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Author Publications on Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE)


Marshall, H. W. , & DeCapua, A.  Making the transition to classroom success: Culturally responsive teaching for struggling second language learners. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. 

DeCapua, A., & Marshall, H. W. (2011). Breaking new ground: Teaching English learners with limited or interrupted formal education in U. S. secondary schools. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.  Available at Amazon:

DeCapua, A., Smathers, W., & Tang, F. (2009). Students with limited or interrupted schooling: A guide for educators. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Available at Amazon:




DeCapua, A. & Marshall, H.W. (2011). Reaching ELLs at risk: Instruction for students with limited/interrupted formal education. Preventing School Failure, 55, 35-41.
The United States is receiving unprecedented numbers of immigrants, with a parallel increase in the number of English language learners (ELLs) entering our schools. Many of these ELLs are students with limited or interrupted formal education who face great challenges, especially at the secondary level where they have little time to master academic content, develop literacy skills, and build English proficiency. Fundamental to school success for these students is their need to adjust to culturally different ways of learning. In this article, the authors examine salient academic and cultural issues and describe a new instructional model to help teachers adapt their instruction to facilitate the active engagement of this student population, as well as transition them to the learning environment U.S. educational system.

DeCapua, A., & Marshall, H. W. (2010). Limited formally schooled English language learners in U.S. classrooms. Urban Review, 42, 159-173.
Considerable attention has focused on the challenges of English language learners without age-appropriate formal education and first language literacy. They are viewed here as students with high-context learning experiences and expectations (Hall in Beyond Culture, Anchor, New York,(1976), and a collectivistic orientation, with a pragmatic, rather than academic way of looking at the world, who are marginalized and disoriented in US classrooms. Building on Ibarra's Beyond Affirmative Action: Reframing the Context of Higher Education, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison (2001) "cultural dissonance" construct, the two learning paradigms are contrasted, and a third, the mutually adaptive learning paradigm, is posited as a pathway to academic success for this population.

DeCapua, A. & Marshall, H.W. (2010). Serving ELLs with limited or interrupted education: Intervention that works. TESOL Journal, 1, 49-70.
This article reports on the results of a 5-month intervention in one high school class of English language learners (ELLs) with limited or interrupted formal education using an instructional model developed by the authors. These students are a challenging group for educators, especially at the high school level because they must master content knowledge and develop English language and literacy in a relatively short amount of time. Furthermore, they must also learn how to participate effectively in U. S. schools, institutions with their own culture and culturally based assumptions. The two research questions of this study were: How could the implementation of the instructional model assist this subpopulation of ELLs in the development of literacy and academic thinking? Would the implementation of the model improve the engagement and participation of these students? Findings indicate that through the implementation of this instructional model, the teacher in this study was able to facilitate students' transition to the U.S.educational system. Classroom observations and analysis of student work revealed that students were participating more actively in their learning and had developed increased facility with both print and academic-style thinking.

DeCapua, A., Smathers, W. & Tang, F. (2007). Addressing the challenges and needs of students with interrupted formal education (SIFE). Educational Policy & Leadership, 65, 40–46.
Schools across the United States are seeing an increase in students with limited English proficiency. A growing number of these limited English proficiency students are students with interrupted formal education (SIFE). The SIFE population presents a range of special challenges to U.S. education systems, especially at the high school level where the overall dropout rate of immigrant teens is very high (Morse, 2005; Osterling, 2001). Because their formal education has been interrupted, limited, or may even be non- existent prior to entering a U.S. school, these high school SIFE lack basic skills and concepts, content knowledge, and critical academic thinking abilities. They must develop basic literacy skills and academic knowledge while simultaneously learning English in the comparatively few years available to them. This article reviews the challenges of identifying the SIFE population, and presents some of the promising program models and practices observed in New York City public schools with SIFE. The program models and promising practices are based on the results of our ongoing involvement with the New York City School SIFE program since its inception, visiting, observing and meeting with students, teachers, and administrators of schools receiving grant monies to develop and implement SIFE programs.

Marshall, H. W. (1998). A mutually adaptive learning paradigm (MALP) for Hmong students. Cultural Circles, 3, 134-141. ERIC Document: #ED505352
Numerous studies (Goldstein, 1985; Rumbaut and Ima, 1988; Walker, 1989; Trueba, Jacobs, and Kirton, 1990 and Walker-Moffat, 1995) have found that the Hmong have extreme difficulties adjusting to the American educational system as compared with other language minority groups. Underlying this difficulty is a fundamental conflict between learning in traditional Hmong cultural settings and learning in American classroom settings. Despite this conflict, many Hmong students have successfully negotiated our school systems. Most of them did this, however, by compensation strategies, such as memorizing, repeating, spending extended periods of time attempting to master large amounts of material, and receiving extensive help from friends and siblings, rather than by mastering the requirements of successful learning in a formal educational setting. Shuter (1985) refers to this phenomenon as residual orality. This paper demonstrates that success in our educational system constitutes a paradigm shift for the Hmong learner, a shift from the Hmong learner's paradigm to the formal educational learning paradigm. The position taken is that active participation in formal education is itself an important part of the acculturation process, requiring the building of a cluster of formal schemata having to do with learning in a specific setting. The paper first examines the conditions, processes, and activities characteristic of each setting and then outlines how teachers can use their knowledge of these two conflicting paradigms to design a Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm (MALP) that can help Hmong learners succeed academically. Classroom applications are included to demonstrate how the Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm can be effective with Hmong learners.

Marshall, H. W. (1994). Hmong/English Bilingual Adult Literacy Project. Final report of research conducted under the National Institute for Literacy, grant #X257A20457. University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Eric Document: #ED376750
The Hmong/English Bilingual Adult Literacy Project, sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, was designed to explore more effective ways of reaching and teaching a previously "unteachable group," nonliterate adult Hmong refugees. Throughout the project, the staff struggled with the apparent mismatch between an orientation towards literacy as empowerment and the determination of the students to cling to a traditional, teacher centered, textbook-driven, classroom results oriented instructional delivery model. From this cultural dissonance, there emerged a mutually adaptive approach to the literacy instruction of Hmong learners. The Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm (MALP) examined the conditions, processes, and activities characteristic of each setting and outlined how teachers could use their knowledge of these two conflicting paradigms to design a mutually adaptive paradigm that could help Hmong learners succeed in the program. This new framework was then be implemented using three strategies: (1) Hmong students' conditions for learning, namely, a relationship and immediate relevance, are accepted and maintained; (2) traditional Hmong learning processes, including cooperation and oral transmission, are gradually combined with formal educational processes, individual achievement and the use of the written word; and (3) activities for learning are initially confined to practice, slowly yielding to analysis of familiar material and finally, analysis of unfamiliar material. Results showed improved confidence levels in using English and improved levels of literacy. Ultimately, through a process of ongoing cross-cultural negotiating, several learner-generated uses for literacy emerged, resulting in real-world applications.

Marshall, H.W. & DeCapua A. (2010). The newcomer booklet: A Project for limited formally schooled students. ELT Journal, 64, 396-404.
The Newcomer Booklet has become a popular classroom activity among ESL teachers at many different levels and with many types of learners. In this article, we explore why this is the case and why this type of project works so well for a particular population of English language learners, those with limited or interrupted formal schooling. We situate our discussion within a framework that we have developed after working extensively with this population. This framework, the Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm (MALP) helps ESL teachers of such learners to understand why a project like the Newcomer Booklet is so successful. MALP identifies ways to combine elements of the students' familiar learning paradigm and those associated with westernized formal education. By extension, ESL teachers can use MALP to help them maximize the effectiveness of other activities or projects.

Marshall, H.W., DeCapua, A., & Antolini, C. (2010). Building literacy for SIFE through social studies. Educator's Voice, 3, 56-65.
Carol Antolini, who teaches Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE), participated in a research project on a new instructional model for this population. Here, the researchers who developed the model and mentored Carol describe the model, the implementation process and the results, while Carol reflects on her experience. The focus is on secondary social studies, specifically U.S. history.

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