Category Archives: French grants

Educational Reasons for French Immersion in Canada


 

            In previous posts I have talked about the importance of learning a second language and especially French for Canadians.  I have mused that French Immersion has created an upper and lower class in our schools and I have pointed out that in Ontario, at least, school boards do not have to account for the funds earmarked for French.  As the funds are paid on the basis of per child per hour studying French, this makes French Immersion a money earner for thrifty boards.

            Today I want to look at the educational reasons for French Immersion.  Normally one would think of the process of immersion as a thorough dunking of an object in something to the point of soaking it completely.  An immersed sponge would become saturated to the point of dripping.  Immersion language teaching varies from that kind of full soaking in a language, idiom and culture of the second language or L2 to daily L2 classes supplemented by daily classes in another subject but studied in the L2.  In the latter case, the student would be living and attending school in her first language, L1.

            There are two good justifications for immersion programs.  The first is the simple pedagogical principle that increased time on task increases proficiency.  Gretzky may have had talent but without the practice and lots of it, he still wouldn’t have been the Great Gretzky.  The second is that language is a tool for thinking and communication, learned more effectively when put in to practice.  Teacher talk calls this authentic learning.

            An example of full immersion would be the program that SEVEC (Society for Educational Visits and Exchanges in Canada) endeavours to provide free to young anglophones. Students spend a month in a francophone region, often billeted with a francophone family and study French intensively in the mornings.  Afternoons are devoted to activities in French.  Use of any other language is discouraged.

            Canadian French Immersion programs falls somewhere between the two points of SEVEC and one extra class taught in L2.  There are three entry points for students: early, kindergarten or grade one, middle, usually grade four and late, grade seven.  Students entering at the early point are taught in French 100% of the time for the first couple of years.  After that English is introduced and each year more of the program is taught in English until grade 5 or 6 when the program is taught half in English and half in French.           

The theory is that young children learn languages faster and more easily than their elders; there is some dispute about that which I will address it in a later post.  The children learn to read and write in French first because learning these skills at once in two languages would be confusing and difficult.  After they have mastered the basics in French, English is introduced at grade two or three.  Learning to read and write in English should not take as long as in French because the students have already grasped the basic skills of literacy.  For example, they know that letters make up words and words make up sentences and together they have meaning.

            In many boards three entry points have become too expensive as it requires four streams of French (including core French) so one entry point, middle immersion, is frequently dropped.  It is also the least popular so I will follow the lead of the school boards’ and drop it, too.  It shouldn’t affect this discussion.

            Students entering at the grade seven point will have 80% of their classes in French.  They will have mastered most of the major skills in English and an English class, which will often be about half the time of that of the regular English class, will maintain those skills.

            These students have been studying French throughout elementary school.  Although early French lessons focus on oral skills, the students will have a good foundation for immersion.  Just as the early entry students saw a crossover in skills from French to English, so these students will see a transfer in skills from English to French and back again.

            The Canadian French Immersion programs are often referred to separately in scholarly tomes and articles about L2 language learning.  There are certain basic principles that key Canadian scholars cite as being characteristic of FI:

Johnson and Swain (1997) summarize eight core features of immersion programs as follows:

1.     The L2 is a medium of instruction

2.     The immersion curriculum parallels the local L1 curriculum

3.     Overt support exists for the L1

4.     The program aims for additive bilingualism*

5.     Exposure to the L2 is largely confined to the classroom

6.     Students enter with similar (and limited) levels of L2 proficiency

7.     The teachers are bilingual

8.     The classroom culture is that of the local L1 community

Additive bilingualism means that the second language is learned without “cost to the first”.  This is claim I would like to take issue with in a later post.  The bilingualism of all the FI teachers is another.  I would agree that it is ideal; I doubt very strongly that every teacher in an FI classroom is bilingual in the sense of being equally fluent in both languages and with a native-like accent in French. 

This post has been a description of French Immersion in Ontario and the theory that supports it.  In my next post I will address the kinds of questions we need to answer before we can say that FI is a successful option for Canadian public school systems:  

Is French Immersion accessible to all students?  

Do students in the program have access to remediation or special education in the event of a learning disability?

Does current theory of L2 acquisition support FI?

Do the students who persist in the program to the end of grade twelve have substantially better French (ideally approaching a native like fluency and accuracy) than their peers who also persisted in studying French to the end of grade twelve?

Is the students’ English unaffected by the program?  

Has the quality of the core French program suffered due to the existence of FI through, for example, the thinning of French teachers or the paucity of materials?

If you have comments or corrections on this post or information that might help me answer the above questions, please contact me.  This blog is always about using facts and logic in the service of education.

 


For more information check the web site: http://www.sevec.ca/main_e.asp

For detailed information about the programs across Canada see Statistics Canada’s French Immersion 30 Years Later at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/81-004-x/200406/6923-eng.htm.

Quoted in Cummins, Jim. Immersion Education for the Millennium: What We Have Learned from 30 Years of Research on Second Language Immersion. http://www.iteachilearn.com/cummins/immersion2000.htm

Cummins, Jim. Immersion Education for the Millennium: What We Have Learned from 30 Years of Research on Second Language Immersion. http://www.iteachilearn.com/cummins/immersion2000.htm

To refresh and familiarise myself with recent theories and practices in second language learning, I have relied on the three books listed below.  I found them invaluable in filling the gaps since the last time I studied and taught in the field and pulling together the other references I consulted:

 

Ellis, Rod.  The Study of Second Language Acquisition: second edition. 2008

 

Kumaravadivelu, B.  Understanding Language Teaching: From Method to Postmethod, 2006

 

McLaughlin, Barry.  Second-Language Acquisition in Childhood: Volume 2. School-Age Children Second Edition.  1985

 

Is French Immersion a Money Maker for School Boards?


 

                 Exploring the financial costs of French Immersion proved to be an eye opening task. There are two main factors involved.  First is the funding the province provides for the different amount of minutes per day which each pupil spends studying French or studying in French.  The second is the cost of transportation for students in French Immersion or its little sister, Extended French. Extended French is a program offering one or more subjects in French.  

The grants provided by the Ontario government are the same regardless of the board.  I will keep to the elementary grants; the secondary grants differ only as secondary students and their needs differ, the one exception being that secondary students get a larger base grant (larger by 25%)*.  There is a basic per pupil grant of $4,045.80. The school receives a grant, too, for the cost of principals and office staff.  On top of the base grant come grants for special needs; French is included as a special need.

The amount of the French grant increases depending on the number of minutes per day a pupil spends studying French or studying in French.  The allocation for an average of:            20 – 59 minutes (Core, Grades 4 to 8) is $270.82

60 – 149 minutes (Extended, Grades 4 to 8) is $308.55

150 minutes or more (Immersion, Grades 1 to 8) is $345.18

75 minutes or more (Immersion, JK and K) is $345.18

Bear in mind that these allocations are on top of the per pupil grant.  No other subject, to my knowledge, receives an extra allocation. My information above on grants is from Technical Paper 2008–09, Revised October 2008, Ontario Ministry of Education. My best guess is that part of the reason behind the grants is the cost of materials in French.

This is where it gets very interesting.  The Peel Board on its web site states:

                 The budget to schools for teachers, instructional supplies

                  and equipment for French immersion is exactly the same

                   as for the regular school program.

(Get the Facts: Cost of French Immersion

http://www.peelschools.org/facts/facts/french.htm )

 

 

 

The same site went on to explain that the board receives roughly $1,789,000/year for the elementary French Immersion students.  Since the cost of bussing those 5,160 students is $1,400,000, the implication is that the board comes out ahead.   And if their only cost for French Immersion is transportation, which comes out to $271 a head, the Peel Board is providing FI at the same cost as the funding for Core French.   Please note that the funding is all going on transportation.

            All my research at the Ministry of Education site could not tell me whether school boards are allowed to use savings from one envelope of grants such as French to top up another envelope of grants such as transportation or vice versa.  However, I did find that information in the minutes of the French as a Second Language Advisory Committee Minutes, Feb. 5, 2008 for the Toronto District School Board. http://www.tdsb.on.ca/wwwdocuments/parents/parent_groups/docs/FSLACMin080205.pdf

                 As the staff member explained to the committee members, the boards are under no obligation to use their FSL grants from the ministry for French language teaching.  At the TDSB much of it is “used for preparation time delivered by Core French”.  I wonder whether it is used in other boards to cover the cost of bussing French Immersion students.  Only the PDSB distinguished the cost of transportation for its FI students. The grants at the PDSB and TDSB must be modest amounts compared to the Ottawa Carleton District School Board.  PTSD has 5% of their elementary students enrolled in FI, TDSB has 2.5% in FI and OCDSB has 38% enrolled in FI.  It is a lot of students and a lot of money.

                It is not clear that all French grant money is transferred to other envelopes, however, of the three boards I looked at, only the Peel Board distinguished the French Immersion grants from the regular French grants and only the Toronto Board pointed out that French grants did not have to be spent on the teaching of French.  There may be more information on all three of these boards’ web sites, but it was not easy to find.

            This brings me to a few question: Are school boards pushed to dipping into the French envelope by the tightening of the purse strings or has it been ever thus?  Is French Immersion a money maker for school boards? 

            Would parents rethink placing a child in French Immersion if they though that the cost of transportation would be the same as the extra money available to enhance the French program?   How would parents feel if they knew that the extra funds were largely being diverted?  Bear in mind that teachers’ salaries are already covered by another, separate grant.

      If one assumes that most or all of the grant money for French Immersion, Extended French and Core French is being redirected regularly how much better could each of these programs be if the money was actually spent on the programs?  How much less translating and photocopying would the teachers have to do?  How much more audio-visual equipment would be available to all French teachers?  Would there be any Core French teachers left teaching their program from a cart and preparing at a desk in the staff room?  Would boards be able to afford French monitors from Quebec to assist in enlivening the Core French classes?

            I keep thinking I must be missing something.  I would love to hear from people who know more than I do on the subject!

S. D. Scaiff

For more information on French Immersion and transportation, see the Canadian Parents For French (Ontario chapter)’s Study of Transportation to French Immersion and Extended French Programs in Ontario School Boards, written by Fran Sutton in 2001

© Sheila Diane Scaiff and Teachers Outside the Box, 2008. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sheila Diane Scaiff and Teachers Outside the Box with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.