Category Archives: French Immersion

New Brunswick’s Three Options for FSL Delivery


If you limit your actions in life to things that nobody can possibly find fault with, you will not do much.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson AKA Lewis Carroll

Part of the debate that rages around French as a Second Language and French Immersion is the everyone-knows statement that very young children learn languages faster than older people. The response to that is: yes, BUT.

The BUT lies in the difference between implicit and explicit learning.  Explicit learning takes place when there is direct instruction.  For example a teacher sets out to teach a grammatical rule, correct pronunciation or use of an equation; the students are experiencing explicit learning.

Implicit learning is often taught by experience.  A toddler copies her parents’ greetings to a neighbour or an adolescent is very clear on what is cool and what is not.  This is also called naturalistic learning.

Given the same amount of time spent in explicit learning, young adolescents are the most effective at learning grammar and literacy in a second language (compared to adults and young children).  However, when it comes to pronunciation, the younger children are most effective at learning pronunciation in a naturalistic setting.  French Immersion works as well as a naturalistic setting.  On the other hand, adolescents and adults have achieved near native accents, but with less frequency, so this is not a hard and fast rule, nor is there a point where abilities such as acquiring pronunciation or learning grammar switch on and off. This is a crude summary of years of research summarised in Rod Ellis, 2008.  I refer you to his excellent book for more detail and direct references to the research.

The answer is that young children who live part of their lives in a second language or take early Immersion in an L2 do learn pronunciation faster and more effectively than older learners.  This is probably why they seem to learn languages so well.  One thing few researchers mention is that very young children have the vocabularies and the grammar of the very young so while they may be fluent in the language of children (and we wouldn’t expect more), this is not a full command of the language.  Just as their L1 will need development, so will the L2.

Some researchers have argued that children have all the grammar they need by a very young age; having taught children from Grade 2 to Grade 8, I disagree.  They may have the basic grammar and be able to use complex sentences, but agreement of tenses and persons and accurate use of tense, for example, often remain a mystery for some years.  High school French Immersion teachers have commented to me on the propensity of EFI students to retain language errors and one researcher has observed a kind of pidgin French developing among some EFI students.  This suggests that they are not sufficiently grammar conscious to self-correct or seek correct forms.

If children are not in Immersion, then starting a second language early has no major advantage.  In fact, a solid foundation of literacy in their L1 may be more effective, in the long run at helping them acquire an L2.   The skills in one language are transferable to the other.   By skills, I mean the kind of things that give the learner more scope and flexibility in developing language: skills such as the capacity to infer meaning, guess at vocabulary from context, tolerate ambiguity, take risks and use resources. These kind of skills are necessary in all academic subjects as well so wherever the student learns them, there will be considerable benefit as the skills transfer.  Most researchers seem to assume that they will transfer automatically; my own experience has been that students often need a nudge to recognise that the context may be different but the situation is similar.  But a nudge is usually all that is necessary.

From this, one might infer that a comparatively late start, such as Grades five, six or seven in learning French might be effective. Starting language training as late as Grade seven or eight is probably too late because as puberty descends, peer pressure increases.  Self consciousness makes it difficult for students at this age to give French the attention that good language learning requires.  This is not an issue only in French.  When we can successfully address it for all subjects, French will not suffer from it, either.  In the meantime, it makes these grades the poorest choice for the mandatory beginning of a second language program.

Except for the perils of puberty, the research supports a later introduction to a second language.  The one exception is that students will be less likely to acquire near-native pronunciation.  How important is near-native pronunciation?  As a former second language teacher, I can tell you that if a student learns the rhythms of a language and her accent does not impede comprehension, she is doing very well.  Daily work listening to news broadcasts, Quebec singers and watching Quebec television shows will help with oral comprehension and accents.

The oral component being satisfactory, we know that the students will learn to read and write in French with more ease, as the skills will transfer from what they have learned in English and their other subjects.  Core French and French Immersion, both early and late were not the only options under consideration in New Brunswick.

The Intensive French Program was based on the concept of the skills transfer described earlier.  In a nutshell, Grade 5 students did five months of only French at the beginning of the academic year.  The program was project based so the students were using French to do or create things.  The creation of the projects was used to teach skills such as co-operative and independent work and concentration.  Both the projects and language arts in French were used to teach literacy skills.  The last five months of the academic year were devoted to a compacted curriculum of the rest of the academic subjects.

The pilot project in New Brunswick proved to be very effective.  The students’ French improved very quickly as did their concentration and enthusiasm for school.  The skills learned in the first half of the year enabled them to deal with the second half of the year effectively.  The researcher, Paula Kristmanson of the University of New Brunswick, recorded positive responses from parents, teachers and students about the effectiveness of the program in her report on the pilot programs.

The one thing the report doesn’t mention directly is whether the students had studied French before.  My own assumption is that they had been taking 30 minutes of French a day since Grade 1.

Intensive French was not new.  It originated in Quebec in 1969 and has continued as a method for teaching French to immigrants.  In 1980 not long after the beginning of French Immersion and its success, researchers reported on the effort of educators to use Intensive French as a means of teaching Anglophone children French.  IS was used with Grade 1 and Grade 6 students.  The conclusion was that although it was effective with both groups, the younger children required more time to benefit.  Intensive French was more effective with an older group of children.  The method is still used in Quebec to teach English as an L2.

Canadian Parents for French used the lack of knowledge of long-term effects of IF as one reason not to allow the implementation of the Croll-Lee report.  I’m not sure how long they felt was necessary but I think 25 years should be enough. Since 1980 researchers have explored the possibilities of Intensive French. From Billy’s research in 1980 to Kristmanson’s in 2005 and the work of Netten and Germain among other researchers between the two, there is probably sufficient work to have confidence that Intensive French is effective in the year it runs and unlikely to do any harm to the following academic years.

In fact, the pilot programs in New Brunswick that Kristmanson reports on in 2005 were based on the design of Netten and Germain’s programs in Newfoundland and Labrador from 1998 to 2001.  By the time Kristmanson was doing her research in 2005, the children studied by Netten and Germain in 1998 would have been in Grade 12.  The second cohort would have reached Grade 12 the year of the Croll-Lee Report..  Finally, in 2004 in the The Canadian Modern Language Review, Netten and Germain referred to 25 years of success in Quebec with this method.  The only difference was that they were using it to teach English. For more information on Intensive French see the research list below

When people refer to research to support their arguments for or against specific forms of FSL, they take for granted that all the FSL teachers will have native or near-native competency in French. This is not the case in Canadian FSL classes.  The Croll-Lee Report (2006), for example, refers to FSL teachers in New Brunswick whose French is poor.  Netten and Germain in describing the parameters for their research into the effectiveness of IF from 1998 to 2001 stipulated three things about the teachers delivering the program:

· a good command of French,

· the ability to use effectively interactive teaching strategies in the classroom, and

· a desire to use innovative teaching methods.

A good command of French was the first stipulation.  Without that, any method of teaching French is working under the heaviest of handicaps.

REFERENCES
Paula Kristmanson, University of New Brunswick, Beyond Time on Task: Strategy Use and Development in Intensive Core French, 2005
J. Netten et C. Germain, Intensive French – An Introduction,  Intensive French in Canada, Revue canadienne des langues vivantes/The Canadian Modern Language Review, Vol. 60, no 3, pp. 263-273.  2004
Ellis, Rod.  The Study of Second Language Acquisition: second edition. 2008

French Immersion: Is It Accessible to All Students?


2012_05_090007 One brain, two minds

2012_05_090007 One brain, two minds (Photo credit: Gwydion M. Williams)

Reviewing French Immersion research is like watching a shell game. Under this shell, FI is bilingual education and students benefit from the cognitive gains of being bilingual. If we study the shells a little further, we realise that even if the education were bilingual, the students aren’t. They may become bilingual if they remain in the program until the end of grade twelve but at the age of six or nine or twelve, no one could honestly describe them as bilingual. If students aren’t bilingual before they have completed the education, then they are not receiving the cognitive benefits of being bilingual until then. We will have to explore that in another post.

English: Chart showing rates of bilingualism i...

English: Chart showing rates of bilingualism in Canada, Quebec and the Rest of Canada 1941-2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Watch the next shell, ladies and gentlemen: the earlier students start French Immersion the better. The research says otherwise. For the most part there is little difference between the achievement of early immersion students and late immersion students. Most research supports students learning to read and write in their first language before they start to learn a second language. The skills they learn in their first language will transfer to the second; learning the second language is more efficient when an older and literacy experienced brain is being used. Another interesting set of facts to explore in another post.

Sackville EFI Protest

Sackville EFI Protest (Photo credit: Harold Jarche)

Support for Children with Learning Difficulties in French Immersion is Rare in Most Provinces

Here’s a third shell: everyone can be in French Immersion! Indeed they can, provided they have the same supports that they would have in the regular English program. The truth is that the support varies from province to province and school board to school board. A child with a learning disability should theoretically have support in French from a special education teacher but the truth is that support is rarely there in the same way as it is for children in the English program. The policy on whether French Immersion is for all students is rarely spelled out explicitly; often one has to read between the lines. Let’s look at four Ontario school boards:

English: Chart showing rate of enrollement in ...

English: Chart showing rate of enrollement in French Immersion Programs in Canada, less Quebec 1980-2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ontario’s Peel Board on Special Education Support in French Immersion

The Peel Board advises that FI is open to any child starting grade one, but qualifies that statement with the following caveat:

Based on more than 20 years of experience with immersion programs, we have found some characteristics that are common to successful students in French immersion. These characteristics are indicators to help you to make a good choice. We strongly recommend that you discuss these characteristics with your child’s kindergarten teacher.

A successful student:

is verbal and likes to talk

has strong skills in his or her first language

enjoys books

imitates easily

has a good memory

is confident

is a risk taker

enjoys new challenges

has demonstrated a successful transition from home to school

Pre-screening by parents, with the teacher’s guidance, is a clear indication that the Peel board believes that FI is not for all students and that this determination can be made by the beginning of grade one. The checklist describing the successful student reinforces the expectation that not all children will succeed in French Immersion. One would expect with the caveat above that a child who is not successful in the Peel Board’s FI program might be invited to transfer to the regular English program. It is unlikely that the child would be supported with remedial help or, if appropriate, special education resources. Another Ontario school board is not so explicit in suggesting requirements for success in the FI program, but they are there, nevertheless:

English: Political cartoon. Title: "The n...

English: Political cartoon. Title: “The next favor. ‘A flag to suit the minority.'” French tricolor is given greater prominence than the Union Jack, and the maple leaf is surrounded by two fleurs-de-lis… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ontario’s Grand Erie Board pronounces

The French Immersion program is designed for English-speaking children. Students who possess good first-language skills, are good listeners, self-confident, and motivated, will likely do well in Immersion. 

 Grand Erie District School Board (February, 2009 )                                                                                                                    http://www.gedsb.on.ca

From Ontario’s Ottawa-Carleton Board on FI

The Ottawa-Carleton board explicitly notes that academic ability, economic or social status are not factors in succeeding in French Immersion. It is less explicit concerning the support provided for students in FI who might have learning difficulties:

Academic ability is not related to performance in French language skills. A child’s learning difficulties in reading, writing, or other subject areas will surface regardless of the language of instruction. These difficulties should not normally be a barrier to bilingual education. French Immersion teachers are very aware of children who may be experiencing learning problems and will work with your child to provide the learning support services required (bold & underlining mine) http://www.ocdsb.ca/Documents/OCDSB_Publications/FSL.pdf French As a Second Language Programs fact sheet (February, 2009)

Surely all teachers in this board are conscious of children who are experiencing learning problems. The difference is that the other teachers will not only work with those children, but they can draw on resources such as the Learning Support Teacher and, if the child is eventually IPRCed (identified as having a learning disability), the special education specialist in the school. It is entirely possible that things have changed since May of 2007 when the Special Assistance Team for the OCDSB wrote:

At present, it is clear that children experiencing learning difficulties or who have learning styles which, presently, are not necessarily accommodated in French Immersion programs are clustered in the English track schools which house the special education programs for students with exceptionalities and the English as a Second Language (ESL) students.

The Team, which reported to the Minister of Education for Ontario, went from description to prescription:

…student(s) who are experiencing difficulty in French Immersion … are often demitted quickly and sent from the school where they began their year to another school in the English stream. For some but not all students, the reason for demission from FI is deemed to be the need for Special Education support. This support must be available to all students in the Board regardless of their language of instruction. (bold & underlining mine) http://www.ocdsb.edu.on.ca/Documents/Board/Finances/SATReport.pdf (May 7, 2007)

It would be a reasonable assumption that this last sentence represents the ministry’s policy, but the statement in the ministry’s curriculum document for Extended French and French Immersion is not quite so explicit:

Extended French and French Immersion for Exceptional Students Recognizing the needs of exceptional students and providing appropriate programs and services for them are important aspects of planning and implementing the curriculum. A regulation made under the Education Act requires that school boards establish a committee, called an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC), to identify and place exceptional students. When an IPRC identifies a student as exceptional, it must, in its statement of decision, provide a description of the student’s strengths and needs and a decision on appropriate placement for the student. The IPRC can also make recommendations for suitable education programs and services. When an IPRC identifies a student as exceptional, an Individual Education Plan (IEP) must be developed and maintained for that student. The Ontario Curriculum, Ministry of Education 2 0 0 1 French As a Second Language Extended French Grades 4-8 French Immersion Grades 1-8 Page 7

Ontario’s Trillium Lakeland’s Board’s Vision for FI Students

Finally in our sample of Ontario school boards is the Trillium Lakelands District School Board. Their web site has clear statements about their policies on French Immersion:

Our Vision for French Immersion

Trillium Lakelands District School Board supports the French Immersion Program and intends that the program be inclusive and accessible to all students within the Board. The Board also intends that graduates of the secondary school French Immersion Program will be able to communicate and function in French and be able to pursue work or postsecondary education in French.

Trillium Lakelands District School Board (February, 2009) http://www.tldsb.on.ca/pdfs/programs_frenchbrochure.pdf

In simple language, the Trillium board states how good the French of Immersion graduates must be and the board’s commitment to making FI accessible to all students. It is more explicit in its vision than the Ontario ministry. If you teach or have children in this board, please let me know if the TLDSB fulfills its vision or at least strives to! Let us turn finally to another province, Manitoba, for its policies on French Immersion:

Manitoba’s Expectations for Special Needs Services & FI

Curriculum Policy for the French Immersion Program July 2008, 3rd Edition http://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/docs/policy/frenchimm/implem.pdf

4.5 SPECIAL NEEDS SERVICES

Special needs students are capable of learning another language. In view of this, every school offering a French Immersion program must provide the human and material resources to meet special needs requirements (remedial, counselling, and other specialised services), in the same way as schools offering the English program. These services must be available to the students in both English and French.

In other words, plan to provide all the services a child might need before planning a French Immersion program. If a board doesn’t have the resources in French to meet those needs, then an FI program is not possible; it needs rethinking! Compare Manitoba’s direct support for all students who wish to take French Immersion with Ontario’s sidestepping of the issue by describing the IPRC process. To meet special needs requirements for FI students requires money; in Ontario, it may mean using French funding for French instead of redirecting it to (for example) busing. For more on that issue, see my post: Is French Immersion a Money Maker for School Boards?

It is as simple as that. If we can’t provide the same services to students in French Immersion as we do to students in English language programs, then we are creating a ghetto of English language classes with large numbers of students needing special services and the same teacher student ratio as the French Immersion classes. Students fortunate enough to qualify for FI or who have parents who can pay for extra-curricular coaching can remain in an enclave of students without learning difficulties.

English: Dialects of the french language in th...

English: Dialects of the french language in the world (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Education in Ontario’s Dirty Little Secret

Let me add that this is a dirty little secret within our schools and has been for over twenty years; I have been chastised for accurately describing the English program classes when among colleagues. I was chastised not because I was wrong, but because it was disrespectful of the students and their teachers. I think the conditions those teachers and students work under is disrespectful; the truth is not.

Next post on French Immersion: the province that tried to do the right thing for all of its students and was run over by politics and French Immersion.

English: "STOP/ARRÊT": bilingual sto...

English: “STOP/ARRÊT”: bilingual stop sign in Ottawa, Ontario (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

 

 

Does Choice in Education Divide our Children by Class?


            An opinion piece in Chatelaine by a young mother discussed choosing a good school for her child; she was talking about public school not a private, fee-charging school.  She acknowledged that the school board restricted children to their neighbourhood schools but she had found a loophole that would allow her to send her child to a better school – better as she defined it.  Better, by her definition was a school with 33% ESL students rather than 75% ESL (largely Chinese) students.  There was a spate of emails following the article from indignant women accusing her of racism, dotted with a few agreeing with her perspective. (School daze: The troublesome quest for the “better” school By Katrina Onstad  First published in Chatelaine’s April 2007 issue.

© Rogers Publishing Ltd.)

The truth is that the author is in the majority of parents in wanting to place her child in a school with a minimum of ESL and lower socio-economic status (formerly known as poor, now referred to as lower SES) students.  The difference between the author and her fellow parents is that she spoke her mind: middle and upper class parents feel entitled to have their children educated with their peers.  In order to do so, they study the rules of the game and find the loopholes.  There are three, but only two that are entirely in the parents’ hands.  The author planned to use the one of finding day care within the boundaries of the chosen school.  An expensive variation of this is either buying a small pied-a-terre or moving altogether into the right neighbourhood to provide the address in the school’s cachement area. Some neighbourhoods are actually overpriced because the popular opinion is that the local school is a good one.

 The second, where the program exists and the child qualifies, is placing the child in a class for the academically gifted.  This usually requires an intelligence level in the 98th percentile and high educational scores although the exact requirements may vary from school board to board.

The third is placing your child in French Immersion.  French Immersion is theoretically open and possible for every child but few ESL students end up in the program.  ESL stands for English as a Second Language; the Ontario Ministry of Education has changed that designation to ELL, English Language Learners.  This puzzles me as I thought all students are English language learners.  But I digress. The current belief is that ESL students will benefit from early French Immersion programs (programs staring in kindergarten or grade one) and this is supported to some extent by the literature. ESL students arriving in the middle or intermediate grades may have their hands full adjusting to a new country and new language.

Immersion is supposed to be accessible for students of all levels of ability, but the truth is that students with learning disabilities (students with learning disabilities have, by definition average to above average ability) or low ability usually find it too difficult and their parents are persuaded to move them into the regular English classes.  Teachers regularly recommend that some students not be placed in French Immersion because they can foresee the problems but the choice is the parents’.  Often a student having difficulty drops out to the English class later; he will be behind in English and, if he has a language disability, he is doubly hampered.  French Immersion may start out as a program for every child but it does not end up that way.  The result is a stream, as the author’s friend so aptly puts it, which is the equivalent of a private school in a public system and a stream for the rest of the world

That is not to say, however, that French Immersion is a better education.  First, there is always a shortage of materials in French.  Secondly, FI teachers are always the last to get workshops in the latest teaching techniques or ministry expectations, unless they attend them in English.

Thirdly, there is a shortage of French teachers due to French Immersion so non-native speakers are hired, often before completing their B. Ed.  They may have a good academic knowledge of French but their spoken French often lacks the idiom, accent and rhythms of any native speaker.  English teachers, on the other hand, often run the gauntlet of supply teaching for at least a year or longer before they are offered a job.  That is not to say that teachers in French Immersion are poorer – many are excellent – just that they are often hired untried, whereas most English teachers’ abilities are well known and tested before they are hired permanently.  At the end of the year when teachers may elect to change schools and programs, the list of open full time positions in our local board may run to about 80% French.  Sometimes, boards will put restrictions on teachers switching from French teaching positions to English because it is so difficult to fill the French positions.

Finally, students spend less time working on English language grammar, vocabulary, spelling and knowledge of literature.  In addition, there are some language transfers from French to English and a number from English to French.  These students do not have English teachers with particular training in identifying these transfers and correcting them.  They do, however, spend their day hanging out with middle and upper class children.

The regular English classes become the catchall for ESL students who did not enrol as primary students, students with learning disabilities, low ability, emotional problems, dislike of languages and low socio-economic status (poor).  By the intermediate years of grade seven and eight, these classes are more heavily weighted with children needing more attention at a time when they are least interested in school.  These classes are often large; one teacher reported a class of 34.  Teaching them is difficult and exhausting because of their varied needs.  Ordinary students slip between the cracks.

With good reason most administrations look the other way when it comes to regular English classes.  Should it be admitted that these classes are heavily loaded by students with extra educational needs, they would have to do something.  With a limited budget and the budget is admittedly limited it would mean, perhaps, cutting the French Immersion program and who wants to bell that political cat?  It would certainly mean insisting to their superiors that these children are underserved; if the truth was followed with an expectation of action, administrators at any level might find that there would be repercussions to their careers.

There is little political support for the students in the English classes.  Parents who have newly immigrated to this country and lower SES parents have less knowledge of how the system works and less political clout; unless a school board is more heavily swayed by what is pedagogically sound than what is politically expedient, these children will continue to wade in the leftovers from FI. Even under current circumstances of limited money, neither French Immersion nor the regular English stream are providing the best possible education for our students.

In the meantime we have effectively streamed our students according to class and then shut our eyes to it.  We have done what the Americans did through funding schools district by district, what the South Africans did by apartheid and what Britain did with its system of public (private) schools.  We have done it under the flag of biculturalism but with the covert intent of separating children from each other by class.  We know better and we should do better.

In other posts, I will address the question of the effectiveness of French Immersion in teaching French, whether it costs too much, what a program for gifted children should be and the politics of parents, teachers, school boards, children and public perception.  Your thoughts are welcome.

 As a postscript, I must commend our prime minister who sends his children to the local schools.  One of them is enrolled in a school I have heard referred to as an “inner city” school; parents have anxiously inquired if it was rough because it is a school of thoroughly mixed SES, races, faiths, cultures and abilities.  The answer is no.  It is a school where friendships are made across all these classes and violence is less than in some “better” schools.