Resources for Struggling Immersion Learners

CARLA has just published the long-awaited handbook entitled “Struggling Learners and Language Immersion Education: Research-based, Practitioner-informed Responses to Educators’ Top Questions.” The handbook is geared toward immersion parents, K-8 teachers, educational specialists, administrators and policy makers who work with dual language and immersion students. Growing out of work led by Dr. Tara Fortune, immersion projects coordinator at CARLA, the book fills a vital need for information on a topic that is fast becoming a widespread challenge as immersion programs become increasingly popular across the country.

The Challenge of the Struggling Immersion Learner

When a student in an immersion program is struggling academically or socially, it can be difficult to ascertain whether the problem lies primarily with the unique learning environment of immersion or the student’s language and learning abilities. Difficulties in school relative to the average performance of classroom peers lead educators and parents to question whether the child could ultimately be successful in an immersion program or would be best served in another instructional context.  Though the questions about struggling learners in immersion education are very specific to individual students and contexts, some commonly asked questions are:

  • Are the child’s reading struggles due to learning to read in a second language or might there be some other language-based disorder at play?
  • Since early intervention is key, how long should teachers and parents engage in “watchful waiting” with a struggling learner before requesting additional learning support?
  • Are children who have already been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder or autism able to be successful in the immersion classroom?

Summer Institute participantsIn order to examine these issues more closely, a summer institute centered on meeting the challenge of language and learning disorders in the immersion context was offered for two consecutive summers in 2003 and 2004 under the leadership of Tara Fortune. More than seventy professionals with experience in language immersion education came together in these institutes to examine research, exchange ideas, and listen to specialists, including researchers, special education teachers, school psychologists, and speech-language pathologists. Based on their collective experience and work done during the institutes, they created a working document examining ten of their top questions.

Answering Immersion Practitioners’ Top Questions

Building on this initial collaboration, Tara Fortune and Mandy Menke, a Ph.D. candidate in Hispanic Linguistics at the University of Minnesota, expanded and refined the practitioner contributions from the summer institutes and invited feedback from a wide range of experts in the field. The authors also solicited “real stories” from veteran immersion educators to provide a window into the complexities of each of the key issues addressed in the book. 

The handbook is divided into two main sections: Program Suitability and Learner Disability and Best Practice at the Classroom- and Program-Level. Each chapter in the book focuses on a key question or set of questions, and includes:

Immersion book cover
  • Real Stories—case narratives that recount lived experiences with struggling learners from a range of educational specialists, administrators and teachers
  • Background information and research summaries that provide important information about the existing knowledge base on this topic
  • Discussion of issues as they relate to language minority and language majority learners
  • Guiding principles to inform program policies and practices
  • Reference materials and useful web resources to assist educators in meeting the needs of a wide variety of language and learning challenges

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