Monday, January 9, 2012

Sample ELL Plan for Post-Institutionalized, Internationally Adopted Student

I thought it might be helpful to add some tools for parents to use when working with their child's school, youth organization, or health care provider.  I'll work on getting things posted over the next few weeks or so.  For now, here is a sample ELL plan I used last year at the request of our school district's English Language Learner's coordinator to educate ELL teachers about the (VERY SIGNIFICANT) difference between a post-institutionalized, internationally-adopted student and a bi-lingual immigrant student living with their biological family.  These students do not learn English in the same way, or at the same rate.

If you've recently come home with your IA child, or if you're planning to bring your child home soon, you may find this document helpful.

ELL Plan for Post-Institutionalized, Internationally Adopted Student

Kansas State Department of Education, English Proficiency Level Descriptions, Spring 2000. Version 2.5 
United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Department.  Discrimination Against English Language Learner Students (Settlement with Boston Schools documents)

Melanie Manares, ESOL Education Program Consultant, Kansas State Department of Education.  Phone:  (785) 296-7929, Email: 
Office for Civil Rights, Kansas City Office, U.S. Department of Education - 8930 Ward Parkway, Suite 2037 - Kansas City, MO 64114-3302 - Telephone: (816) 268-0550
Fax: (816) 823-1404 – email: 
Dr. Boris Gindis, Director, Center for Cognitive Developmental Assessment and Remediation.  150 Airport Executive Park, Suite 152, Nanuet, NY 10954, Tel.: (845)694-8496 –

1.   It is against the law to place or hold back a child because of language learner status.  No child, not even an internationally adopted child with little or no prior education, can be legally placed at a grade level below his or her age-level peers without the prior and explicit written request of the parents.  The school may not recommend it, nor require it.  Schools MUST place internationally adopted kids according to the age.  Additionally, the school can NOT hold back a student because she or he is not “up to grade level” with their age peers.  Additionally, placing or holding a child, without parental request, due to a lack of prior education is AGAINST THE LAW!

2.  Nearly 100% of all internationally adopted children under the age of 12 will lose their first language within 6 months of coming home to live with their English-only speaking family.  English will become their new first language.  They will not be 2nd language learners.  They will be learning an entirely new first language.  Post-institutionalized, internationally adopted (PIAI) students will, for the most part, not have sufficient language skills in their native first language due to institutionalization.  Translating English into their old language to “help them understand” actually hurts their English language acquisition.  More importantly, it is DETREMENTAL to their attachment to their English-only speaking, new families.  Even IF someone can speak to a child in his native language at school, THEY SHOULD NOT DO IT!  The child will learn more quickly – not only English, but all academics – and will attach more quickly to their new family.

Within 4 months of being home, most PIAI kids under 12 are doing quite well in their new classroom setting.  While there are still often challenges to re-learning expected behaviors, catching up developmentally and academically, most teachers see a marked difference after a child has been in their classroom by the fourth month.

3.  Teachers CAN NOT expect a PIAI child to “do the work” of their classmates.  Do not expect a child to be “taught to the test.”  Deal with it.  Your PIAI child WILL MESS UP your state test scores, especially during the first 1-2 years home.  Sorry.  But that’s not your student’s problem.  It’s not their parents’ problem either.  YOU MUST MODIFY work for your PIAI student.  The older the student is when they arrive home, the more modification needed, and the longer it will take for your student to perform at grade level.  For example, a boy home at age 12 and in school three years (now 15) still needs considerable modifications on much of his work.  Yet, when he came home, he could not add two digit numbers together.  Today, he is getting A’s in 8th grade level math.  He is of average intelligence.  His sister, home at age 9 just skipped from 4th grade into 6th grade.  She had no more schooling than the average pre-school child in America when she came home.  She is a now a straight “A” student.  Both students were placed in grade levels requested by the parents.

5.  You MUST HAVE a written ELL plan for your PIAI student.  Document all progress!  MOST PIAI students will test out of ELL after their third or fourth full year home.  Their English language acquisition is amazing!  The first few months home can be rough.  The first few years of healing from “Lord of the Flies” behaviors learned in order to survive their very tough start in life can be challenging.  However, most teachers will be amazed at how well their PIAI students are doing with language acquisition as compared to their other ELL students.

ELL Plan Suggestions
Student Name
Grade __ - School Name
Submitted by Your Name (Your Role), Date 
Qualifying Need
English as (student’s name) new first language, replacing his original first language of (Spanish/Russian/Mandarin/etc).  Residence in the USA since (date) with no prior English language abilities before adoption into an American family.

Reading Comprehension:

*See English Language Proficiency Descriptions above.
Language Arts
Modify written assignments to include projects.  Allow for appropriate reading level materials.  Do not expect student to read at levels of age peers.    Correct spelling and sentence structure but avoid substantial grading on these.  Weight any reading logs lower for grading purposes than most other students due to mental energy exerted and stress related to required reading.  Provide support for academic language.  Make sure directions for assignments are understood.

Allow for shorter tests and modified assignments.  Possibly allow take-home tests or modified tests.  Provide easy access to a safe person or safe place to which (student) may retreat if feeling stressed.  Provide for teacher's awareness to signs (student) is shutting down or withdrawing.

NOTE:  PIAI children go into a “Language Limbo” between losing their first language and gaining English as their new first language.  They are unable to translate “in their heads” like other ELL students from bi-lingual backgrounds.  The way they learn is NOT THE SAME!  See articles by Dr. Boris Gindis – resource website above.  
Social Studies
Provide professional or peer guidance for understanding academic language.  Establish take-home academic vocabulary within context of material covered in class.

Allow for shorter tests and modified assignments.  Possibly allow take-home tests or modified tests.  Provide easy access to a safe person or safe place to which (student) may retreat if feeling stressed.  Provide for teacher's awareness to signs (student) is shutting down or withdrawing.  Do not take basic world knowledge for granted.  Avoid surprise assignments including out-of-ordinary homework assignments or pop quizzes.  Give clear, simple directions for assignments.  Break directives into simple steps, simply worded.  Encourage shared note-taking.  Substitute or supplement textbook reading assignments and classroom discussions with direct experience through film, CD's, recordings or internet links.
Provide academic vocabulary within context of material covered.  Modify tests to include clear multiple-choice questions.  If fill-in-the blank tests are used, make the blank the size of the correct answer.  Use a word bank.

Allow for peer interaction and cooperative learning activities based on kinesthetic techniques.  Allow for modified test arrangements.  Be aware of student’s limited world knowledge and explain concepts in very simple terms, using one or two syllable words.    Encourage shared note-taking.  Substitute or supplement textbook reading assignments and classroom discussions with direct experience and audio/visual materials, CD's, recordings or computer programs/links.  Reinforce verbally anything presented in a traditional format.
Allow extra time for student to work on concepts not previously learned.  Assign student fewer problems for homework – only enough practice to ensure understanding or to assess knowledge (or lack of knowledge).  Allow extended time to complete calculations.  Allow student to “skip” problems she/he is unable to complete within a given time.  Provide adequate examples (for student's sake as well as parents'). Work with student to space problems far enough apart to allow room for calculations and reduce distractions.  Group similar problems.  Consider using graph paper to aid student in lining up place value accurately. 
Limit word problems.  Understand student  concepts like the passage of time, charted schedules, etc. are things which student has no prior concept of before coming to America due to institutionalization/orphanage living.  While the student will learn much quickly, he/she will be overwhelmed with information and will not be capable of retaining it all.  
View art as therapy for (student).  Place very few, if any requirements on work.  Break instructions down into simple steps, using simple vocabulary.  Ask student to repeat instructions back to teacher or class.
Physical Education/Gym
Present directions in clear, easy-to-understand vocabulary.

Allow for rest if student complains of chest pain or a headache.  Be aware of signs of distress and modify activity or allow retrieval to a safe person or safe place if student is feeling inadequate or overwhelmed.

BE VERY AWARE of post-institutionalized behavior.  Your student will likely be quite competitive and will even make themselves ill trying to be “first” in any sort of physical contest.  
General Academic Considerations for
And ALL Teachers

-DO NOT EXPECT GRADE LEVEL WORK until the third or fourth year home for students under 8.  (For students between the ages of 8-12+, do not expect grade level work with age peers until even later.)

-OMIT ANY BIOGRAPHICAL ASSIGNEMENTS!  Do not even ask.  Do not ask your student about their background.  Period.  (Read Boris Gindis articles for more education on why not.)

-Introduce key vocabulary before an assignment.
-Give student opportunity to read aloud or verbalize assignments to peers, ELL teacher or a para familiar with the child.
-Provide assistance for answering text-based questions.
-Provide tests that are typed and neatly printed, clearly legible, with ample space for responses.
-Avoid “trick” questions, slang, jargon and idioms.
-Allow student break or rest time.
-Allow easy access to a safe persons (This might be the ELL teacher or counselor.)
-Preview assignments to orient student to a topic.
-Develop a study guide or outline for material covered.
-Allow student to use graphic aids such as maps, charts, posters, videos, computer, etc.
-Allow for open book or take home tests.
-Allow for memory aids, cues and references.
-Provide opportunity to retest if necessary.  Be aware of the trauma experienced by any sense of failure due to any PIAI child’s past.
-Provide experience & discussion before and after reading or introducing new concepts as a frame of reference and reinforcement.
-Ask “WHAT” a student understands vs. “IF” they understand.   Have the student tell you specifically what it is they believe the assignment to be.
-Directly and specifically point out relationships, as students are often confused about what is “real” and what is “imaginary” or fiction because of limited world knowledge.  (Again, this is true for ANY PIAI child.)
-Omit assignments requiring rote copying.  A brain in “language limbo” does not absorb material by copying material. 
-Omit scrambled word assignments.
-Use demonstration to teach whenever possible.
-Provide manipulative objects whenever possible.
-Provide self-correcting materials, if available.
-Pay special attention to trauma triggers.  ALL PIAI children are traumatized.  Just being adopted and brought to a new country is a significant traumatic experience.  (See more about trauma and attachment in adoption at, , and other web sites.)  

©Trauma Mama T 2011 – All Rights Reserved
Please contact Trauma Mama T for permission to reprint.

No comments: