Category Archives: French Immersion

How Do We Value French as a Language?


Many Canadian parents want their Anglophone children to be in French Immersion. They believe that being bilingual in French and English will give them an inside track in getting jobs with the government and any organisation that deals with the government. And maybe it will.

Reading, conversation and pop music in French

‪Seducing Dr. Lewis – a charming Quebecois film about a small community on the North Shore trying to find a doctor. Continue reading

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Acronyms and Abbreviations for Educational Terms


There is more to come, but this is a start.  If you find other terms you would like explained, please let me know.

Education students, a caveat – these are informal and opinionated definitions!

Acronyms and Abbreviations

ADD = attention deficit disorder

ADHD = attention deficit hyperactive disorder

CCAT = Canadian Cognitive Abilities Test

EFI = early French immersion

EFTO = Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario

FI = French immersion

LD = learning disability (disabled)

LST = learning support teacher

IPRC = identification, process and review committee

IQ = intelligence quotient

IEP = individual learning plan

IB = international baccalaureate (programme)

LFI = late French immersion

LST = learning support teacher

MIDI = Musical Instrument Digital Interface

MFI = middle French immersion

OSR = Ontario student record

SES = Socio-Economic Status

TIPS=Targeted Implementation and Planning Supports for Revised Mathematics

WISC = Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children

Neglecting the Education of Children with Learning Disabilities


7th grade geography activity

7th grade geography activity

7th grade geography activity (Photo credit: Kentucky Country D

Who Benefits From the Inclusive Classroom?

Can a Classroom with a Large Majority of Special Needs Children also be an Inclusive Classroom?

Would you want your child to be in a grade seven class of 30 students if 25 are identified as having special needs?  Would you want your child in that class if she is identified as having special needs?  Would you want her there if her first language is not English?  Would you want her there if she is a regular, ordinary student?

A colleague recently observed one intermediate school where the two grade seven regular-English classes were predominantly Special Education students.  By[SDS1] predominantly, I mean roughly 25 out of 28 or 29 in one class and half the students in the other class had been identified or were about to be identified as students with special needs.  By special education students, what I mean is students with learning disabilities or behavioural problems.  Gifted students were not included in those classes.

Melissa visiting the Gifted Education Centre4

Melissa visits the Gifted Education Centre4                                      (Photo credit: nznationalparty)

The students in these two classes receive some support through a Special Education teacher joining their class on a regular basis, usually for Language Arts and math.  This teacher is intended to support more than the grade seven classes, probably both the grade seven and eight classes, so she is not available full-time, half time or even quarter time to support the students with learning difficulties.  For many students, the support time may be sufficient; for others it won’t be.

Do These Classes Serve The Needs of Identified Students?

Consider a class where 25 students need Special Education support.  Yes, with two teachers it is less daunting, but there are 30 students.  The classroom teacher has responsibility for the five regular students as well as the rest.  What would this class would be like.

Remember that each child identified has been identified as having a particular need; this is why they are called special needs children.  In the 25 may be students with students with ADD, ADHD, personality disorders, behavioural problems, physical disabilities as well as gifted students and those with learning disabilities.  Not only does one size not fit all, but each child has an appropriately individualized program the teacher is required to follow.

Now try to imagine what it is like when the subject teacher is alone, trying to teach geography, complete with graphs or history with the need to learn to read non-fiction.  Where will the support be then?  How will students respond?  Will they be able to learn in a class of that size with so many other students competing for help?

The Inclusive Classroom: More Motto than Pedagogy

The school cited states that these children’s need are met following the inclusive model set out by the 2006 Expert Panel report on Special Education, Education for All.  For my comments, summaries and charts derived from Education for All, go to the tag or category marked Education for All on this site.  The point of the document was that by following the concept developed by the architectural community of universal design, almost all students can be taught in an inclusive classroom.

The point of the inclusive classroom was to integrate children with exceptional needs into classrooms of regular children.  Instead, in this example, regular kids are being integrated into classrooms of exceptional children.  Only those students who are gifted are exempted from being integrated with regular students or having regular students integrated with them.

Why Are There So Many Special Needs Students in 1/3 of the Grade Seven Classes?

This particular school states that it has a “Junior/Intermediate system LD class for students who have been identified with severe learning disabilities.”  This would account for the larger percentage of identified students in the regular classes. In this school  there are six grade seven classes , a normal sort of number for a middle school.  You are probably wondering why there are so many identified students (teacher talk for students with special needs) in the two classes.

A special education teacher assists one of her...

A special education teacher assists one of her students.                                                   (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of the six classes in this grade seven cohort, only two can possibly have students with learning difficulties integrated into their class .  Some of you may doing the math:  If one assumes that each classes has 30 students and there are 25 identified students in one class and half of another class is identified i.e. 15, students, that makes 40 students out of 180 who have learning difficulties of some sort or another.  (Not speaking English does not count as a learning disability although it does disqualify you from being gifted.)

So 40/180 means that 22% of the students in the grade seven of this middle school have been identified as having special needs (if you ignore the gifted – and they are seldom ignored).   Depending on which studies you read, learning disabilities range from roughly 5% to 12% of the population; both those figures are from studies cited by Statistics Canada.  It does seem a bit of a stretch that 22% in one grade in one school would be identified, especially if we were not including the gifted.  You need to remember that this school has a system Junior/Intermediate class for students with severe LD;  it is fair to assume that even these children with severe LDs have been integrated into regular classes.

So why do only two out of the six grade seven classes have identified students integrated with them?

French Immersion, Where Everyone Can Learn But Only The Unidentified May Stay

First there are three French Immersion classes.  Students can’t expect special education support in Ontario’s FI classes; for some of the reasons, please see my post: French Immersion: Is It Accessible to All Students? There are no special education teachers certified to teach in French and therefore there is no support or, more accurately: there is no support provided for FI and therefore there are no special education teachers certified to teach in French.  I am sure the school boards will say there is no money for it.  To find out where the money isn’t going, see my post: Is French Immersion a Money Maker for School Boards?

Students with learning disabilities and their parents are likely to be told by their grade six teachers or principals that these educators will not support the child going into French Immersion.  This is counter to the principle that ANY child can succeed as well in FI as they could in the regular program IF they have the same level of support as they would in the regular program.  As I have pointed out before, in most boards across the country, support for special needs students in French Immersion is not provided.  French Immersion students must succeed, move into the regular program or their parents must pay for tutoring.  Not only is the support not provided, but parents need skill at reading between the lines to appreciate that it is not going to be available.

Gifted Students AKASpecial Needs Students Who Are Exceptions to Inconvenient Rules

The fourth class of the six is the academically gifted class.  Two or three students in the gifted class may have learning disabilities or behavioural problems, but as long as their primary exceptionality is giftedness, they are eligible for the class.  These students traditionally do not get any support outside the class since the assumption is that as the teacher is a specialist in special education, she will undoubtedly know how to handle other exceptionalities.  And she usually does or learns very quickly.

I have pointed out in earlier posts Gifted and “Education for All” and Commentary on “Education for All” that although the inclusive classroom is mandated as the default placement for all special needs students, somehow administrators processing the gifted have missed the memo.  Please see Education for All:The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005

Why?
One or two classes in a school system or a province are not proof of systemic problems.  However, they can be an example of what can happen and has happened when every child’s education is not a priority.  I am not sure what it says about the children, their parents, their community, their school or their teachers.  I do know what I think it says about our school system.  It says that our school system is about appearance, not pedagogy. One has to question the thinking of administrators who allow system classes  if the children are going to be integrated into regular classrooms.  When they do the math, isn’t it obvious that what will happen is essentially reverse integration i.e. the integration of regular students into classrooms of identified students among who are children with “severe” learning disabilities”?
Not an Aberration

This is one example but I doubt it is an exception.  The problem is probably less severe in the primary grades before students are siphoned off into the gifted program and when only some students are segregated in the French Immersion program.  In the primary grades there will be a smaller learning gap between regular students and those lagging developmentally or with learning disabilities.  As the children grow, however, the gap in learning grows until some students will fall as much as two grades or more behind.  A regular grade seven teacher will inevitably be facing a class with some students working at levels as low as grade five.  There may also be English as Second Language students whose math may be at a grade seven level or above but are not yet able to read, write or speak fluently in English.

Last, But Not Least, A Look at The Numbers       IMG_1854

Below is the section of the Ontario Education Act that deals specifically with the maximum number of students who may be in any Special Education Class, including the gifted classes.  The ceiling ranges from six to twenty-five.  The unlucky souls integrated into the inclusive classrooms under the flags of equity and political correctness are in classes exceeding the 25.  In fact, regular intermediate classes have almost always been larger than 25 in spite of the fact that even 20 years ago teachers and administrators knew that these classes were heavily larded with students with special needs, behavioural issues or carrying the extra load of learning English as a second language.

That these identified students, some with severe learning disabilities, are being taught in classes larger than allowed for the gifted is a disgrace.  It is more than a disgrace.  If you analysed the makeup of race, gender, socio-economic class and religion, you would find it very different from that in French Immersion or Gifted classes at the Intermediate level.  It is discriminatory.  It is laziness and cowardice on the part of administrators who prefer to do the politically expedient thing rather than the pedagogically sound.

Those Parents Have Not Complained

Why is nothing done about it?  As a principal said to me in a similar context:  “Those parents have not complained.”  And that, gentle reader, is the essence of how many if not most educational decisions are made.

IMG_1861

Education Act

R.R.O. 1990, REGULATION 298

Consolidation Period: From May 31, 2009 to the e-Laws currency date.

Last amendment: O. Reg. 206/09.

OPERATION OF SCHOOLS — GENERAL

31. The maximum enrolment in a special education class shall depend upon the extent of the exceptionalities of the pupils in the class and the special education services that are available to the teacher, but in no case shall the enrolment in a self-contained class exceed,

(a) in a class for pupils who are emotionally disturbed or socially maladjusted, for pupils who have severe learning disabilities, or for pupils who are younger than compulsory school age and have impaired hearing, eight pupils;

(b) in a class for pupils who are blind, for pupils who are deaf, for pupils who have developmental disabilities, or for pupils with speech and language disorders, ten pupils;

(c) in a class for pupils who are hard of hearing, for pupils with limited vision, or for pupils with orthopaedic or other physical handicaps, twelve pupils;

(d) in a class for pupils who have mild intellectual disabilities, twelve pupils in the primary division and sixteen pupils in the junior and intermediate divisions;

(e) in an elementary school class for pupils who are gifted,

(i) twenty pupils, if the class consists only of pupils in the primary division,

(ii) twenty-three pupils, if the class includes at least one pupil in the primary division and at least one pupil in the junior division or intermediate division, and

(iii) twenty-five pupils, if the class consists only of pupils in the junior division or intermediate division;

(f) in a class for aphasic or autistic pupils, or for pupils with multiple handicaps for whom no one handicap is dominant, six pupils; and

(g) on and after the 1st day of September, 1982, in a class for exceptional pupils consisting of pupils with different exceptionalities, sixteen pupils. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 298, s. 31; O. Reg. 191/04, s. 10; O. Reg. 29/08, s. 4; O. Reg. 297/08, s. 1.

See also:

Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005


Should Elementary Teachers Work Longer Hours for Less Pay than Secondary Teachers?


A Reply to Olivier’s Comment on

Have You Ever Wondered Why Your Child’s Elementary Teacher Looks So Tired?

If we were merely imparters of random knowledge from aging textbooks, Olivier, I might find your argument interesting; after all even you could drill children in exercises until they had memorised facts.  The difference is that we prepare the students who will go into high school to learn more difficult subject matter.  We equip them with the tools to learn:  not just reading and writing and arithmetic, but also thought and imagination and questions.

Ages & Stages

Elementary teaching requires an understanding of the stage that the child is at for example between the ages of two and seven a child believes that a tall glass holds more water than a short glass regardless of their diameters.  Thirteen year olds, on the other hand, go through a stage that lasts roughly a year in which they cannot process facts using the scientific method; in other words, once they have a theory, they have great difficulty accepting facts that disprove the theory. A teacher who is unaware of the pedagogical and psychological realities of the stages their students are in is going to have great difficulty teaching most subject material and especially any subject material which requires the children to do more than just memorise facts.

Critical Thinking: Not Just for High School Teachers

In fact, the Ontario Ministry for Education and Training requires that every subject from Grade One up be taught and assessed with a critical and creative thinking component as well as a knowledge and skill component.  This makes sense, Olivier, when you realise that each discipline has its own way of thinking about the world.  A scientist creates a hypothesis, a well-designed experiment to test the hypothesis (and anyone who has done this will tell you that experimental design is not simple), observes the results and draws conclusions from the results.  On the other hand, an historian can’t do experiments to demonstrate truths about historical events; facts such as writing, artefacts and drawings are collected and the historian considers what conclusions can be most logically drawn from the evidence.

I could go on to discuss the other subjects we teach, but I am sure you see my point.  The historian must, even more than the scientist, consider the biases of every one involved in contributing to the conclusions. Elementary teachers must understand and train their students in the kind of thinking experts do in each discipline.  Facts can be found in books, videos and sometimes on the Internet but thinking about it cannot.

To teach thinking we use tools that aren’t always found in textbooks.  You would not recognise an elementary math class today because students will often be using manipulatives to learn such things as algebra.  We don’t just get them to memorise equations, we let them discover why they work, why they are helpful and why the rules of solving equations matter.

[For an fascinating and in depth discussion of thinking in different disciplines see  World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence by Stephen C. Pepper]

Curriculum Updates

It is not obvious where you live.  The Math and Language Arts curriculum I am referring to is the one in Ontario, Canada; it was written in 2005 and 2006 respectively.  It was supplemented with marking exemplars in math, reading and writing.  Recent curriculum is no guarantee of good curriculum but it does demonstrate that the powers-that-be are paying attention.

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/elementary.html

Textbooks:  Not for Every Grade or Every Subject and Never Enough for French Immersion

The Trillium List is a list of textbooks approved by the ministry for use in the schools.  Although there are textbooks approved for almost every subject in every grade, the reality is, as one teacher wrote to me today, that there are seldom texts used for math in grade one and two.  Subjects such as science and social studies in the primary grades do not have textbooks although there may be some teacher guides.  These subjects are taught through hands on, carefully planned activities.  And I have yet to see a text beyond an anthology for Language Arts for any elementary grade.  If that sounds like enough, I should remind my readers that students in Language Arts learn grammar, spelling, composition (for a variety of audiences), participation in group discussions, public speaking, reading non-fiction, reading for information, to skim or scan and much more.  French Immersion teachers have access to fewer texts than those teaching in English (see Does Choice in Education Divide our Children by Class?) and find themselves frequently translating materials for their students.

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/trilliumlist/

Elementary Teachers as Diagnosticians

You are right in one sense, Olivier, we do teach children first.  Their well-being and safety is our first mandated concern but it requires an expertise beyond a normal caregiver’s. Elementary school is where a lot of diagnostic work happens.  If by the end of grade eight a learning disability or behavioural problem has not been diagnosed, it is not likely to happen in high school, no matter what the severity.  I speak from both experience and observation.  Elementary school teachers use their knowledge of child development, the subjects they teach, their observational skills and finely honed abilities in multi-tasking to spot anomalies in student performance and investigate further.  Should the child be diagnosed with a disability or any other kind of problem, it will be the teacher who carries out any suggested accommodations or modifications.  She will also be the one who will continue to adjust the delivery of the curriculum to allow the child to learn it.

And Creative & Critical Thinkers

Notice I say adjust the delivery of the curriculum, not adjust the curriculum.  Most children with learning disabilities are perfectly capable of learning the same material as their classmates.  All they require is the ingenuity of their teacher in finding an alternate way of for them to learn or demonstrate their understanding of the topic.  I should not really use the word “all” as sometimes this is quite a challenge and requires considerable negotiation with student, parents and experts and experimenting with methods until one is found that is effective.

Teaching Many in One Class, One Curriculum (Have You Ever Seen a One Man Band)

The elementary classroom includes students of a wide range of abilities.  There may be a range as much as two grades below and two grades above intellectually.  Some students may be barely functional in English.  Some may have emotional and behavioural problems that require professional help, but may or may not be receiving it.  We teach in a public school system and therefore we teach every child.  Currently the default placement for any child with special needs is the regular classroom, so that is where most of them are being taught.  The teacher has a curriculum to teach AND she must consider the nature of her students’ abilities as she plans how to deliver it.  This is not usually the case for high school teachers.

For more information about the administrivia that a teacher deals with, I refer you to Rethinking “Education for All” Charts: Does Paperwork Improve Teaching? I have not outlined the rest of a teacher’s duties such as supervision and meetings.  I will finish this incomplete summary with one additional expectation of all elementary teachers:  no matter how weary, how sore, how ill she is, she smiles, speaks softly and puts the kids first.

For Even More Information about Elementary Teachers’ Working Conditions:

http://www.etfo.ca/CloseTheGap/TWC/Pages/default.aspx

My astonishment is no longer that people believe that elementary teachers should be on a different pay scale from high school teachers but, meaning no disrespect to my secondary colleagues, that people aren’t agitating to have elementary teachers paid a great deal more to work fewer hours.  Could it be that young children are considered women’s work and women’s work is not accorded much value?  If men dominated elementary school teaching would the job still be valued less?  Do we pay pediatricians less than urologists on the grounds that they deal with young children?  Are people who make cribs paid less than those who make beds?

A Modest Proposal

Given that you think people who teach from a textbook that their students could probably read and learn from themselves should be paid less than high school teachers, Olivier, I have a modest proposal.  University professors should have their salaries divided such that the part that represents the proportion of time spent teaching courses be reduced to less than that of an elementary teacher (as they don’t have to diagnose learning difficulties or supervise playgrounds).  After all, if the high school teachers have done THEIR job, university students should be perfectly capable of reading the texts and learning the course work themselves.  And we all know that either a computer or teaching assistants do their marking.

And a Chuckle

A few years ago I saw an amusing analysis of the comment that elementary teachers were just glorified babysitters.  I don’t know if this is the same one, but it comes to the same conclusion:

Ok- to the people that say teachers are babysitters- and we know that during the school year the teachers probably see the children more than their own parents…soooooooooo if teachers are babysitters….then teachers should be paid as babysitters…back when I was 12 (oh…say 23 years ago) I charged $5.00 per child per hour, and I am sure the price has gone up, but you know what…..so let’s pay these babysitters $5.00 per child per hour, for every day they have the children. No holiday pay, nothing like that. There’s 180 school days, right? 7 hours in a school day (we won’t let the teacher get paid for her lunch). A teacher has…let’s say 20 children. Holy crap- that’s $126K a year!!! Yeah!!! Please please please pay teachers as babysitters.

http://www.city-data.com/forum/education/158935-why-teaching-profession-so-often-looked-7.html

Should Students in French Immersion Need Tutors?


This is in response to Julie’s concerns about her son in Grade 2 French Immersion.   The short answer is that students should not need tutors – or very rarely and in special cases – in any program.  French Immersion is supposed to be for all students. 

If your child is having difficulty, Julie, then a conference with his teacher to figure out the problem is necessary.  Go through what you are seeing: your child’s marks, how much homework he is doing (my board estimates it should be no more than 20 minutes a day, but it varies), how your son feels about school, how he reads in English and any other evidence you think might be useful.

It is really easy to get upset with the teacher.  I am sure you and your son are frustrated.  Try to remember that the teacher may be implementing policy she does not agree with or has no choice about given the circumstances.  If you treat her as a partner who cares about your son as you do, she will relax and be more helpful.

The bottom line is that the French Immersion program is not supposed to be for only bright children, only well-behaved children, only children who catch on quickly; if your son is having difficulties, he is entitled to the same help as he would be if he were in the regular Core French program and having difficulty keeping up with his math or English.

There is nothing in the ministry of education’s guidelines that says children in French Immersion are not entitled Special Education as appropriate.  There is nothing that says that they are expected to work to a higher standard.  Do not let anyone tell you anything different.

You may end up discussing this with the principal and the superintendant.  You may have to choose among fighting this discrimination, continuing to pay for tutoring or moving your child to the regular stream.  Those are all difficult choices.

In the meantime, you might find the chart below helpful.  It was taken from Maggie Mamen’s book The Pampered Child Syndrome; I found it invaluable in helping kids and parents and myself disentangle our responsibilities for homework.  If we each couldn’t do our roles and stick just to them, then the question was why. 

TASK

Teacher(s)

Student

Parent

Teaching concepts necessary for homework

**

  

 

Setting tasks for homework

**

 

 

Ensuring students know what is required of them

**

 

 

Deciding how much work is reasonable

**

 

 

Determining how much time should be spent

**

 

 

Establishing timelines for handing in work

**

 

 

Finding out what homework has been assigned

*

**

 

Writing homework assignments in agenda

*

**

 

Taking responsibility for bringing homework home

 

**

 

Providing access to the necessary materials

**

 

**

Collecting the necessary materials to do the work

 

**

 

Setting up an appropriate place to work

 

**

**

Making homework a priority over other activities

 

**

**

Ensuring there are no interruptions during homework time

 

**

**

Setting regular homework time

 

**

**

Checking in agenda to see what homework is required

 

**

 

Prioritizing assignments

*

**

*

Doing the homework

 

**

 

Checking over homework for mistakes or errors

 

**

 

Identifying specific area(s) of difficulty

 

**

 

Exploring resources to help with area(s) of difficulty

 

**

 

Providing assistance to clarify directions or instructions

**

 

*

Re-teaching concepts if necessary

**

 

 

Deciding whether homework is ready to hand in

 

**

 

Handing homework in to the teacher

 

**

 

Evaluating quality of homework

**

 

 

Providing consequences for inadequate homework

**

 

*

** Primary responsibility

* Can give assistance as required

                  Taken from The Pampered Child Syndrome: How to Mange It and How to Avoid It p. 124 & 125.  Among other things, Dr. Mamen has worked as a psychologist with the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and the former Carleton Board of Education.

There is no shame in your son taking homework back with a note from you saying that he worked hard for a certain amount of time and was unable to complete the work or didn’t understand it.  In fact, it gives a teacher invaluable feedback.  When it happens regularly, a teacher begins to question and investigate where the problem lies; if children work late or get help, then their teacher doesn’t know they are struggling.

            Hang in there.  Just questioning what is going on is a good thing.  Your son is lucky to have a concerned parent. Let me know how things go and if I can help.

French as a Second Language is not Taught in a Vacuum; How Do We Teach All the Children?


I have spent a number of posts writing about the attempt of the New Brunswick Ministry of Education’s attempt to revise its FSL program because it mirrors situations in provinces and communities across Canada.   The situation there seemed to be typical not only of difficulties in FSL education across Canada but also typical of the way efforts to improve education are stymied by political haste and unwillingness to thoroughly understand the issue, typical of the insufficient or inadequate resources used to research every aspect of the problem and typical of the inflexibility in proposing solutions apparently set in stone.  Surely solutions require brainstorming for a time before an effective answer can be found.

            Let’s look at the problem New Brunswick really had:

  • Very few of the students were leaving high school with any kind of fluency in their second language, French.
  • The FSL teachers could not be guaranteed to be Francophone or of native-like quality in their French
  • If the FSL teacher’s French was excellent, his training in teaching L2 couldn’t be guaranteed to be sufficient.
  • Both the Early and Late French Immersion programs were losing large proportions of their students before the end of high school, thus making it unlikely that the bilingual goal of the programs would be achieved.
  • Some parents were placing their children in Immersion in order to ensure that their children were in a stream with few learning-disabled, immigrant or disruptive students. 
  • In spite of the politically correct statements about French Immersion being available to all children, the truth is that there was little support for children who flounder in the program for whatever reason.  If there are not enough bilingual teachers with appropriate training to teach French, it stands to reason that there would not be enough bilingual special education teachers.
  • Only 80% of children of the appropriate age live within 16 kilometres of a school offering EFI.  This means that one fifth of New Brunswick children entering first grade did not have the option of entering EFI.  I suspect most of those are in rural populations.

Unfortunately, almost everyone who took issue with the Croll/Lee report focussed on Early French Immersion; they saw it as an attack on Early Immersion. Although they fiercely criticised the report and many of those criticisms were warranted, they missed the kernel of the problem and not only proposed no solution but did not acknowledge that there was a problem.  Most critics were too busy marshalling their arguments for the reinstatement of the EFI to concern themselves with the whole picture.

So here is the problem: New Brunswick wants its Anglophone graduates to speak sufficient French to get by in a Francophone area.  At this moment very few are anywhere close to modest fluency, much less bilingualism at graduation.  N. B. can’t throw money at this problem to fix it. 

French Immersion is a pretty good system for teaching French when the students stay in it right through to Grade 12 and when the appropriate supports are provided.  Most students who start in FI, especially EFI, don’t stay the course. Of the kids eligible to start in EFI, 20% would have to travel over 16 k, making EFI an unlikely option.

There is strong evidence that the ministry has not been successful in training or finding enough near-native French speaking well-trained French teachers.  This is one of the reasons that support for children floundering in FI is not available.  It is also a factor frequently ignored by researchers, educators, parents and politicians.  Would it be better to have fewer and better French teachers?

The other problem with FI seems to be social; it may be due to inadequate support from the ministry or class perceptions of the parents.  Whatever the cause, students in difficulty in FI don’t stay in FI.  With that awareness, some parents won’t even put their kids in FI, some will be gently dissuaded by well-meaning teachers and other parents will have their children transferred to the Core French program when she starts to have difficulties.

Daily lessons don’t seem to be effective in teaching FSL; we don’t know why but it doesn’t work.  Students are usually bored and uninterested at best.  A program called Intensive French, requiring a one off year of differentiated programming shows promise on a number of levels.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  What solution will do the best job of teaching all of the children to speak sufficient French to order a meal, make an appointment with a doctor or ask for help in normal day to day life?  Of course, some of the children can go much farther than that so we want a program that will provide for them, too, if we can afford it; we have to remember, though, that some things don’t just cost money, they also cost opportunities for others.  This should be the bottom line for every ministry of education in the country and every Anglophone board of education in the country.

THE SOLUTION will require the wisdom of Solomon and parents who are willing to put other people’s children’s needs first.  It will require politicians who call it like it is and researchers who look beyond one narrow area of research.  It will require unions who will acknowledge that although their mandate is to protect jobs, they are teachers first and want what provides a good education for students.  We have the capacity to provide for the educational needs of our children but not the wants of all the stakeholders.  It is time for the adults to act like adults.

Talking to Everyone


         The Croll-Lee Report on FSL in New Brunswick has been justifiably criticised as sloppy and limited in its use of research on methods of teaching FSL.  Critics have also pointed out the inaccurate use of figures and tables provided by the New Brunswick Ministry of Education.  It was unfortunate that New Brunswick children were so ill served in what was a good cause and for which there was so much solid evidence available.

            Before I go further, I want to discuss academic research in the social sciences as it has some bearing on this issue. The social sciences such as education are seen as soft sciences because so little can be proved quantitatively.  By quantitative, I mean what can be measured and reproduced given the same situation.  For a start, it is impossible to have identical situations where people are concerned.  In education, no two teachers are alike and no two classes are alike.  No matter how carefully we select for similar age, gender, socio-economic status (i.e. are they upper, middle or lower class) race, faith and ability the classes may be similar but never the same. To do that we have also recognised our own bias, abandoning the myth that researchers operate objectively in studying their subjects     

For many people, this is a new way of looking at things.  Acknowledging bias in scientists, valuing description and narratives as part of the results of research? This is a different world from the expectation that numbers are the most precise way and therefore the best, least biased way of measuring the world around us.  We admit our bias and record it with the narrations or anecdotal evidence.  Sometimes, as action researchers, for example, teachers doing research as they work, the bias is very much a part of the research.  

Just as quantum physics discovered that under some circumstances observation changes what is observed, so too, observing in the social sciences changes what we observe.  I suspect quantum physics may have opened the quantitative thinking world to the potential of qualitative research.  This recognition and the awareness of bias have lead the researcher to include herself sometimes in the story of the research.

That being said, there were facts and figures that needed to be included in the Croll-Lee Report.  The commissioners did comment that little useful information was available.  This is not surprising.  Education ministries and school boards do not evaluate results for their programs as a rule.  They may do it as a spot check or because anecdotal evidence suggests it is necessary but rarely in an ongoing fashion.  Before we become too critical, we have to remember that many ministries across the country have been asked to cut the fat, the deadwood and all positions not relevant to teaching.  Researchers and analysts would be among the first to the guillotine.

A reporter in British Columbia, responding to the events in FSL education in New Brunswick asked the B.C. ministry of education how their French Immersion program was doing.

Asked for comparable B.C. figures [to those citing dropout numbers and numbers achieving ministry goals in N.B.], an Education Ministry spokesperson said the government does not have them. “We don’t track early immersion students through to Grade 12,” she said… “I guess tracking French students was something we’ve never done,” she said.

According to Education Ministry policy, the “major goal” for the French immersion program is for students to become bilingual. The ministry is not, however, checking to see how many students meet that goal.

         From Does Early French Immersion Work? In BC, high demand. BC hasn’t tracked costs or results, but New Brunswick is pulling the plug. By Andrew MacLeod
Published: April 10, 2008, TheTyee.ca

                  However, the dearth of statistical information should not have stopped the commissioners from making good use of what was available.  When I was tearing my hair out trying to get a handle on calculating statistics for a course on research design I took in graduate school, a colleague explained to me that I didn’t have to do my own statistics.  Many people hire a statistician to help them plan the taking of data and the analysis afterwards; studying stats was a good idea, as it would give me an understanding of what was involved.  It was sufficient that I understood the theory and the kinds of cases in which certain methods were used so I could work knowledgeably with the experts.

            Similarly, if time was limited or neither Lee nor Croll were adept at number crunching, they should have employed someone to do it for them.  The sad fact is that the few errors I reviewed with the aid of my own number cruncher may have given them the wrong numbers, but if they had done them the right way, they would have had almost as effective evidence for the points they were trying to make.

            Another unfortunate error was the lack of explanation of research results into the three major teaching methods they were discussing.  Croll and Lee did not need specific expertise in this area; if expertise were needed in all the topics they covered in their review and recommendations, they would have needed experts in teaching FSL, learning disabilities (especially language related ones), school organisation and management, rural and urban schools, language development and teaching L1.  That would have just been the beginning. 

            The purpose in doing graduate work in a subject is to learn to do original research, think logically knowing your own bias and add to the body of knowledge. Most importantly, the student develops expertise to be shared with other people so they don’t have to spend inordinate amounts of time doing their own research or guessing wildly. The student also acquires the skill to read work in other disciplines with a critical eye.

The academic information was available and I have reviewed it in my last post.  With the tools at their disposal, they should have been able to do a more thorough and clearer job.  Dr. Croll taught at the University of New Brunswick, which had a Faculty of Education and housed the Second Language Research Institute of Canada (L2RIC).  I am sure the latter would have been happy to provide appropriate information; they certainly were after the report was published.  In fact, Paula Kristmanson presented a paper on Intensive Core French (see April 19 post on 3 options for FSL delivery) at the fourth International Symposium on Bilingualism in 2003.  She was then at UNB and is now at L2RIC.

If time had been a problem, they should have asked for more time.  If they had a proposal but needed to review it with others who had more specific expertise, then they should have asked for time to do that.  In other words, they did not have to be experts, they only needed to know when to consult them.

What did the commissioners get right?  They did their best to make sure everyone was heard.  I know that one complaint was that there wasn’t enough time for everyone to be heard.  I also know that many people pass the large signs in their neighborhoods announcing an application to deviate from the local bylaw in a building application and neglect to stop and read the details.  They are often the first people to complain when application is approved, the building is built, the tenants move in and they discover the deviation is going to affect their property.  I read through the lists of organisations that were contacted and asked for input; if their members were contacted then, as far as I can tell, every avenue was used to communicate with stakeholders.

The anecdotal evidence the commissioners provide in their report made it clear that there was general and considerable discontent with the way FSL worked in New Brunswick.  The issues were not the small irritants of school life; they concerned quality of teaching, availability of resources and equity issues.  This was not a problem of a few rotten trees, it was a tangled forest of education where flowers bloomed in a few clearings and much of the undergrowth in the rest was so thick it made progress difficult.  The department of education and Croll and Lee were trying to see the forest.  That they botched it is regrettable.

For some interesting criticisms of the report go to http://educationinnb.wordpress.com/2008/05/27/a-response-to-minister-lamrocks-justifications-for-his-fsl-plan/#more-195.     The author does not give sources for many of his facts and he doesn’t state his credentials for weighing the arguments given by the ministry.  However, some of his points are solid.  One of the best points he makes is that Croll and Lee recommend starting the FSL program in Grade 5 with Intensive French.  He correctly points out that programs where Intensive French has been used at that age have had students who have already had several years of French. 

What the commissioners proposed was to start the students study of FSL with Intensive French.  This was not something that had been studied although Intensive French and Intensive English at this age had proved successful with learners who had some of the L2.  By some I mean a little. Starting L2 learning with IF is an idea that needs to be thrashed out with second language teachers and especially those with experience in Intensive French.

The blogger above inadvertently makes a point on behalf of the ministry when he demonstrates that 20% of New Brunswick students, who are the right age for Early French Immersion, live too far away from an EFI program to make it practical.  You will remember from an earlier post that just under 50% of N.B.’s population is rural; one could infer that most of the students who are too far away from EFI are part of that rural population.  Perhaps the ministry was aware that two French streams were de facto discriminating against rural students.

The obvious solution to this is to put French Immersion into all schools, but to advocate that is to forget the enormous costs of two streams in five grade schools of 100 to 200 students. 

In the end the Croll/Lee report was a disaster because it was intended to correct a number of problems but due to its sloppiness created a political whirlwind which destroyed any chance of seriously reforming FSL in New Brunswick.  It became a rallying point for the middle class to push French Immersion rather than a place to start discussions concerning the most effective way to teach French to children.

 

Does Early French Immersion Work? In BC, high demand. BC hasn’t tracked costs or results, but New Brunswick is pulling the plug. By Andrew MacLeod
Published: April 10, 2008, TheTyee.ca