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Topic 3: Supporting the immersion language

Students live in an English dominant environment so immersion educators must systematically develop strategies to support maximum growth in comprehension and use of the target language.

Practitioner Perspectives

Practitioner Perspectives

What kind of language use policies promote the use and growth of the target language?

One of the best ways to support target language use and growth in an English-dominant environment is to establish clear, written rules for the use of the immersion language. Although teachers are speaking the target language from day one, many schools excuse students from responding in the target language during the entire kindergarten year. Even so, most students are able to use phrases such as “May I get a drink of water?” or “May I go to the bathroom?” within the first months of school. Many are able to converse about school topics by the end of the year. During the first semester of Grade 1 or up to the natural break which occurs just before the Christmas and New Year holidays, students are again excused from speaking in the target language, but by the second half of the year, they will be expected to use the language during classroom academic time and are encouraged to do so at lunch, on the playground, and during social interactions in the classroom.

What about the language policy as applied to adults in the immersion school building? When and where will the immersion language be used? Exclusive classroom use of the immersion language appears self-evident but without well- thought-out and articulated expectations for classroom use, English can creep into instructional time and during social interactions between students. Once the door opens for communication in English, less time is devoted to development of the immersion language including strategies for making sense through context when students don’t understand the actual words spoken or read.

When a policy of “No English in the Classroom” is established, parents need to be informed before they enroll their children in the school and should be reminded during subsequent enrollment and orientation meetings. They should know the rationale behind the policy (to provide relevant research, see the annotated bibliography on this site) and there should be clearly delineated times and places for using English especially with the classroom teachers. Parents of younger children in particular often want to volunteer in the classroom. However, unless parents speak the immersion language or are willing to learn some basic vocabulary and key phrases to use in the classroom (e.g. Where are the scissors?) they should be given other opportunities to observe progress in their child's room or to volunteer in ways that do not compromise the language use policy. Parents who speak even a little bit of the immersion language can be used as assistants in guided reading programs listening to students read in the immersion language or in English. Parents who don’t speak the immersion language can work on teacher requested projects, bulletin board materials, collating, etc. on tables just outside the classroom where they may have visual contact but are not present in the room. Other parent volunteer jobs requiring little or no knowledge of the immersion language include:

  • organize regular after school tutoring sessions using the school’s native speaking classroom assistants, if these assistants are available.
  • chaperone during field trips.
  • supervise lunch room or playground time.

What curricular strategies promote language use and growth?

  • Language Scope and Sequence
    Many established immersion schools have discovered the wisdom of developing a language scope and sequence to support their students’ language growth. The language learning curve is very steep in the early primary years as children acquire the vocabulary and grammar they will need to successfully complete their academic work. However, immersion students often develop what has been referred to by researchers as an inter-language, a hybrid of the target language and English that does not strictly follow the grammatical and syntactical rules of the immersion language they are learning. If the errors are not corrected early on they can become fossilized in speech and written work tending to compromise the true proficiency level students are developing. A scope and sequence for language development has already been created by some U.S. and Canadian schools. Our practitioners recommend creating one for your school or researching, and adapting, if necessary, what others have done and use it from kindergarten on. As teachers write curriculum and instructional plans, having a target language scope and sequence can guide the development of language and content-integrated unit lessons and assessment points.

  • Language Arts curriculum
    At the district level, it is worthwhile to ask that the immersion language arts curriculum be considered separately in the district’s review cycle rather than as an add-on to the English Language Arts curriculum. Curriculum specialists and teachers can then make instructional decisions based on how that content dovetails with the immersion language instead of how to shape the language to the content demands. As with staff development issues, cultivating a relationship at the district with teaching and learning personnel or other administrators responsible for curriculum planning can make this request and follow-up implementation go more smoothly.

How do immersion schools find high quality curriculum materials?

Despite an increase of available materials over the past decade, especially in more commonly taught languages such as Spanish and French, immersion educators are on a perpetual quest for content area texts, library books, software, and audio-visual materials that are developmentally and linguistically appropriate for immersion students. Materials written for native speakers in the immersion language assume that even kindergarten students have a background in the language; i.e. a working vocabulary and age-appropriate aural comprehension. These skills do not exist for children entering a foreign language immersion classroom. At the same time, materials produced by foreign language education publishers do not address the depth or breadth of content knowledge that students must master in a given grade level.

Immersion schools rely on teacher-created curriculum materials to provide rigorous content coupled with age appropriate vocabulary and grammar (using the scope and sequence) in the immersion language. This will be especially true for standards that are locally based, e.g. in state and local history or geography, where textbook companies are unlikely to produce foreign language versions of limited distribution publications. Immersion schools that can collaborate on curriculum writing with other institutions are obviously in a stronger position to provide high-quality, relevant materials to their students. Curriculum writing is time-consuming, costly work that a single school may have great difficulty planning and implementing even with the resources and talents of individual teachers at the ready.

How can the issue of staff language proficiency be addressed?

One of the most delicate issues in immersion language support is the varying degrees of staff language proficiency. Obviously, the most desirable situation for students, who are surrounded by an English speaking culture, is to be taught by teachers who have native or near native proficiency in the target language. Some staff members will undoubtedly be native speakers, others will have near native fluency, still others, as discussed in Topic 1 on teacher recruitment will have been hired with the expectation that they work on their proficiency. Given these disparities, it is important to create a school culture where speaking the immersion language within the faculty is supported and encouraged in order to push all teachers to improve their proficiency. Administrators who themselves may not speak the target language can, nevertheless, lead an open discussion with staff about the importance of language proficiency and how the staff is going to support one another in their goal of achieving high levels of proficiency for each staff member.

Active parent groups in immersion schools often do a great deal of fundraising in order to pay the administrative costs of having native speaking assistants in the classrooms. This is an expense that few, if any, school districts can support. In addition to paying for classroom assistants or interns, parents may also take on responsibility for coordinating these programs, a task which may include recruiting families to house the assistants, creating support structures for the assistants within the school community (families who don’t actually house an assistant volunteer to be “uncles” and “aunts”), finding temporary or part-time jobs (conversation groups for parents in the target language, babysitting, tutoring, translating, etc.), and trouble shooting when problems arise. The importance of these assistants to an immersion program cannot be overestimated. As language models and representatives of countries and cultures in which the target language is used, native speaking classroom assistants provide students with a platform for authentic communication in the target language and a window into another culture. Moreover, they can help teachers improve their proficiency by modeling appropriate vocabulary, grammar, syntax and register for academic and social interaction. Bringing native speaking assistants into the classroom can be one of the most valuable, albeit expensive, ways to support emerging proficiency in students and increase fluency in teachers.

Readings from the ACIE Archives

Meeting the Challenges of Second Language Writing Development in the Immersion Classroom – Livant, ACIE Bridge, May 2006

Using Keypals with Immersion Students – Robb, ACIE, May 2006

Can First Grade Immersion Students Write in the Target Language? – Bartolini, ACIE, May 2006

Weblogs in the Immersion Classroom – Lacey, ACIE, May 2006

Refining Curriculum in the Language Immersion Certificate Program: Using Improvisation – Chaigne, ACIE Bridge, February 2006

Instructional Scaffolding with Graphic Organizers – Cammarata, ACIE Bridge, February 2005

Enhancing Language Development through the Responsive Classroom's Morning Meeting- LaVan & Pezán, ACIE, February 2005

Learning Centers: Meaningful Context for Language Use in the Primary Immersion Classroom – Click, ACIE Bridge November 2004

Parallels Between Music Learning and Language Acquisition: From Fluency to Literacy – Brown/Lamb, ACIE, November 2004

Reading Support for Primary Immersion Students- Fisher & Stoner, ACIE, May 2004

Creating Independent Learner of Japanese via the Internet - Bacon & Ando, ACIE, May 2004

Methods for Promoting the Acquisition of Content and Language - Stoller & Tedick, ACIE Bridge November 2003

Implementing Two-Way Immersion Programs in Secondary Schools-Montone/Loeb, ACIE Bridge May 2003

First Stop: Alaska! CARLA’s Immersion Workshops on the Road – Tedick & Fortune, ACIE, February 2003

Maximizing Language Growth Through Collaborative-Creative Writing - Fortune & Fernández del Rey, ACIE Bridge February 2003

Improving Immersion Student Oral Proficiency by Fostering the Use of Extended Discourse – Punchard, ACIE Bridge November 2002

An Evening with Mimi Met! Discussing Language Growth in Immersion Classrooms – Egenberger, ACIE, November 2002

Towards Enhancing Academic Language Proficiency in a Fifth-Grade Spanish Immersion Classroom - Cohen & Gómez, November 2002

International Exchanges: The Glennie School- Michael Berthold, ACIE May 2002

Text Comprehension Strategies of Children in an Indonesian Bilingual Program - de Courcy, ACIE May 2002

Student Language Use Tells an Interesting Story – Fortune, ACIE February 2002

Equalizing the Status of Both Languages in a Dual Immersion School - Unger, ACIE, November 2001

Content-Based Language Instruction: The Foundation of Language Immersion Education - Tedick, Jorgensen, & Geffert, ACIE Bridge May ?2001

French in the "Real World"- Holden & Lukaska, ACIE May 2001

Help! They're Using Too Much English! The Problem of L1 vs. L2 in the Immersion Classroom – LaVan, ACIE Bridge February 2001

Foreign Languages Across the Curriculum: FLAC – Barjasteh, ACIE, November 2000

English and Spanish Use by Three Fifth Graders in a Full Immersion Classroom – Broner, ACIE, June 2000

Proyecto LEE: Project Read- Chan & Geise, ACIE, March 2000

Developing Oral Proficiency in the Immersion Classroom – Stein, ACIE Bridge May 1999

The Importance of Sequencing and Planning when Integrating Language and Content-Numelin, ACIE November 1998

Doing Oral History in a Spanish Immersion Social Studies Classroom – Johnson, ACIE, November 1998

Research on Error Correction and Implications for Classroom Teaching - Tedick & de Gortari, ACIE Bridge May 1998

As Much Fun as Reccess! Using Drama for Form-Focused Primary Instruction – Lundberg – ACIE, May 1998

Integrating Language and Content in the Immersion Classroom-Graser, ACIE Bridge February 1998

Getting Students to Read- Broussard, ACIE, February 1998

Developing Vocabulary Knowledge in the Immersion Classroom – Belisle, ACIE Bridge, November 1997

Draw, Tell, Write, and Read - Curran-Dorsano, ACIE, November 1997

Effective Teaching Strategies for Immersion Teachers - Curtain & Fortune, ACIE, November 1997

A Dozen Activities for Promoting the Use of Spanish Outside of School - Downs-Reid & Pezan, ACIE, November 1997

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