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Two-Way French Immersion
in Rural Maine

The ACIE Newsletter, November 2001, Vol. 5, No. 1

By Ms Mary Lunney, Elementary Principal, Madawaska, Maine;
Mr. Tom Scott, Superintendent of Schools, Madawaska, Maine;
and Mr. Tim Doak, Middle/High School Principal, Madawaska, Maine

 


 

Because the community of Madawaska, Maine is primarily of French/Acadian descent, many of our citizens expressed a desire for their children to maintain the French language which is an important part of our community heritage. Begun in 1995 as a federal Title VII program, L'Acadien du Haut St. Jean, our two-way French immersion program provides opportunities for students to be taught part of the time in French, 30% - 70% of the instructional time, depending on grade level, and part of the time in English within the same classroom. Literacy learning (reading and writing processes) and mathematics are taught in French at most grade levels. Social studies, science, and art have also been included at some grade levels.

The immersion program coexists with traditional instructional programs in Madawaska Elementary School and Madawaska Middle School. The children who began in the earlier years of the program are now beginning to enter high school, and Madawaska High School is developing offerings to meet the needs of these unique language learners. Parents of both elementary and middle school students have commented positively on the children's language facility as a result of their participation in the French immersion program.

Our immersion program is an additive program, meaning that all students learn a second language without compromising their first language. Our students develop fluency and literacy in two languages, achieve proficiency in all academic areas, cultivate an understanding and appreciation of other cultures, and develop positive attitudes towards fellow students, their families and their community. It is a voluntary program and, although grant funding has ended, the district remains committed to supporting this program. We have one classroom in each of the grades from Kindergarten through ninth grade where students have chosen to receive part of their instructional day in French. While all students from K-8 receive French instruction, either through our daily core French program or the immersion program, only the immersion program targets listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in French for fluency.

 

Reviewing singular and plural articles in a
third grade class at Madawaska Elementary.

Curriculum Objectives

 

Two-way immersion education is a rigorous academic program in which French and English are used as the vehicles of instruction and not taught simply as subjects. Thematic units integrate the curriculum, making the languages more meaningful to the students, and providing them with enough exposure to practice, use and extend their vocabulary.

Teachers engage students in participatory activities requiring responses in the language of instruction, be it the native or second language for the student. For example, the reciprocal-interactive approach assists the children in building their oral vocabulary. When students respond in English during classes conducted in French, the teacher replies in French - paraphrasing, clarifying amd modeling. Teachers also use cooperative learning techniques to encourage students to interact with one another in their second language. Students may be partnered with another student who is more proficient in French or teachers will use students to help explain, clarify, or summarize a topic for the other members of the class. Rather than translating for comprehension, teachers use a multitude of second language acquisition techniques to make language and content understandable for all students. Students are provided with opportunities to assist and learn from one another, allowing second language acquisition to occur naturally.

Parent support

 

Parental involvement is an integral part of our immersion program, as we are a bilingual community. Our Parents and Teachers Supporting Immersion (PTSI) group offers opportunities for parents to contribute to the school program. Parents plan cultural events, coordinate fundraisers for extended field trips (e.g., whale watching excursions, trips to Quebec, penpal exchange programs, evening soirées), and release news bulletins to increase the community's awareness of our program goals. Our local PTA has also supported our immersion program through its purchase of French materials for the library and the scheduling of various "Arts in Education" presentations providing French cultural experiences.

Extracurricular opportuntities

 

Special activities organized by the immersion program have supported the entire school community. Professional development opportunities for immersion teachers have been open to non-immersion teachers, benefiting all staff and students. More than a dozen college courses on language acquisition and bilingual education topics have been offered to our staff through the University of Maine, University of Southern Maine, and Université Laval in Quebec. These courses have been subsidized by our school district and through our immersion grant program. Several of our staff members have received scholarships for educational studies in Canada and France during the summer months. The University of Maine at Fort Kent, a state university located 20 miles west of Madawaska, has sponsored Summer Immersion Camp for students in grades K-8 for the past five summers. The week-long camps have promoted the value of being multilingual as well as an understanding of French language, and Franco-American and Franco-Canadian culture.

 

Two second grade students study the
continents during a quiet moment in class.

Assessment

 

The learning of students in the immersion program is assessed by the same methods used for all Madawaska students. Students in the fourth and eighth grade take the Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) in the fall and spring of the year. The MEA is aligned with Maine's Learning Results, learning standards required of all Maine students. Students also are assessed with the Terra Nova series from McGraw-Hill. Test results from these large-scale assessments demonstrate that our immersion students do at least as well as the students in our regular program.

In addition to these standardized tests, classroom and school-wide assessments are also used. One of our most successful assessments is our school-wide writing assessment. Conducted three times a year with all students in the elementary and middle schools, the assessment consists of a common prompt to which students at all grade levels must respond. Scoring guides have been created to assess student writing at each grade level. All staff members participate in the scoring sessions sometime throughout the year. These scored essays are returned to the teachers who use them as instructional tools for writing development. Some immersion students write in French at the upper grade levels, and all papers are evaluated using the same holistic process. While community members may have worried about the immersion child's English writing skills, our assessments indicate no loss in writing skills in either language.

Blue Ribbon School

 

During its fourth year of implementation, our program was one of five bilingual programs in the country recognized as a "Portrait of Success." During the sixth year of our immersion program, our elementary school was recognized as a 2000-2001 Blue Ribbon School of excellence by the US Department of Education. We believe our immersion program contributed to our being recognized on the national level.

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