A Look at ACIE: Past Collaborations,
Present Projects, and Future Possibilities

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

By Karin Larson, Coordinator, Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition



I was delighted to be asked by ACIE Newsletter editor Kim Miller to write an editorial looking at the development of the American Council on Immersion Education (ACIE) from the institutional perspective of the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota. In the process of putting this piece together, I was amazed at how much has happened with immersion education through CARLA.

Since the center was inaugurated in 1993 as a U.S. Department of Education Title VI Language Resource Center, CARLA has hosted a national conference on immersion education, initiated many research studies, published many articles on aspects of immersion education and resources for immersion educators, instituted a professional development program for immersion educators, and launched a national organization for immersion educators. Thanks to active advocacy and involvement on the part of many University of Minnesota faculty members and graduate students, Twin Cities immersion educators, and ACIE members at large, the American Council on Immersion Education has become an internationally known resource for teachers, administrators, and parents.


A host of committed faculty members at the University of Minnesota has long been active in the area of language immersion research and program development. College of Education and Human Development professors Helen Jorstad, Diane Tedick, Constance Walker, and College of Liberal Arts professors Andrew Cohen, Carol Klee, and Elaine Tarone, along with many of their graduate students, are well known locally and nationally for their work in immersion education. Because of their interest and advocacy, immersion education was in-cluded as a main component of CARLA when the interdisciplinary center was created in 1993.

In one of the first projects sponsored by CARLA, Professor Helen Jorstad and doctoral student Tara Fortune contacted 140 immersion schools in the U.S. to collect information on a number of key program elements such as program organization and student demo-graphics. The results of the survey were published in Foreign Language Annals in 1996. A research project entitled "Language Use and Acquisition in an Elementary Spanish Immersion Program in a Large Midwestern City" began in 1995 to gather data on the use of the target language among students in an immersion program. A dissertation by Maggie Broner and several articles co-authored by Elaine Tarone based on the data collected have been published in a variety of venues, including the CARLA working paper series. Diane Tedick and Constance Walker have worked in collaboration with immersion teachers to look closely at the challenges of immersion teaching, the results of which were published in the Modern Language Journal last year. Andrew Cohen, Carol Klee, and Diane Tedick have also conducted research on the effectiveness of the University of Minnesota's Foreign Language Immersion Program.

In 1995 CARLA sponsored the conference "Research and Practice in Immersion Education: Looking Back and Looking Ahead." For the first time in twenty years, a group of over 230 North American language immersion educators and researchers came together to examine how recent research informs key topics for immersion educators and to help determine future directions for research in this field. Synopses of the papers and reports delivered at the conference were published as a CARLA working paper in 1997.


Throughout the first few years of funding from the U.S. Department of Education (1993-1996), faculty involved with the immersion projects at CARLA actively supported immersion teachers in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Based on their recommendations, the development of a national organization for immersion educators became a priority and ultimately a reality when CARLA received another round for funding from USDE in 1996. The American Council on Immersion Education (ACIE) was formed in spring 1997.

The primary goal of ACIE is to facilitate communication among immersion teachers and others interested in immersion education (teachers, administrators, teacher educators, researchers, and parents). The main vehicle for this communication has been the ACIE Newsletter, which is published three times a year. The ACIE Newsletter offers articles pertaining to best practices specific to immersion education, parent communication, current research, and bridging research with classroom practice. The inaugural issue of the newsletter, which first appeared in print form in November 1997, is available for download on the main ACIE page.

ACIE also supports a list-serv for those interested in immersion education and offers an extensive web site of information on immersion education. ACIE currently has 166 individual members and two institutional memberships. Over 248 immersion educators have been members of ACIE since its inception.


Professional development for immersion educators has also been a priority for CARLA. Since 1996 CARLA has offered an annual week-long summer institute entitled "Meeting the Challenges of Immersion Education." Led by Diane Tedick, Constance Walker, and Tara Fortune, these summer institutes have brought nationally known immersion educators (Helena Curtain, Mimi Met, Roy Lyster, Pat Barr-Harrison) and many local immersion teachers as guest speakers. Each institute has provided a rich opportunity for immersion teachers to exchange information with each other about what works in their classrooms.

Always the most popular of the CARLA institutes, the immersion summer institutes have involved the participation of over 150 teachers since the program began. Though positive comments about the institutes are too numerous to cite, one teacher summed it up this way:

"The CARLA immersion institute is annually the most relevant staff development opportunity for immersion educators. Most of our school's limited staff development funds were allocated for administrators, teachers, and paraprofessionals to attend. I can't think of a more valuable way to spend those funds for improving student learning in an immersion setting."


Researching a variety of aspects of what works in immersion education and creating materials to support immersion educators has always been a priority at CARLA. To date, CARLA has assisted with a number of research and material development projects including:

  • Getting the Big Picture of Language Immersion Education by Working with Teachers on a Micro Level

  • Developing Content Curriculum for Language Immersion Education: A Group Studies Abroad Project to Develop Science Curriculum for U.S. Spanish Immersion Programs

  • Learning Language in an Immersion Village

  • Expressing Cognitive Operations through the Language of Immersion

  • Language Proficiency Issues Related to the Spanish Foreign Language Immersion Program (FLIP)

While these initiatives are in various stages of completion, the project leaders have given over 48 presentations around the country and published 46 articles, book chapters, and working papers based on their work. ACIE in partnership with CARLA has helped to "get the word out" to immersion educators through its newsletters, summer institutes, and web site.


Professor Diane Tedick, Professor Constance Walker, former ACIE project assistant Tara Fortune, and ACIE editor Kim Miller along with ACIE immersion educators have considered the following options for the organization over the long term:

  1. ACIE could become part of the National Network of Early Language Learning (NNELL),
  2. it could function as a Special Interest Group within the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, or
  3. it could potentially become a self-sustaining organization.

While the ultimate goal for ACIE is to become self sufficient, whether part of another organization or not, the current membership level of 168 is too low to generate the income needed to support the newsletter and the coordination of the summer institutes. CARLA's challenge will be to expand programming and resources for immersion educators while continuing to build the organization's membership base. To meet these challenges CARLA could:

  • expand the summer institute program to meet the needs of immersion educators in a variety of contexts and places in their careers;

  • explore opportunities for immersion teachers to assume more leadership in professional development activities;

  • offer "traveling" workshops to schools and school districts;

  • provide greater assistance to schools in their start-up phase;

  • promote research on what works in immer-sion education;

  • enhance national opportunities for immersion educators to share best practices.

As immersion education continues to grow in popularity throughout the country, CARLA will work with ACIE leaders and members to create a viable vision for providing support for teachers, administrators, parents, and researchers who work within the unique world of immersion education.

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