Tag 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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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


Once More Into the Blog, Dear Readers


The Remains of the Dock

Events have rendered me unwilling to think about education and despairing of teachers in Ontario ever being treated as more than technicians in the near future.  I have not written about education for many months now, but the little girl next door is leaving her Montessori school to start grade one at our local school.   My niece is half way through high school and two young cousins are returning to the francophone primary school.  We talk about school:  what their parents like; what works for the children; the inequities; the little miracles wrought by their teachers; the rules, ridiculous and important; the children’s biases and prejudices.  For the most part both the parents and children recognise that compromises have to be made in what is essentially still an industrial model of education but sometimes I hear frustration in their voices.

I am surrounded by teachers, too.  Primary, Montessori, kindergarten to grade 8 French, high school language, supply, university psychology, adult ESL teacher trainers, graduate supervisors.  They all have their delights and concerns as they return to the classroom.  Sometimes one or two will honour me by turning over a problem with me or asking my advice and I get some insight into their particular corners of the teaching profession.

All of us see things which don’t make sense, which hinder teachers in their teaching, students in their learning and parents in their support of both.  So inevitably I want to write again to point out the illogical, the wasteful and the effective events taking place in our schools.  I want to talk about what does work, especially the simple easy techniques.

I have been looking over the many thoughtful comments I have received from readers.  Please keep them coming; even when I disagree with you, they provoke me to think and consider other possibilities.  Writing in a vacuum is a dangerous thing as the writer may begin to believe everything she writes.

Watch this space for more about equity for the learning disabled, sense in teaching second languages and reflections on morality.  I hope to eventually have some comments to make on university teaching, too.  One might say that teaching is a new discovery in all university faculties, except, perhaps the education faculties.  And I am not too sure about them!

Rebuilding the Dock

Inclusive Education in Practice


Those Parents Have Not Complained

Would you want your child to be in a grade seven class of thirty if twenty-five of those students had been identified as having special needs.  Would you want your child in that class if she had been identified as having special needs?  Would you want her in it if her first language were not English?  Would you want her in it if she were a regular, ordinary student?  No matter which way you look at it, a class with these demographics isn’t good for any student and yet …

A colleague of mine recently observed that in one intermediate school, the two grade seven regular English classes were predominantly special education students.  By predominantly, I mean that roughly twenty-five out of twenty-eight or twenty-nine in one class and half the students in the other class were identified or about to be identified as students with special needs.  By students with special needs I mean are students with learning disabilities or behavioral problems.  Gifted students are probably not included.

What Kind of Special Needs and What Kind of Support?

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 provides support to more than the grade seven classes; in fact she probably provides support for all the grade seven and eight classes, so she cannot be available quarter time, much less full time, to support special needs students in any class.  For many students, the time allotted for support may be sufficient, for others it won’t be.

Each child identified has been identified as having a particular need; this is why they are called special needs children.  In the twenty-five may be students with ADD, ADHD, psychological and behavioral problems, physical learning disabilities and gifted students. [for informal definitions see below]  Not only does one size not fit all, but each child has an appropriately individualized program the teacher is required to follow.

Imagine a teacher teaching a class where twenty-five students need special education support.  Yes, when there are two of you (the classroom teacher and the special education support teacher) it isn’t so daunting, but there are thirty students.  The classroom teacher has responsibility for the five regular students as well as the rest.  Try to imagine what this class would be like.

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 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?

What is the Model for this Style of Class?   Education for All

The school cited states that these children’s needs 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 is 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.

Profile of Grade Seven Section of the School

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.

Of the six classes in this grade seven cohort only two  have students with learning difficulties integrated into their class.  Some of you may doing the math:  If one assumes that each class has thirty students and there are twenty-five identified students in one class and half of another class is identified i.e. fifteen, students, that makes forty students out of one hundred and eighty (6 classes X 30 students) 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.)

Forty students distributed through six classes would thin them out a bit and make for more inclusive classrooms.  There would be about six or seven special needs students in each class.  Obviously they would have to be distributed with regard to their particular needs, the talents and qualifications of the classroom teachers and the profile of each class.   More special needs teachers would be required but it would put an end to the ghettoization of the regular English classes.  But wait a bit … out of the six grade seven classes in this school only two are eligible to receive special needs children.

Why are only Two out of the Six Grade Seven Classes Inclusive?

French Immersion and Special Education Support

First there are three French Immersion classes.  Students can’t expect special education support in Ontario’s FI classes. 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.  For other reasons, please see my post: French Immersion: Is It Accessible to All Students? 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 succeed, move into the regular program or their parents pay for tutoring.  If you are a fan of social Darwinism, French Immersion is an excellent place to see it in play.

The Academically Gifted Already Have Special Education Support

(and a class ceiling of 25)

The fourth class of the six is the academically gifted class.  Two or three students in the gifted class may have learning disabilities or behavioral 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.  She does her own support for any special needs children or learns very quickly.  Did I mention that these classes are capped at twenty-five students?

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.

What is Inclusive about the Inclusive Classroom?

So, when we take four classes away from the six enrolled, there are only two left to become inclusive classrooms.  Someone please tell me what or who is being included here?

I am not sure what it says about the children, their parents, their community, their school or their teachers.  What it does say about our school system is that appearance of being politically correct or following the latest educational wave is more important than pedagogy that works. 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 whom are children with “severe” learning disabilities”?

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 twenty-five.  In fact, regular intermediate classes have almost always been larger than twenty-five in spite of the fact that even twenty years ago teachers and administrators knew that these classes were heavily larded with students with special needs, behavioral issues or carrying the extra load of learning English as a second language.

Those Parents Have Not Complained

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 those 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.

Why is nothing done about it?  As a principal once 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.

[DEFINITIONS (education students, a caveat – these are informal definitions!):

ADD = attention deficit disorder: a learning difficulty where a child or adult is unable to select one thing to pay attention to.  One parent calls it shiny object syndrome, in that the child may really want to focus on homework but is distracted by his own thoughts “I wonder if Fred is going to be away tomorrow”, objects such as a blunt pencil he decides needs sharpening or people he wants to watch or speak to.  These are all shiny i.e. distracting objects.

ADHD = attention deficit hyperactive disorder: a similar learning difficulty as ADD with the added complication of a need to move frequently, sometimes constantly.  Now the child is not only a distraction to himself but to others.

Diagnosis of both disorders is through checklists completed by people who see the child the most.  There is some controversy about giving drugs such as Ritalin to these children.  My own observation is that children who really suffer from these disorders are greatly relieved by the effect of the drugs.  Many specialists in special education feel that the new focus provided by a drug should be used to teach strategies to deal with ADD or ADHD so there is a chance of the child being able to cope without the drugs.

Depending on the expert these difficulties may be classed as behavioral or learning disorders; it really doesn’t matter so long as the problem is identified accurately and treated properly.  With consistent help these children can learn ways to deal with their disorder and improve their behavior if it has created behavioral problems.  They do not have to be out of control but they do need sympathetic help to learn appropriate techniques.

Whatever strategy is used, a psychologist and pediatrician must be consulted to discuss the pros and cons of the approaches.  In Ontario, the approach to using drugs is conservative and carefully tested.  No teacher should suggest using drugs but they are within their purview to advise that a parent should consider discussing the possibility of ADD or ADHD with a specialist such as an educational psychologist.  Teachers see hundreds of children in the course of their careers and often become good informal diagnosticians based on their experience.  Their suggestion to pursue certain concerns is usually well founded.

Psychological and behavioral problems can vary from diagnosed and treated illnesses to students regularly misbehaving in class to the point of disrupting lessons or work. What falls under the mandate of the health system and what is the concern of the school system varies depending on budgets and governments.  In the best of possible worlds schools and mental health workers co-ordinate their efforts in the interests of the children but for the moment, the schools seem to be taking responsibility for sicker children than twenty years ago.

Children with physical disabilities who need physical help usually have an educational assistant to help with things like lifting, toileting and physiotherapy.  For the most part, they fit into regular school life with little difficulty once the necessary architectural adaptations have been made.

Students with learning disabilities, by definition, are of average or above average intelligence.  They may have difficulties such as dyslexia (difficulty with reading), dysgraphia (difficulty writing by hand) or dyspraxia (poor motor skills)]

[More Comments

This example is not unique in demonstrating system indifference to regular intermediate students; see my post, “Education for All” and the Myth of Universal Design where I refer to an intermediate classroom of 34 students in another school in another year.  Again it was a class of regular students studying in English.  In that case I don’t know how many were special needs students or how many students were learning English as second language.

One or two classes in a school system or a province are not proof of systemic problems. However, they are an example of what can happen and has happened when every child’s education is not a priority.

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 or even lower.  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].

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

Next Posts:

Why this is Everyone’s Problem

Other Models, Better but Not Necessarily the Best

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.