Top Ten Things I Wish I had Known as an Immersion Teacher
The ACIE Newsletter, May 2007, Vol. 10, No. 3
By Mandy Fleming, Ph.D. student, Department of Spanish & Portuguese, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Upon graduating from college as an elementary and a secondary Spanish education major, I taught fourth and fifth grade for three years in a one-way, partial Spanish immersion program at Henderson Elementary School in Prince William County, Va. When I began teaching, I knew that I would only be there a few years before I returned to continue my studies at the graduate level. Now, as I reflect on my experiences and what I have learned both in the immersion classroom and since I left, I feel that I could have been a better teacher had I been equipped with what I know now.
I wish I had known that I would be part of a unique community of educators, students, and parents. The willingness of elementary learners to experiment with a language and their excitement and openness to new ideas and customs was something that I haven’t found elsewhere. Also, the dedication of both my fellow colleagues and the parents to the immersion program was something that will stay with me and is rare. I wish I would have appreciated it more when I was a part of it.
I wish I had known that being an immersion teacher would change the way I approach learning foreign languages, teaching a foreign language at the university level, and how I want my future children to be educated. It would open new doors and opportunities for me and give me a unique perspective on language learning and education.
I wish I had known that immersion in a second/foreign language is not the same as learning the first language; some attention must be given to language development. L1 and L2 learners experience different types of interactions and quantity of input. As a result, immersion learners will not naturally acquire all of the intricacies of the language without meaning-focused attention given to language development. Establishing a sequence of study for the immersion language across grade levels allows each teacher to know what skills to focus on at a specific level and guide their integration of content and language instruction.
I wish I had known that as an immersion teacher, I would be both a language teacher and a content teacher. One is not more important than the other. Only by being both can one effectively teach in an immersion setting.
I wish I had known that input alone is insufficient; students must be given opportunities and encouraged to produce meaningful, extended output. Only by creating with the language will they learn to communicate all of their thoughts and needs. Simple responses to close-ended, discrete answer teacher questions do not afford them this opportunity. Moreover, they need corrective feedback; targeted feedback in a second language is not bad, it shows us what doesn’t work in the language.
I wish I had known that I would not be alone; there would be people to help. Researchers and experienced teachers do share their knowledge about immersion methodologies, research findings, and more. Check out the CARLA website: www.carla.umn.edu/immersion.
I wish I had known that networking with other immersion schools would be a valuable experience. Together we can learn from each other’s challenges and successes, in addition to sharing resources. The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) has an on-line directory that may help you find other schools in your area or beyond: www.cal.org/resources/immersion.
I wish I had known that native speakers of the immersion language are not in the classroom to meet the needs of other students. Their language needs (in the immersion language and in English) must not be neglected. Yes, they can add an interesting dynamic and bring in a new layer of culture and diversity, but they are not there to serve the language needs of the other students.
I wish I had known that the immersion language needs to be valued not only within the classroom, but also within the entire school. Students note the attention given to each language by the school. By not emphasizing the value of the immersion language at the school level, students come to feel that it is something extra and not of primary importance. Using it in daily announcements, in the hallway, as the language of assemblies, etc. can help to give the immersion language a higher status within the school.
I wish I had known that parents would be excited and nervous about educating their children through a language they may or may not know. They do not necessarily know what to expect, what is normal and what is not; communication with them about what immersion is, what learning through a second language looks like, and about individual student progress is essential. It can make both the student’s education and your life easier!