How Do I Become An Immersion Teacher?

The ACIE Newsletter, February 2001, Vol. 4, No. 2

By Kara Schuft, Second Grade Teacher, Park Spanish Immersion School, St. Louis Park, Minnesota



In June 2000 I attended the CARLA Summer Institute, "Meeting the Challenges of Immersion Education: Effective Immersion Pedagogy." This institute opened several doors for me. My pre-institute understanding of immersion had been strictly from personal experience. As a student, I had had a basic knowledge of Spanish, but had never fully understood nor used the language until I traveled to Spain and was immersed in Spanish culture and language. Therefore, as a new teacher, my definition of immersion teaching had been simple: the complete incorporation of Spanish into the students' school day. At the close of the institute, I was faced with my biggest challenge of all: How do I become an "immersion teacher"? I was determined to come up with a plan of action.

The institute introduced me to several experts and their studies on immersion education, providing me with a starting block. Among the authors I found most helpful were Roy Lyster, Marguerite Ann Snow, and Merrill Swain. I also discovered helpful Web sites and the invaluable expertise of other immersion teachers. Through these means I was able to build my knowledge base and a toolbox of immersion education strategies and techniques. The institute also made me more aware of the importance of all of the elements of effective immersion pedagogy: the parents, the participants, the practitioner, the curriculum specialist, and the supporting research. I was able to begin accumulating a list of strategies to employ in my classroom. These strategies are varied and have a strong focus on the use of all of the senses. In this article, I would like to share with you the "strategy toolbox" that I have compiled.

From Roy Lyster:

  • Attend to language. Although the students are learning subject matter in the target language, there is still a need to focus on the language itself. Because immersion students are learning the target language for academic purposes, there is a need to study language for language's sake.

  • Reflect on feedback. There are six categories of feedback (error correction): explicit correction, recasts, clarification requests, metalinguistic clues, elicitation, and repetition. In my four months of teaching full immersion, I have paid close attention to the variety of feedback or correction I use with my students. I make an effort to use a variety and to note what works best with individual students. It is also important when giving feedback to differentiate between giving feedback on content or meaning versus feedback on accuracy of language use.

From Marguerite Ann Snow:

  • Use successful instructional techniques. Teachers should use body language, predictability in routines, background knowledge, realia and manipulatives, reviews of previous material, redundancy in lessons, teacher modeling, error correction, a variety of teaching methods and activities, and clarification/comprehension checks. This is the checklist I use when planning lessons.

From Merrill Swain:

  • Provide high-quality input. Often such an em-phasis is placed on getting students to speak the target language that little is placed on the mor-phological and syntactic inaccuracies. Teacher talk, or input, is therefore vital to students' language development. Teachers need to use varied vocabulary as well as all tenses of the language to give students rich language exposure. For this reason, my school considers employing native speakers as teaching assistants in the classrooms to be a priority.


  • Read up on immersion pedagogy and methodology.

  • Develop a set of techniques and strategies to implement in your classroom. It helps to note these in the margins of teaching manuals.

  • Dialogue with other immersion teachers. In my first few months, this has proved crucial. As I plan my lessons, I often have questions about the best approach, or a unique way to teach a subject. Veteran teachers can offer wisdom, advice, and reassurance. In your first year, when you are trying to make immersion happen, little by little, do not be afraid to ask for help. It will save you time and energy to spend elsewhere! The LIM-A listserv is another wonderful way to seek advice (see sidebar, p. 6).

  • Make it fit. Take time to set out the curriculum and fit in the grammar aspects where they best match. For example, in a unit that includes persuasive writing, you could cover the rules of the subjunctive tense. Or, you could pull words out of a literature lesson, to demonstrate the rules for pluralizing. In a science lesson on the life cycle of a frog, focus on the future and conditional tenses.

  • Have clear expectations. At Park Spanish Immersion we have equally high expectations for language development and for academic achievement.

  • As things get difficult or frustrating, take a deep breath and try again. Try to keep a journal in which you record struggles and questions as well as the answers and solutions.
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