Expressing Cognitive Operations
Through the Language of Immersion


This research deals with the extent to which teachers transmit as think aloud their own thoughts as they perform cognitive operations in immersion classrooms. The concern is whether immersion teachers convey to students in what Vygotsky has termed other-directed or "public" speech enough of the immersion-language vocabulary and structure for expressing cognitive operations that their pupils feel confident doing so on their own. (See L. S. Vygotsky (1961). Thought and speech. In S. Saporta (Ed.), Psycholinguistics (pp. 509-537). NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.) It is this other-directed speech which constitutes the input that immersion pupils need in order to construct their own inner-directed and other-directed speech in that language. The issue concerns the degree to which immersion pupils are able to think through cognitive operations calling for verbalization without having to revert to their native language in order to express these operations. This study posits that if upper elementary immersion teachers were to do more verbalizing of their cognitive processing strategies out loud as if they were fifth or sixth graders, their pupils would have a richer context for acquiring the carrier language for cognitive processing in the foreign language. The study also posits that enhanced facility at cognitive processing in the immersion language would lead to more processing in that language. The assumption here is that if pupils have an easier time expressing themselves through the target language - even during their inner-directed verbalizations - they will be more encouraged to use the target language for verbalizing their thoughts and for interaction with others.


The Research Questions

  1. What effect will an increase in teachers' modeling of the immersion-language vocabulary and structure that they use for verbalizing cognitive operations in performing math word problems have on their pupils use of that language as a vehicle for their own cognitive processing in math?

  2. What effect will the teachers' modeling of vocabulary and structures used for task performance have on their pupils' general oral and written production in the immersion language?

The Design of the Study

The study is already underway with preliminary visits to Twin Cities Immersion programs. A 50% time R.A. will be hired in Spring Semester 2001. Teachers are to be trained in the summer of 2001. The experiment will be conducted during the 2001-2002 school year. Colleagues will be invited to collaborate on this project. Subjects The plan is to conduct the study in fourth-grade Spanish or French full immersion classrooms. The approach will be quasi-experimental in that intact full immersion classrooms will be selected for the experiment, with comparable intact classrooms at the same fourth-grade level serving as the comparison group. The intention is to have four classrooms with one native-speaking immersion teacher and one nonnative-speaking immersion teacher in each of the Experimental and Comparison classrooms respectively.


The treatment will call for having the teachers in the two Experimental classrooms shift their teaching style enough so that they model the statement of their own cognitive processes in the performance of math word problems. In essence, they will be providing on-line, think-aloud verbalization of their own cognitive processing to the students in the immersion language, as well as introspective and retrospective data about what they are doing and have done as they work through these tasks. In order for the treatment to take place, participating Experimental teachers will receive training sessions in which they themselves will receive models for enhanced statement of their own cognitive processes, with a focus on having teachers externalize and make explicit inner-directed cognitive processes. The focus will be on both language and content with the intention that both the language and content skills of the pupils will improve.


  1. Teacher Cognitive Processing Measure: this instrument will be intended to assess retrospectively the extent to which the teachers use the immersion language for expressing verbalized cognitive processes in their own minds. It will involve the use of audio and possibly video-taping to help the teachers reconstruct their thought processes before and during science and social studies tasks.

  2. Teacher Observation Schedule: an instrument will be designed to observe the extent to which teachers furnish the learners with immersion language which reflects the externalization of their cognitive processing.

  3. Student Cognitive Processing Measure: this instrument will assess the extent to which the pupils use the language of immersion for performing verbalized cognitive tasks.

  4. Student Oral and Written Task Measure: an instrument will be designed to assess the oral and written output of the immersion pupils.

Data Collection Procedures

  1. Developing, piloting, and refining the instruments.

  2. Identifying the participating schools and finding teachers and classrooms for the experimental and the control groups.

  3. Collecting baseline data from the participating teachers in the experimental and comparison groups using the Teacher Cognitive Processing Measure and the Teacher Observation Schedule to determine the extent to which the teachers externalize their verbalized cognitive processing while teaching word problems in math prior to any training.

  4. Training the teachers who will provide the experimental treatment to their pupils.

  5. Collecting the data. The Teacher Observation Schedule will be used regularly over the period of the study, at regular intervals. The Student Oral and Written Task Measure will be administered on a pre-posttest basis, while the Student Cognitive Processing Measure will be used at regular intervals over the duration of the study.

Data Analysis Procedures

Much of the initial analysis will involve transcription of recorded protocols. The protocols will be subjected to both quantitative and qualitative analyses. Protocols for experimental and control teachers will be compared to determine the extent to which the treatment was actually administered. Analysis will be conducted to characterize the statement of cognition in the target language by experimental and control teachers and pupils. In addition, quantitative analysis will be used to investigate the relationship between the nature of reported facility in using the target language for thinking through problems and measured oral and written proficiency.

The Intended Outcomes and Implications

The findings from the study may have important implications not only for designing immersion and other forms of bilingual education programs in the elementary, middle, and secondary schools, but also at the university level, where immersion programs are slowly beginning to take hold, such as at the University of Minnesota (where during Spring quarter, Spanish, French, and German full immersion programs have been instituted and immersion in other languages has been planned). The research could have a series of implications for program design. Findings could have implications for the following:
  1. Teacher selection: The findings of the study might help to ensure that teachers are selected not just in terms of their proficiency in the language of mathematics but their expertise in academic language in general and especially the technical language of complex cognition in the immersion language.

  2. Teacher development: The study may lead to the development of materials to support teachers in the refinement of their own academic language proficiency.

  3. Classroom methods: The study influence how content material is delivered in class-that is, the extent to which the teachers share their own verbalized thought processes with their pupils.
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