High Quality French Immersion Program Look Fors…

Recently, we have asked our Kindergarten to 8 French Immersion staff to answer the following question: What does a high-quality French Immersion program look like and sound like? We received a wealth of responses from our staff members. I also participated in the process. Here is the list that I created:

A high quality French Immersion program looks like:

  • A wide range of students with differing needs and abilities are participating and learning an additional language
  • The teacher uses frequent formative assessment strategies to determine student ability and knowledge of content and language
  • Students learn from a range of explicit and inductive instructional experiences to enable their unique learning styles and intelligence types
  • Students work independently or cooperatively in small groups at authentic tasks and explore personal wonders that link the curriculum and the real world that are developmentally appropriate to their learning and or language needs
  • Instruction and tasks develops students language proficiency
  • Students are exposed to multiple rich language models inside and outside of the classroom during the entire school day and interact frequently and meaningfully with the francophone world
  • Students are exposed to excellent diverse learning resources (print and non-print) that are appropriate to their learning and language needs
  • Students engage in learning the language and grammar through authentic communication situations and tasks that are context specific and content rich
  • Students use the language as a tool to structure cognitive processes and as a communicative tool to interact orally frequently with a range of peers for a range of purposes
  • Students draw extensively on their background knowledge of content and language and self-assess their use of strategies, ability, skills, or knowledge according to visible co-constructed developmental continuums
  • Students receive a range of timely supports in French inside and outside of the classroom
  • The language is used as a tool to structure cognitive processes and as a communication tool in frequent interactions with a range of peers
  • The language is used a tool to structure cognitive processes
  • Students read and write a range of fiction and non-fiction texts (in print and non-print)
  • Students feel free to take risk in their learning and communication

A high quality French Immersion program sounds like:

  • The teacher only speaks French to students using vocabulary and structures that are slightly beyond their zone of proximal language development, even if the content is cognitively demanding and uses instructional strategies to ensure that students can access language and content
  • The students only speak French to the teacher and peers and use disciplinary vocabulary, communication methods and language patterns in appropriate contexts
  • Students communicate among themselves using authentic and socially appropriate language
  • The students have sophisticated methods to overcome unknown French words when communicating and continue to use the target language despite slight difficulties
  • The classroom has a continuous buzz of French communication (may appear noisy)
  • Learning targets can be heard being stated by the teacher and students and students can express their current ability level, explain specific things they can do to improve and their preferred strategies to seek support
  • Multiple language models are available to students
  • Students progress through developmental language stages and continue to improve their ability to express ideas, thoughts and fluency in the target language through a range of authentic tasks
  • Students ask and answer a range of questions (simple/closed to complex/open)
  • Students frequently receive immediate positive or negative feedback about their oral production and have the chance to immediately improve their message
  • Students develop and refine implicit grammar structures when communicating authentically during tasks

Late French Immersion at Saskatoon Public Schools

Late French Immersion

Saskatoon Public Schools is Saskatchewan’s only school division to offer Late French Immersion (LFI). LFI is an intensive two-year program starting in the beginning of grade 6 and finishing at the end of grade 7. Students interested in LFI are not required to have any French language competencies. During the program, students are fully immersed and learn the foundations of the French language using their established thinking and learning skills. At first, students focus on French language acquisition with a reduced emphasis on subject content. Once a sufficient language base has been acquired, they continue to expand their language proficiency while learning content from all subject areas. In the LFI program, students develop the ability to listen, speak, read and write in French. All subject areas in the program are taught in French except for English Language Arts. Once students complete the LFI program, they are encouraged to join the early immersion cohort to form one cohesive class in grade 8 and to pursue their studies until the end of grade 12 in French Immersion so that they may receive a bilingual mention on their high school diploma.

There are many different reasons why families consider accessing the late immersion program. Due to its structure, LFI is the optimal program to allow students to access to a French Immersion program after the kindergarten entrance point. Some parents prefer to have their children develop a solid foundation in English or an alternate mother tongue prior to undertaking French Immersion programming (Cloud, Genesee, & Hamayan, 2009). Others, prefer to wait until their children are old enough and sufficiently mature to make the decision to learn a second language on their own. Access to school bus transportation, access to schools offering the program and the number of students in the program are also factors that impact families’ decision to selecting the program. LFI is not comparable to Intensive French due to the fact that the instructional hours are far greater in the LFI program.

Timeline of Late French Immersion Programming in Saskatoon Public Schools

  • In 2009, Saskatoon Public Schools launched the LFI programming with a grade 6 cohort at École Lakeview (ÉLKVS) School and École Henry Kelsey (ÉHK)
  • In 2011, a grade 6 cohort was launched at École River Heights School (ÉRHS) and the first graduates of LFI program at ÉLKVS and ÉHK joined early immersion students in grade 8 French Immersion classrooms
  • In 2012, the LFI program was closed at ÉRHS
  • In 2013, the LFI grade 6 cohort was moved from ÉLKVS to École College Park School (ÉCPS) and the ÉLVKS LFI program was scheduled to be closed once the grade 7 cohort completed the second year of the program
  • In 2014, LFI programming is still offered at ÉCPS and ÉHK.
  • In 2016, the first LFI students will graduate from Saskatoon Public School collegiates

Benefits of Late French Immersion

  • Offers the opportunity for students to make the independent decision to study French which increases motivation
  • Offers the opportunity for late arriving students who have not previously studied in French Immersion to have the same access as their peers
  • Offers the opportunity to develop a strong foundation in their first language before adding a second language ensuring strong academic skills in both languages
  • Develops cognitive and social skills, strategies to better understand known languages and prepares a person to learn other languages
  • Exposes and develops understanding of French-speaking communities and cultures as well as their own and those of others
  • Develops language learning, critical thinking skills, oral and written expression in students
  • Prepares a student to study French in high school and then at a post-secondary institution or to accept employment in a bilingual work environment

Realities of Late French Immersion

  • Students in LFI have diverse experiences learning French ranging from none and beyond
  • Students who enter LFI received their primary education in English and come from diverse environments and cultures and may not have French or English as a first language
  • Students in LFI have already developed language skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking in their mother tongue), learning strategies and problem-solving strategies
  • At first, students listen and understand language, afterwards they speak, write and read
  • Students who have difficulties in a language will have similar difficulties in French-such as with the reading and writing (Government of Alberta – Education, 2010)
  • Students develop the ability to effectively, practically and appropriately use language for communication of personal, scholastic, social and professional purposes (Genesee, 2004) however, they do not attain equibilingualism (Roy, 2008); which means that they cannot speak both French and English like native born speakers
  • Students who learn languages use their cognitive skills differently from unilingual students (Cook, 2001)
  • Students develop French language skills according to the number of hours they have had of instruction- students who receive the most hours have the highest results (Archibald, et al., 2006)

Suggested Reading
Archibald, J., Roy , S., Harmel, S., Jesney, K., Dewey, E., Moisik, S., & Lessard, P. (2006). A Review of Literature on Second Language Learning. Edmonton: Alberta Education.
Arnett, K. (2013). Languages for All. Toronto: Pearson.
Cloud, N., Genesee, F., & Hamayan, E. (2009). Literacy Instruction for English Language Learners. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Cook, V. (2001). Using the First Language in the Classroom. Canadian Modern Language Review, 57, 3, 402-423.
Cummins, J. (1998). Immerion Education for the Millennium. Learning through two languages: Research and practice., (pp. 33-47). Katoh Gakuen, Japan.
Day, E., & Shapson, S. (1988). A Comparison Study of Early and Late French Immersion Programs in British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Education Vol. 13, No. 2, 290-305.
Genesee, F. (2004). What Do We Know About Bilingual Education for Majority Language Students? In W. R. T.K. Bhatia, What Do We Know About Bilingual Education for Majority Language Students? (pp. 547-576). Malden, M: Blackwell.
Government of Alberta – Education. (2010). Late Immersion Foundation Document. Edmonton: Alberta Education.
Lightbown, P., & Spada, N. (2006). How Languages are Learned. New York: Oxford University Press.
Roy, S. (2008). Learning French in Alberta. Calgary: Blitzprint Inc.
Saskatoon Public Schools. (2013). French Immersion. Saskatoon: Saskatoon Public Schools.

Beliefs and Characteristics of French Immersion Learners

Teacher and Apple

Teacher and Apple

Beliefs are a foundational aspect of our work in education. They surface and impact our daily work often without being recognized. It’s not at all uncommon to hear French Immersion (FI) teachers discussing dream students. The students are often revered to be the perfect learners who would succeed magnificently in FI. Other students, who do not share the same perceived characteristics as dream students are also frequently discussed by FI teachers but not in the same light. It’s true that the students who are currently enrolled in FI are significantly different than those in the pilot programs across Canada. FI is no longer an elite program, not that it was ever intended to be. When FI teachers encounter students who do not demonstrate the criteria of dream students, it’s not uncommon for these to recommend that the student should leave the FI program. Especially when behaviours or personal learning needs are perceived to be significant. Underlying this whole issue is a foundational belief about FI students and the program itself. Some teachers believe that only some students can be successful in the FI program and others believe that all students can be successful.

Some relevant topics to this issue will not be re-discussed in this post. Please refer to this prior post about supporting FI learners here.

In their 2000 publication, Dual Language Instruction- A Handbook for Enriched Education, Nancy Cloud, Fred Genesee and Else Hamayan discuss in Chapter 4- Oral Language Development, the topic of predictors of success and what makes some students better second-language learners. According to the authors, second-language learners (SLLs) attain proficiency in the second language at uneven rates, which in turn can create frustration for teachers. They explained that common misconceptions and frustration often lead teachers to inaccurately attribute difficulties to cognitive or perceptual disorders in SLLs. In an attempt to create a better understanding about student learning, Cloud, Genesee and Hamayan state that not all students will attain the same level of proficiency in the second language and that teachers should become comfortable with the uneven rate of proficiency demonstrated by students in FI.

Common in conversation between teachers is the belief that our most successful SLLs can attribute their success to strong verbal intelligence. According to the authors, this intelligence type plays a minor role and only specifically in the context of literacy. High academic achievers will not necessarily be successful in a FI program. Patsy M. Lightbown and Nina Spada, authors of How Languages are Learned (2014) would agree with this statement. In chapter 2, they discuss learner characteristics and are unable to identify any specific characteristic that would consistently predict learner success in language learning.

For Cloud, Genesee and Hamayan, the heart of student success in learning an additional language is the students’ attitude towards the language and its speakers, the motivation to learn demonstrated by the student and how comfortable the student feels in a second language classroom. Lightbown and Spada confirm this adding that the learning conditions and the environment can significantly impact a learner’s rate of learning and use of language. Ultimately, teachers should remember that each learner will develop, refine and become proficient in the language at a rate that is unique to them. Unfortunately, due to external pressures, this is not what is most commonly supported by FI teachers.

As outlined by Lyn Sharratt in the first parameter, all students can achieve high standards given sufficient time and the right support. Of significant impact to students’ ability to achieve are the beliefs that teachers have about their capacity to learn. What do you believe about FI learners? Has this always been your belief? Has your belief ever changed, and why?

An Opinionaire About Language Learners

How Languages are LearnedLast year, I was very interested in trying to uncover some foundational research regarding first and second language acquisition and instruction. Throughout the year I looked at a range of articles and books although I struggled to satisfied my query. This year, I purchased a copy of How Languages are Learned (2006) by Patsy M. Lightbown and Nina Spada.
The book seemed relevant to my portfolio as the authors included a significant amount of research and content from French Immersion programs. The book includes several topics that are confirming and enhancing my knowledge of language acquisition. I would strongly recommend this book to any language teacher or person who works in a language program. Check out these Youtube videos with the authors.
In the introduction, the authors offer the reader an opinionaire. Although the questions do not represent all facets of language learning, the 17 listed questions do cover a range of topics. The following prompts are taken directly from the book although I’m not including all 17 in this post. Please read the prompt and reflect on your experience, education and training for language instruction. Afterwards, respond to the prompt using a Likert scale ranging from completely disagree to strongly agree including a neutral midpoint.
These questions may allow you to uncover your beliefs about and your stance towards language learning. I am very interested in your opinion. Please comment!

Languages are learnt mainly through imitation.
Completely disagree Somewhat disagree Neutral Somewhat agree Strongly agree

Highly intelligent people are good language learners.
Completely disagree Somewhat disagree Neutral Somewhat agree Strongly agree

The most important predictor of success in second language acquisition is motivation.
Completely disagree Somewhat disagree Neutral Somewhat agree Strongly agree

The earlier a second language is introduced in school programs, the greater the likelihood of success in learning.
Completely disagree Somewhat disagree Neutral Somewhat agree Strongly agree

The best way to learn new vocabulary is through reading.
Completely disagree Somewhat disagree Neutral Somewhat agree Strongly agree

It is essential for learners to be able to pronounce all the individual sounds in the second language.
Completely disagree Somewhat disagree Neutral Somewhat agree Strongly agree

Once learners know roughly 1000 words and the basic structure of the language, they can easily participate in conversations with native speakers.
Completely disagree Somewhat disagree Neutral Somewhat agree Strongly agree

Teachers should present grammatical rules one at a time, and learners should practice examples of each one before going on to another.
Completely disagree Somewhat disagree Neutral Somewhat agree Strongly agree

Teachers should teach simple language structures before complex ones.
Completely disagree Somewhat disagree Neutral Somewhat agree Strongly agree

Learners’ errors should be corrected as soon as they are made in order to prevent the formation of bad habits.
Completely disagree Somewhat disagree Neutral Somewhat agree Strongly agree

Teachers should use materials that expose students to only those language structures they have already been taught.
Completely disagree Somewhat disagree Neutral Somewhat agree Strongly agree

When learners are allowed to interact freely (for example, in group or pair activities), they copy each other’s mistakes.
Completely disagree Somewhat disagree Neutral Somewhat agree Strongly agree

Teachers should respond to students’ errors by correctly rephrasing what they have said rather than by explicitly pointing out the error.
Completely disagree Somewhat disagree Neutral Somewhat agree Strongly agree

Long Term Language Difficulties for Immersion Learners

Students who acquire a new language in an immersion program are engaging in an extremely challenging task. Their ability to accurately and effectively learn the target language is dependent on many factors, of which, the quality of the instruction, the range of the classroom and instruction discourse as well as the effectiveness of the feedback for learning are most significant.
Without these, persistent and long-term problems develop in students’ language use patterns.

In his 2007 book Learning and Teaching Languages Through Content, Roy Lyster warns that incidental attention drawn to language during the instruction of subject areas is insufficient and may even mislead student learners. He states on page 29:

“without having their attention drawn more systematically to the target language, the cognitive predispositions of second language learners interact with classroom input in ways that restrict the incidental assimilation of specific target features and grammatical subsystems, such as verbs, pronouns, and gender in the case of French immersion students.”

In French Second Language classrooms, According to Brigitte Harley’s research (1993), an explicit focus needs to be drawn on:
• Unexpected and non-obvious features that differ from students’ first language
• Irregular and infrequent features in the second language input
• Features that do not carry a heavy communicative load

Lyster explains that using Harley’s research explains persistent difficulties experienced by French Immersion students, specifically: verbal systems, pronominal reference and gender attributions. These difficulties, he explains, are due to incongruence with students’ first language, lack of prominence in instructional discourse and redundancy in communicative interactions.
Of significant note for teachers, students eliminate language forms that they perceive to be redundant which explains why immersion students prefer perfective verb forms, singular forms of pronouns and masculine gender forms. Immersion teachers therefore need to create opportunities, explicitly model, and offer useful feedback for immersion students so that they may build a clear understanding of the form and function of these language features. Other researchers have affirmed the belief that target language features that create a misleading similarity between the first and second language should be explicitly taught to students because these students demonstrate long-term difficulty acquiring these through communicative interactions and that these are most often infrequent in classroom discourse.