Category Archives: teacher training

What WERE they smoking?


My last post was simply Ontario’s Grade Five music curriculum.  In fairness to the Ministry of Education & Training, the grade five curriculum assumes that the earlier elementary music curriculum has been followed.  If we assume that these children were properly instructed in the grade one music curriculum, of which the sample below is a small part, and in all the grades in between, it might be reasonable to hope that grade five students could accomplish the goals of their curriculum.

Part of the Grade One Music Curriculum

ELEMENTS OF MUSIC to be acquired in Grade 1.

duration: fast and slow tempi; rhythm versus beat; two and four beats per bar ( and metres);

quarter note (oral prompt: “ta”), eighth note(s) (oral prompt: “ti-ti”), quarter rest; simple rhythmic

ostinato (e.g., “ta, ta, ti-ti, ta”)

pitch: high and low sounds; unison; melodic contour; simple melodic patterns using the notes “mi”,

“so”, and “la” (e.g., the “so–mi–la–so–mi” pitch pattern in some children’s songs)

dynamics and other expressive controls: loud, soft; a strong sound for a note or beat (accent); smooth

and detached articulation

timbre: vocal quality (e.g., speaking voice, singing voice), body percussion, sound quality of instruments

(e.g., non-pitched and pitched percussion), environmental and found sounds

texture/harmony: single melodic line in unison (monophony)

form: phrase, call and response

If you wish to see the whole elementary arts curriculum for Ontario, go to: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/arts.html

Learning this music curriculum would enhance the academic curriculum.  One obvious example is the way music teaches and requires the recognition of patterns, a skill necessary in mathematics and science.  The skills acquired in paying attention to each other and the music would transfer to other classroom work.  And music, like the other arts is just plain fun when you have some skill.

What’s the Problem with the Music Curriculum?

The difficulty is that there is no requirement that teachers have any knowledge of music before they start their preservice training, nor is music a mandatory course during that training.  Even if a student teacher were to take the music course, it might amount to a half-year course (as at the University of Ottawa) and be focused on the teaching of music, not the learning of it.

Nipissing University cleverly offers a course on music education through technology using MIDI soft and hardware.  See below for details.  This is practical and helpful to willing and non-musical teachers.  It is, however, a makeshift solution to meeting the demands of the curriculum without a teacher who is a specialist in music.  It also depends on the technology being available in the school.  When overhead projectors are becoming scarce and specialist music teachers are even scarcer, it is hard to imagine the technology becoming available.

How much Training is Needed to Teach the Curriculum Successfully?

Even some musical training is not adequate to the task; after a year of singing lessons, I would find it very difficult to teach the music curriculum without support.  So what do teachers do?  What they can.  They select the elements of the curriculum that are possible for them to teach and do those.  For some teachers it may only be music appreciation, for others it may include rhythm or even a smattering of the technical requirements.  My guess is that only students whose teachers have had a strong musical education will come close to meeting the curriculum expectations.

Why Propose the Unrealistic?

Why did the ministry set these expectations?   As Glen Brown points out in his comment, there is a huge assumption that all the resources are available.  The expectations look great on paper but nobody cares if they are implemented, except the overly conscientious teacher.  I wonder how long it has been since the writers set foot in a classroom and  – what they were smoking as they wrote.

Nipissing University

Music Education through Technology – This course will introduce students to basic music concepts through the use of MIDI technology.  The primary goal is to provide students with the rudimentary skills necessary to teach music in Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8 classrooms.

Gifted and “Education for All”



Part 4:  Education for All
and the Academically Talented Child

Before I start, I would like to comment on the notion that many people hold – even some teachers – that gifted children will do well no matter what and do not have special needs.  A child who is capable of working two years above her chronological peers will be bored in a regular classroom and may look for ways to alleviate her boredom.  One may be to see how much she can get away with in terms of poor behaviour or not doing homework or beating the system.  Another might be to challenge the teacher on knowledge, procedure and any minutiae of school rules.  Some students will take pleasure in figuring out how to be absent as long as possible without being caught.  This may include everything from day-dreaming and reading books under the desk to playing hookey, disappearing off to the washroom and working the holes in the absentee system.

The students who decide to play by the rules may do their best to conform; this includes not doing much better than their peers and playing down their abilities.  Either way, the students are not being themselves academically and being something you are not is stressful.  There has been a lot written on the effects of stress so I will not go into the details of the potential ill effects such as dropping out, drug abuse and depression.  Stress caused by this kind of frustration should be distinguished from healthy stress created by challenge students believe they can meet with serious effort and thought.

So yes, the academically talented student does have special needs that should be met.  Gretzky wasn’t left to play hockey with boys his age who weren’t as good as him on the theory that he was so good he would do well anyway.  All students need to be nurtured and have their needs met as much as we reasonably can.  Academic talent needs it as much as athletic talent.

The purpose of Education for All is to promote the inclusive classroom.  The concept of the inclusive classroom is that all children who can be taught in the regular classroom, should be.  These children include most exceptional or special needs children and gifted children are included in the definition of exceptional. Ontario ministry requires that the default placement of children identified as exceptional be the regular classroom.   (see Inclusive Education in Practice)  If the Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) chooses to place the child elsewhere, a written explanation is required.

Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom: the Default Placement

This creates difficulties for many children with special needs and gifted children are no exception.  Most boards have three ways of providing for the academically talented child: the first is the default, placing her in a regular classroom.  A skilled teacher, trained in teaching bright children and especially in techniques such as compacting the curriculum and contracts would be successful if the child in question was a good independent worker and thirsty to learn.  Not all gifted children are either.

There are two or three advantages to this method.  The first one is that the child may continue to attend the home school and make friends with children within walking distance.   I believe that this is very important to children and necessary to the growth of their independence.  My observations as the parent of three (now grown) children have brought home to me how important it is to children to have friends within walking distance.

The child’s capacity to work independently and propose her own projects will have the opportunity to develop in a regular classroom.   Many gifted children are weaker in one academic area than another; being in a regular classroom would allow them to work with fellow students and perhaps turn to them for help on occasion.

There are often bright children who haven’t been identified as gifted who might benefit from compacting the curriculum and being allowed to pursue a subject in greater depth.  The gifted child in the classroom may open the opportunity of enrichment to these classmates as planning for a handful of motivated students is usually not much more trouble than planning for one.

Finally, one gifted young man told me that when he started to work in the real world he felt frustrated because ordinary people couldn’t think as fast as he could.  He understood that it was his problem and made every effort to be courteous while he learned to adapt.  The problem was that having spent his formative years surrounded by bright schoolmates, parents, siblings and relatives, he hadn’t learned how to deal with all levels of intelligence.  Cultures, religions, ideas, lifestyles – yes – but not a lower level of intelligence.  Being taught in a regular classroom would have given him that skill.  He is still working on it.

Education for All barely discusses the academically talented child in the regular classroom and other options are not discussed at all.  Below are some traditional options and one which would require some flexibility in school organisation but result in providing enrichment for more than the top 2%.

Withdrawal

Withdrawal is probably the worst method of providing for academically talented children.  Usually this is done on the basis of a half day or less a week; the student is taken by another teacher for gifted programming.  Many of these students are already aware that they are different.  Being withdrawn from the classroom makes many children feel singled out and will add to a bright student’s sense of being outside the norm.  She will often balk at a withdrawal program and prefer to stay in the class full time.

Although the theory is that the child should not have to make up for work missed in the classroom, the reality is that sometimes the timetable can’t be managed that way or the teacher does not buy into the theory.  If the teacher sees gifted programming as elitist, then she will be less likely to go to the extraordinary effort of co-ordinating classroom work with the withdrawal timetable.  In fairness she is stuck in a catch-22 situation: the student should not miss learning experiences in the key academic subjects, nor should he miss out on anything he might regard as fun such as gym or art.  One should forgive a teacher for believing that all time in her classroom is educationally relevant and occasionally outright fun.

The teacher who does the withdrawal should be a specialist in giftedness, but too often a principal may be tempted to give the job to someone who needs a .2 or .1 position to complete her timetable.  All the teacher needs to be qualified is part 1 of the special education certificate.  There is much less flexibility in staffing today than there was twenty years ago, so shoehorning a teacher into this position is not necessarily indifference or ignorance of the children’s needs but a case of making do with the staff provided.

Withdrawals are usually done on a once a week basis.  In theory, enrichment should relate to and enhance the curriculum but without very close work with the classroom teacher, this would be almost impossible for the withdrawal teacher.  The withdrawal teacher may have several grades at one time and inevitably students with talents varying from the mathematical to the verbal. The compromise is that students end up doing individual projects such as family trees or creating a fantasy land or something else that will allow them to stretch.  In the past, these projects were irrelevant to the assessment of the students’ academic levels.  Perhaps there is closer co-ordination now.

The only truly positive thing I can say about this method is that it allows the child to stay at his home school and in the right circumstances may open the school to the Renzulli method, of which I will write later in this post.

The Congregated (Segregated) Program

This program brings academically talented children together in one classroom.  The criteria varies but the frequent standard is the 98th percentile on an intelligence test or equivalent.  This means that the child tests as higher in academic ability than 98% or 97.999% of all other children.  This can be done with expensive one on one testing with a psychologist trained in testing intelligence or it can be done with a paper and pencil test which can be supervised by anyone.  The choice depends on what is available to school boards.  Most choose the latter but that, unfortunately, leaves them vulnerable to parents who can afford it pursuing the psychologist route if the paper and pencil test does not show their child to be qualified.  (see Another Curious Statistic)This is an inequity in the system that school boards such as the Ottawa Carleton District School Board are aware of and to which they would like to see a solution.

Done properly with trained teachers who are hired by knowledgeable principals, the congregated program can be effective.  The biggest problem is that students who are not used to challenge are often unhappy when they are required to think.  Many programs provide more work or in depth knowledge without requiring students to work their way up on Bloom’s Taxonomy from learning facts and skills to analysis, evaluation and application.  The programs end up being effective only in terms of allowing students to work with their intellectual peers.  If that is all a program does then those who finger gifted programs pejoratively as elitist are justified.

A second problem is that the children usually must attend school at a distance from their own home.  This makes forming friendships within walking distance of home difficult and group work outside of school dependent on parental transport.  Without companions close by, their freedom to explore is restricted and the relaxed friendships bound only by their preferences rather than the availability of parent chauffeurs is impossible until their teens.  By that time, many students will have lost the impetus to take the initiative in their social lives or the will to find transportation besides the parent chauffeur.  I even know of students with university degrees who will not take public transportation.

One family who had four children in gifted programs ended up installing a second phone line just for the children as they needed it to discuss assignments as well as stay in touch with friends.  Friends and family of the parents were unable to get through when there was just one phone in the house.

A third problem is that the children are visibly separate from the rest of the other students.  They are singled out as enrichies or richies and seen as privileged and resented as such.  The best schools make an effort to integrate all the students through sports, drama or music programs to avoid this kind of thing.   A congregated class may reinforce any sense of entitlement the students or their parents might feel thus continuing the circle.

Finally, the younger children in the program must be bussed if the school is not within walking distance.  This adds to the cost of the program, to the length of the child’s day and the isolation from the local community.  Because parents do not belong to the community, their voices at school meetings are concerned primarily with the gifted program.  In one school the parents of these children insisted that they be allowed to go straight to their classrooms from the buses in the morning, as the parents were uncomfortable with their children being on the playground in an inner-city school.  This was in spite of the fact that there were teachers supervising the playground at that hour and that no other children were allowed in their classrooms.  I don’t know whether the other parents ever picked up on the insult to them as their own children were walking past each others’ homes in this inner city on the way to school

The flip side is that parents of gifted children can be energetic in fundraising or willing to donate to school projects.  The other students do benefit from the extras the money provides and in the attention paid to the physical plant when there is a congregated gifted program in place.

Acceleration – Out of Fashion and Now Returning to Fashion

Acceleration was probably the earliest form of handling academically talented children.  People of a certain age will remember the children who skipped a grade.  Sometimes it was done by putting them in the lower grade of a split class and the following year sending them on with the upper grade of the split.  It had the advantages of moving a child ahead academically, but the disadvantage was that the child was no longer with his or her chronological peers.  Sometimes it still did not provide the intellectual challenges needed and sometimes the child might have floundered in areas of weakness.  Usually, these issues were considered in making the decision to accelerate a child.

For many years it was not considered appropriate to accelerate a child for the social reasons raised above.  This got confused by many school boards into the idea that acceleration itself was bad; certainly acceleration in specific subject areas but not others created headaches for teachers in the receiving classes or schools.  The teachers to continue the acceleration might not be available or it might prove difficult to arrange students’ timetables to take more advanced subjects.  Teachers were told not to accelerate students in any subject area – even in mathematics where acceleration is appropriate and necessary to provide enrichment for the talented.  I was even told that teaching above the grade level could be a firing offence.

Recently in Ontario, this kind of thinking has been challenged and acceleration has been reinstituted as legitimate method in providing accomodation for academically talented children in some areas.  This does not mean that we have gone back to skipping children, as the principle that children should be with their age peers still holds.  In most subjects, providing breadth and depth is sufficient challenge for a bright child. In math, some students will need acceleration whether the students are in a congregated gifted or regular classroom.

My own observation is that some elementary teachers are math phobic, not a surprise when you consider that the kind of interests and skills which drew them to young children did not require math.  A teacher’s discomfort with math will make accelerating a few students more difficult, but perhaps this could be taken into consideration in choosing classrooms for talented math students.  This takes us full circle back to the point that the teacher of the inclusive classroom will need training not just in teaching children with behavioural problems and learning difficulties but also academically talented children.

And Now for Something Completely Different: The Renzulli Method

This will be a very brief summary of the concepts developed by Joseph Renzulli.  They do answer concerns about issues such as isolating academically talented children, dealing with children who have some very strong talents but are weaker in other areas, dealing with academically talented children who are not motivated or lack creativity and elitism.  Implementing his ideas would require an enrichment teacher in each school and flexibility in school timetables but enrichment would not be as dependent on testing as it has been.

Renzulli’s model of giftedness rejects conventional concepts of IQ as a sole arbiter of ability.  He considers that its use is best applied as a guideline to determine above average ability.  He reckons that IQ alone does not predict performance and, indeed Terman’s  longitudinal studies of people with high IQs bear that out.  Terman’s subjects did go on to become doctors, engineers, lawyers and teachers but they were not the iconoclasts, the paradigm shifters, the great businessmen or politicians of their generation.  The people who were, were bright but not as bright.

So, the first part of Renzulli’s model is above average ability.  The second part is creativity.  Since this is a summary, I will simply comment that studies have shown that intelligence without creativity only takes one so far in solving problems or doing well in general.  Oddly enough, many parents of academically talented students keep their children busy with structured activities to ensure their children make the most of their abilities.  I am rarely believed when I tell them that the research shows that their children would be better off having more unstructured time to play and develop their creativity.  Even a pick up game of soccer or baseball would be better because the children would have to negotiate their teams, rules and referreeing according to the space, number of kids, quality and character of players and equipment.  They would have to be creative in coming up with solutions which everyone could agree to without taking up all of their play time.

The third is task commitment.We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare.  The hare was a gifted runner but the tortoise had task commitment and perhaps a creative enough mind to perceive that the hare’s vanity might slow him down.  We know the tortoise will not have a hope at the Olympic podium because he lacks above average ability in running, but neither will the hare because he lacks task commitment and perhaps the creativity to consider the possible ways in which a tortoise just might beat him.

Below is a copy of the Venn diagram that Renzulli puts together from these three qualities of giftedness.  As you can see, when the three overlap, gifted behaviour occurs.  This is the answer to the many teachers of the gifted who have muttered, “I know wee Johnny is supposed to qualify for this class but I have yet to see any evidence of his gifts”.    I know that this would have reduced one or two of my classes by half, at least in some subjects.

copied from http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/paedagogik/Seminare/moeller02/06hochbegabung/Renzulli.html

For a teacher it would be a satisfying model to work with but as a child’s abilities, creativity and task commitment often vary with the subject, there would be few students who would qualify for full time enrichment.  Renzulli’s answer is a school-wide enrichment model.

The idea is that all children would get some enrichment in their areas of interest; this is where Education for All’s Learning Profiles and Questionnaires would be very useful.  Other tools such as a learning style assessment would prove useful, too.  Using these tools, the students would be placed in multi-grade clusters which would meet regularly (once a week?).  All staff and parents would be encouraged to join these clusters.

There would be more than one level for a student’s involvement in the enrichment model depending on interest – talks or lectures might be sufficient for some students.  Discussion groups for others and further research, model building or other development for others.  There are detailed discussions of how programs are already working and how they might work.  In the end, the model needs to be worked to fit with the school using it.  What does have to be done is to train staff, assign a member of staff to it part or full time, depending on the size of the school and have that person do the two week training course.

There are lots of sites on the Internet about Renzulli’s model, a great number of articles in peer-reviewed journals and books to turn to if you want to know more about this form of enrichment.  It is certainly worth exploring if you want to see as many students as possible develop their talents beyond what they normally would in a regular classroom.  It is worth it if you want to see students of all ages and abilities learn to work together.  It is worth it if you want to see the elitist stigma removed from enrichment and bright children.  It is worth it if you want to keep children in their home school and reduce the financial, social and environmental costs of bussing.


For more information:

For the Zenn diagram demonstrating Renzulli’s model of giftedness

http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/paedagogik/Seminare/moeller02/06hochbegabung/Renzulli.html

The Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness:  A Developmental Model For Promoting Creative Productivity Joseph S. Renzulli

http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/sem/pdf/The_Three-Ring_Conception_of_Giftedness.pdf


http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/sem/semexec.html

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

For a summary of long term studies on the academically gifted see

http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/eric/faq/gt-long.html

NEXT:  Potentially Useful to Teachers: Charts and Tables Derived from “Education for All”    August 28

Should Elementary Teachers Work Longer Hours And Be Paid Less than Secondary Teachers?  A reply to Olivier’s comment.   September 4



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