Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Revised Immersion and FSL programming in New Brunswick

It would seem that the intensive campaign to save early French immersion has paid off somewhat in New Brunswick. Today, the government announced a new plan that would combine a modified early entry point to French immersion in Grade 3 with the originally slated Grade 6 entry point. This is still a contraction of the French immersion program, which currently begins in Grade 1. However, the combination of introductory French courses in Kindergarten and Grades 1 and 2 with the option of Grade 3 French immersion represents a significant departure from the old plan to axe all Immersion and core French for Grades 1-4, and then to have intensive French start in Grade 5, before offering the option of immersion in Grade 6.

The press release from the government doesn't indicate why it feels that a Grade 3 entry point to immersion will be so superior to the current Grade 1 model. I suspect that this is a save-face measure to allow it to claim that it is making changes to the curriculum, without appearing to have completely lost the debate against advocates of early immersion. Still, I'm glad to see at least some flexibility on the part of the government.

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At 1:24 pm, Anonymous Miriam Jones said...

I think the Minister has preferred saving face to improving education. The immersion programme is diluted and none of its key problems -- lack of resources, encouraging participation -- are being addressed. Streaming, as we already know, is worse in the later grades, so nothing here addresses that problem. And we will still have the problem of having a K-12 system that is not integrated with the rest of the country.

At 1:30 pm, Blogger Matt said...

I tend to agree with you, Miriam. Unfortunately, I think that you're unlikely to get much better from Lamrock - he strikes me as extremely stubborn, and even this half-measure required legal action.

What remains to be seen is how difficult it will be to restore Grade 1 and 2 immersion under a future government. This move will definitely send tremors through the entire curriculum, and there will be reluctance to change it yet again, even if a would-be reformer becomes Minister.

The issue of integration with the rest of the country is another kettle of fish, and one which is unlikely to change given the consitutional division of powers that gives provinces control over education. I've taught students from a wide variety of provinces for long enough to know that their education is wildly different by the time they reach university, depending on what province they come from. This isn't only in the languages - it applies to a host of other subjects.

At 4:15 pm, Blogger Skinny Dipper said...

Hi Matt,

I supply teach in elementary classes in an English public board in Ontario. I won't say which one.

I can't figure out Mr. Lamrock's streaming comments. Unless there are huge socio-economic class struggles in New Brunswick, I can't see the current so-called streaming of students as a problem.

Where I work, I have seen students perform well in both FI and regular schools in terms of literacy. As for learning French, the FI students perform very well based on my observations. My French is not super great. There are very few French speaking supply teachers in the board.

I will agres with Mr. Lamrock that students who take Core French perform poorly in French. It saddens me that I can't get students in grade-eight to say a few words in French even when I speak to them in basic French (which I can do). The attitudes of students taking Core French tends to be negative. I think that they know that they won't even become functionally bilingual if they complete Core French in grade 12.

I don't agree with Mr. Lamrock that getting rid of two years of early French Immersion will improve literacy and overall French language understanding.

This is just my own personal opionion. Why do unilingual countries offer their students the opportunity to learn several languages while a bilingual multicultural country such as ours can offer its students through the provinces only one other official language? That's just my personal beef.

Mr. Lamrock told us that principals want to see no streaming in the elementary grades. Based on my personal experience, there is a great emphasis on differentiated instruction and learning. I am expected to teach the students in different ways so that they can learn how they want. For example, I may give the same general assignment but with different specific options from which students can choose.

Finally, school boards in Calgary and Edmonton have many specialized schools that offer programs such as French Immersion, International Languages, and gender based classes. These school boards have high literacy rates.

At 7:38 pm, Blogger Matt said...

SD -
From my conversations with education professors more familiar with the NB system than I am, it appears that the province has a rather peculiar configuration to its education system. From what I have been told, New Brunswick offers immersion on demand, but also has a policy of complete integration of special needs students into the regular classroom.

What this combination has created is a system where a large proportion of upper- and middle-class parents send their children to the immersion schools. Special needs learners (of which NB has an unusually high proportion) are normally left in the English-only stream. The end result, in a province where 30-40% of students take immersion, is what is considered to be unofficial "streaming" - better students and upper-middle class students go into immersion, while the rest remain in the English-only stream with an elevated proportion of special needs students. The English-only system is seen as the poor cousin.

Unfortunately, the government's solution to this problem is not to increase resources for special needs learners, or to attempt to integrate more special needs students into immersion, or to return to individualized learning for special needs students, but to axe immersion - the "bogey man" as far as many parents of children in the English-only stream are concerned.

Alberta, as you point out, is ironically a leader in language learning. The province that was initially the most resistant to French and bilingualism has also been an innovator in French immersion and other language learning - and has offered courses (and quasi-immersion) in languages such as German, Ukrainian and Cree since the 70s. I suspect the bigger problem is that language learning isn't valued in our society, and is seen as somehow frivolous - like art or music - as opposed to the "real" subjects such as the maths and sciences. Unless that changes, we're not likely to see a rise in multilingual language learning opportunities.

At 11:35 pm, Blogger Skinny Dipper said...

Thanks for your reply, Matt.

As you know, students vary in their exceptionalities/special needs. In Ontario, the first preference is to include these students in the regular classes. If possible, they may receive support from educational assistants usually during the literacy block. There are other resources including special education resource classes, MID, and community classes. If students particpate in MID or community classes, they may sometimes participate in regular classes for phys. ed., art, and music.

In French Immersion schools, there may be only one EA. There are no teachers who have special ed. classes. It is rare for students to have IEPs (plans for special needs students in plain English if anyone else reads this).

I teach in schools where the students' families may have little or a lot of income. Some schools may be multicultural; others have one dominant culture. I do find that family income affects student performance. Students from different cultural backgrounds generally perform well unless their English is limited. English Language Learners will perform well in the long run if provided with resources within the school community. Also, students from different cultural backgrounds do participate in French Immersion even if English is not their mother tongue.

I will agree that students with special needs will perform better if governments are willing to provide schools with resources to assist these students in both regular and FI classes.

At 3:19 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having taught in Early French Immersion and Middle Immersion Programs, this is what I have observed over the years:

In Early Immersion, students who have a Learning Disability usually carry that disability in French and of course English. Parents tend to use French Immersion as the scapegoat, when it finally comes to their realization that their child is having inordinate difficulties Reading and Writing in English. This in spite of the fact that it has been suggested that perhaps French Immersion might not have been the correct program for their child in earlier years.

Most parents who have children who have been identified with a Learning Disability, are quite reluctant to enroll their child in a Middle French Immersion. So in away, Middle Immersion provides streaming where the more capable students go on to French Immersion and the least capable remain in the English stream. This perpetuates the idea that French Immersion is elitist.Now of course, I have had parents with children who have had Learning Disabilities enroll their children in a Middle French Immersion, with the rationale being that Middle Immersion would give them "a second chance" to achieve well because everyone in the class was a new learner of French

My observations have been that students who perform well in their first language of English tend to perform well in acquiring French as a Second Language. Also, students who perform well in Oral components of English but perform poorly in Reading and Writing tend to reflect the same results in French as a Second Language

Many schools provide inadequate programming for students identified as Gifted, so French Immersion becomes the "gifted" program by default in spite of a dearth of resources or program options for the "Gifted Child".
French Immersion has always been a highly charged political program because of the passionate and articulate stakeholders. LaColombe


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