EDITORS: Diane J. Tedick, Donna M. Christian and Tara Williams Fortune TITLE: Immersion Education SUBTITLE: Practices, Policies, Possibilities SERIES TITLE: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters YEAR: 2011
Liss Kerstin Sylvén, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
‘Immersion Education’ is an edited volume dedicated to the memory of Wallace E. Lambert “for envisioning the promise of immersion education, and for his pioneering work in exposing its possibilities” (p. x). The volume is divided into four main sections, each consisting of three articles. The first section looks at “Practices in Immersion Program Design”; in the second, “Program Outcomes and Implications for Practice” are explored; the third focuses on “Language Use and Assessment Practices in Immersion Programs”; and the final section looks into “Policy Practice in Immersion Education”.
In the foreword, Merrill Swain starts by summarizing the work of Wallace E. Lambert and continues by painting the scene of immersion education today with a broad brush. Looking forward, he concludes that the “articulation of programs is a significant challenge that will involve the cooperation and collaboration of policy makers, school and university administrators, teachers and parents” (p. xix). All chapters in the book illustrate this challenge in one way or another.
In the introductory chapter, “The Future of Immersion Education: An Invitation to ‘Dwell in Possibility’”, the three editors of the book, Diane Tedick, Donna Christian and Tara Williams Fortune give an overview of the book, intertwined with various challenges facing immersion education in different parts of the world.
Section One starts with a chapter by Siv Björklund and Karita Mård-Miettinen called “Integrating Multiple Languages in Immersion: Swedish Immersion in Finland”. This is a well-chosen topic to start off the book, as the language situation in Finland is similar to that in Canada, the country of origin of immersion. Both countries have two official languages, in the case of Finland, Finnish and Swedish. This very illuminating chapter on various educational aspects of immersion in Finland focuses on the multilingual orientation found in many Finnish schools and goes into great detail regarding learning outcomes.
William H. Wilson and Kauanoe Kamanä give “Insights from Indigenous Language Immersion in Hawai’i” in Chapter 3. Indigenous language immersion is an area which has received increased attention from researchers in recent years, and for those not very familiar with this type of immersion, this chapter gives insights into this vital area. The threat of English to Hawaiian is highlighted and these immersion programs strive, among other things, to reduce this threat, and, unlike other immersion programs, seek to revernacularize the immersion language. In other words, the goal is for Hawaiian to become students’ primary language, while still maintaining the dominant language, English, as an auxiliary language.
In the final chapter of Section One, Chapter 4 “Two-Way Immersion Charter Schools: An Analysis of Program Characteristics and Student Body Compositions”, Gary Zehrbach describes the US charter school movement, and in particular, two-way immersion charter schools (TWICS). There are a total of 45 such programs around the US, according to the author, and all of them are Spanish/English programs. As is the case with many other types of immersion teaching, there is no universal model of TWI, but rather locally organized varieties. Most TWICS, however, seem to use the 50:50 model, using each language during half the school day. This chapter reports positive findings from TWICS and sees a promising future for them, not only for Latinos, but also for students of other ethnic backgrounds. The chapter ends with impressive results from such schools, where African-Americans and other students of color attending TWICS have shown great progress.
The second section of the book concerns program outcomes and implications for practice and contains three articles: the first is from a two-way immersion (TWI) program in Chinese in the US; the second deals with TWI at secondary US schools; and the third discusses tertiary French immersion in Canada. In her chapter “Student Outcomes in Chinese Two-Way Immersion Programs: Language Proficiency, Academic Achievement and Student Attitudes”, Kathryn Lindholm-Leary looks at outcomes among students in grades 4-7 attending the increasingly popular Chinese TWI programs in the US. Her findings indicate great progress in both languages, along with an enhanced interest for Chinese culture. Regarding content proficiency, these students perform at or above grade level. Thus, there is clear consistency in results between Chinese TWI programs and, for instance, similar programs in Spanish and English. Furthermore, it seems that regardless of socioeconomic background, students fare well in these programs.
Ester De Jong and Carol Bearse focus on Spanish TWI at the high school level in the US in Chapter 6, “The Same Outcomes for All? High-School Students Reflect on Their Two-Way Immersion Program Experiences”. TWI programs normally start from kindergarten and continue up through elementary school. However, as the authors point out, due to various reasons, such as a complex school organization, lack of qualified teachers, lack of motivation, etc., the number of TWI programs at the secondary level is limited. In their chapter, the authors ask if these TWI students (native Spanish and native English speakers) in high school view themselves as bilingual and why they consider it important to continue in a TWI program. They also look into the ways in which these programs support desired outcomes. Their conclusions are that while these students do consider themselves bilingual and bicultural, it is a difficult task for schools to keep up with the goal of maintaining status equalization and learning opportunities for both groups of students in both languages.
The final chapter in the section on program outcomes concerns French immersion at the tertiary level and is called “French Immersion Studies at the University of Ottawa: Programme Evaluation and Pedagogical Challenges”. Sandra Burger, Alysse Weinberg, Carla Hall, Parvin Movassat and Amelia Kreitzer Hope report on the French Immersion Studies academic stream at the bilingual University of Ottawa. Even though the conclusion of this chapter is that the program is successful - in offering it, the university attracts high-achieving students - the authors also point out several challenges facing the administration of such a program. The first challenge is the collaboration between content and language professors. At lower levels, content and language are both covered simultaneously, but at the university level the two are separated. This in turn leads to the second area of concern, assessment. Language professors cannot take content into account when making their assessment, while content teachers must overlook language (if that is at all possible). In spite of these and other challenges, the authors highlight this program as a model example.
The third section of the book concerns Language Use and Assessment Practices in Immersion Programs. Pádraig Ó Duibhir starts off this section with a chapter on Irish immersion entitled “‘I Thought That We Had Good Irish’: Irish Immersion Students’ Insights into Their Target Language Use”. Ó Duibhir’s study intends to fill a gap in the literature on Irish immersion and investigates students’ opinions on their language use, whether or not they are aware of errors in their speech, and why they use non-target-like forms even though they have been taught the correct form. Two features in particular stand out as not having been mastered by the grade 6 students taking part in this study: the use of copula and verbal noun clauses. The author concludes by pointing out the importance of focus on form in the immersion classroom and the limitations of relying solely on mere exposure to the language through content. Otherwise, she argues, these incorrect forms risk becoming automatized in the students’ long-term memory, which thereby will lead to difficulty in adjusting at a later stage.
In Chapter 9, “Talking in the Fifth-Grade Classroom: Language Use in an Early, total Spanish Immersion Program”, Maggie Broner and Diane Tedick analyze the discourse of three early, total one-way Spanish immersion students in fifth grade. The focus is on what factors determine the use of the students’ L1 and L2, respectively, during Spanish instructional time, using audiotaped classroom activities, field notes and interviews. Broner and Tedick found that these students used the L2, Spanish, in all interactions with the teacher, but that task type and language-related content tasks also triggered L2 use. All in all, it was likely that ‘on-task’ interaction entailed L2 usage, while students in an ‘off-task’ interaction, which often was some sort of social interaction, preferred their L1.
Lizette Peter, Gloria Sly and Tracy Hirata-Edds contribute with a chapter on “Using Language Assessment to Inform Instruction in Indigenous Language Immersion”, where they focus on the Cherokee Nation immersion school. More specifically, the chapter presents how the development and administration of language assessment has become one of the school’s most prominent features. The original vision of the immersion school was to ensure the survival of the Cherokee language, and, starting with a preschool program in 2004, the idea was to add one new class at the next grade level until the program extended from preschool to sixth grade. A 10-year plan was established and crucial factors identified. Among them was assessment. The chapter describes three types of assessment: the Cherokee Preschool Immersion Language Assessment (C-PILA), developed for very young children; the Cherokee Kindergarten Immersion Language Assessment (C-KILA), developed to tap into progress during the first years in school; and the Cherokee Language Immersion Literacy Assessment (C-LILA), also for the first school years. Analyses of results from these assessments indicate the need to focus on form along with the use of the language to teach content. The uniqueness of the Cherokee language necessitates the development of specific language learning goals, which are often quite different from other languages. Along with such goals, assessment criteria are also of concern. The chapter ends on a positive note, with the fact that although this is work in progress, it seems very promising.
The final section of the book is devoted to “Policy and Practice in Immersion Education”. In his chapter on “Context and Constraints: Immersion in Hong Kong and Mainland China”, Philip Hoare explains how different approaches to immersion have emerged from two diverse educational contexts, namely those of Hong Kong and Xi’an. Hoare maintains that neither of these program’s implementations are satisfactory. The main reason for this seems to be inadequate teacher training. This, in turn, according to Hoare, is a result of the pressure schools feel to deliver academically successful students. Schools are judged on their success-rate, and so are the schools’ teachers. Thus, teachers’ first priority is to focus on content. In spite of these constraints on the implementation of immersion, Hoare seems optimistic about the future of immersion in Asia, not least because of the great demand for proficient English speakers that most probably will continue for yet some time.
Lisa Dorner takes an interesting approach in her chapter on “US Immigrants and Two-Way Immersion Policies: The Mismatch between District Design and Family Experiences”. Here, a very important group of stakeholders is at the center of attention, namely, the minority language families whose engagement is critical to the success of the two-way immersion programs. Families arriving to the US are well aware of the critical need for their children to learn English, and at the same time, they are anxious for the children to maintain their L1. Dorner followed six immigrant families during a period of 18 months and analyzed how they made sense of the municipality’s TWI policies. She concludes that it is vital to engage newcomers at an early stage in discussions about TWI and to be flexible in adapting information about the program to the habits and needs of the target group.
“Struggling Learners and the Language Immersion Classroom” are the focus of Tara Williams Fortune’s chapter, where she poses the question “Is the immersion program intended for a specific type of student?” (p. 251). It is not uncommon that “struggling students”, for various reasons, to opt for programs that do not include immersion. There is little research on the effects of immersion programs on this group of students, but existing studies, together with Fortune’s own findings, are of the opinion that just as in any school environment, there will be students in immersion settings that struggle due to language and/or learning disabilities, with the great difference being that those in immersion programs will perform below grade level in all languages involved in the program, not just one. The point Fortune wishes to make is that immersion education should cater to all types of students.
Fred Genesee concludes the book with his chapter “Reflecting on Possibilities for Immersion”, where he discusses four areas he considers to be in need of immediate attention: advocacy, the role of parents, assessment and accessibility. Regarding advocacy, Genesee argues in favor of forming groups consisting of representatives of the stakeholders involved, who at the levels of individual schools, districts and states, monitor policy implementation and promote development of immersion programs. The role of parents is seen as critical, and as such, ways of best achieving the active engagement of parents needs to be further investigated. The third point brought up by Genesee, assessment, is important in immersion programs from several points of view. First, summative assessment is needed for the evaluation of new forms of immersion programs as well as for the promotion of programs among stakeholders. Second, formative assessment is, of course, beneficial for the individual student, but also for the teacher, because it allows him/her to monitor and modify instruction. Finally, Genesee touches upon the importance of accessibility and sees immersion as an educational arena for all groups of students, whether they are at-risk or not.
“Immersion Education -- Practices, Policies, Possibilities” is a resource full of interesting material for anybody interested in L2 acquisition. The book offers so many insights into various ways of implementing immersion, some of which have received little attention elsewhere. I found the chapters on indigenous language immersion especially interesting (Chapters 3 “Insights from Indigenous Language Immersion in Hawai’i” and 10 “Using Language Assessment to Inform Instruction in Indigenous Language Immersion”), as they indeed illustrate some of the possibilities inherent in immersion. We are given examples of how immersion can help endangered languages survive while, at the same time, the indigenous culture is incorporated into the school context. I was particularly inspired by the description in Peter, Sly and Hirata-Edds of how the Cherokee concept “idigoliyahe nidaduhnahui” (meaning ‘let us take a look at what we are doing’) has been adopted in the Cherokee Language Immersion program, leading to the development of appropriate evaluation and assessment tools (p. 193). That concept could serve well in many educational contexts.
A book can only comprise so many chapters, in this case, 12, plus the introduction and the conclusion. I cannot fail but note, however, that nine of these chapters concern the North American continent, out of which eight originate in the US. While all of these chapters are highly interesting and worth reading, the book would definitely have benefitted from including examples of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), which is the European model of immersion teaching (Coyle, 2008; Dalton-Puffer, 2007; Lasagabaster & Ruiz de Zarobe, 2010; Marsh, 2001; Ruiz de Zarobe, 2010), as well as immersion models on the African continent (e.g., Tucker, 1998). This would have added more relevance to the topic, especially in light of the editors’ comment in the acknowledgements: “Since we began our work on this edited volume, the demand for immersion education has grown, and new immersion programs have been launched around the world” (p. ix).
While most chapters report on progress being made by immersion students in various contexts, I was somewhat surprised at the approach of Ó Duibhir’s contribution, where error analysis is at the center of attention. While I indeed do appreciate the fact that there seems, in virtually all immersion contexts, to be a need for more language-specific activities (among them, focus on form), it is questionable whether this is best achieved by focusing on students’ linguistic shortcomings. In an earlier chapter in this volume, de Jong and Bearse highlight the fact that a teacher’s “explicit disapproval of the students’ nonstandard Spanish language use and group work undermined the students’ motivation and opportunity to use Spanish” (p. 106).
In a book such as the present one, the use of acronyms is inevitable. Therefore it is important that these are carefully explained the first time they appear. This is also the case in this volume, even though some cause confusion. For instance, in Lindholm-Leary’s chapter, the acronyms NCS and ENS are introduced on p. 83, respectively, as ‘native Chinese speaking’ and ‘native English speaking’. The reader is left wondering why the N for ‘native’ comes first in one and second in the other. Moreover, later on in the chapter, another acronym is introduced, CNS, meaning ‘Chinese native speakers’. Whether or not these are the same individuals encompassed by the acronym NCS is not clarified. Overall, the use of acronyms in this volume at times seems excessive, and a list of abbreviations at the outset of the book would have facilitated reading each chapter.
Despite these minor remarks, this is a highly recommended book for anyone interested in the immersion approach to language learning. It opens up new perspectives, and indeed “dwells in possibility” for the future implementation of immersion programs in various shapes.
Coyle, D. (2008). CLIL - A pedagogical approach from the European Perspective. In N. Van Dusen-Scholl & N. H. Hornberger (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Language and Education (pp. 97-111): Springer Science+Business Media LLc.
Dalton-Puffer, C. (2007). Discourse in content and language integrated learning (CLIL) classrooms. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Lasagabaster, D., & Ruiz de Zarobe, Y. (Eds.). (2010). CLIL in Spain: Implementation, Results and Teacher Training. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Marsh, D. (2001). The CLIL Compendium. Retrieved from http:// www.clilcompendium.com/ index.html
Ruiz de Zarobe, Y. (2010). Written production and CLIL. An empirical study. In C. Dalton-Puffer, T. Nikula & U. Smit (Eds.), Language Use and Language Learning in CLIL Classrooms (Vol. 7). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Tucker, G. R. (1998). A Global Perspective on Multilingualism and Multilingual Education. In J. Cenoz & F. Genesee (Eds.), Beyong Bilingualism: multilingualism and multilingual education. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Liss Kerstin Sylvén is an assistant professor of English at the University
of Gothenburg. Her main research interests include second language
acquisition, young language learners and content and language integrated
learning (CLIL). She currently leads a 4-year research project, funded by
the Swedish Research Council, focusing on the effects of CLIL on upper
secondary students' development of academic language skills.