questions immersion parents should be asking, part 1

March 24, 2016

One of the encouragements we made in our opening post was to ask good questions.  You want to discover, at the outset, the program’s trajectory, goals, and beliefs. So ask early, and keep asking until you get clarity.

To help you get started, here are a few good questions, followed immediately by a CliffsNotes version of what to listen for in a response.

  • What immersion model do you follow?
  • How many instructional minutes are allocated to each language at the elementary level? At the secondary level?

CliffsNotes version of what to listen for in a response:

  1. The program adheres to an early total one-way model OR a 90/10 two-way model (with a minimum of 30% heritage speakers in the demographic) with initial literacy taught in the immersion language
  2. For elementary early total one-way programs, 100% of instruction is in the immersion language through second grade. For elementary 90/10 two-way programs, students begin with 90% of instruction in the immersion language, and 10% of instruction in English. Middle and high school programs are carefully articulated using cross-linguistic connectionsthat offer students a minimum of 3 course hours/day in the immersion language

If all that sounds a bit overwhelming…fear not! Here’s a more detailed exploration of immersion program models and instructional minute allocation.

As a baseline, for a program to be considered “immersion,” it must devote at minimum 50% of the day to the immersion language.

Elementary program model and instructional minutes

At the elementary level, answers to questions about program model can be quite varied. Often, well-meaning programs don’t use accurate terminology, and this can be confusing. Some program descriptions you may hear include:

  • “a full immersion model”
  • “a 50/50 model”
  • “partial immersion”
  • “well, we expose all students to some second language each day for 30 minutes”
  • “early total one-way immersion”
  • “two-way bilingual immersion (TWBI)
  • “90/10 two-way immersion”
  • “FLES” (foreign language in the elementary school)

As a baseline, for a program to be considered “immersion,” it must devote at minimum 50% of the day to the immersion language. Anything less than 50% of the day would classify the program as world language. addalingua partners with schools that offer either an early total one-way immersion model or a 90/10 two-way immersion model based on the longitudinal research evidencing superior academic outcomes for students in these types of programs, as well as data from our partner schools which follows these national trends.

early total one way immersion

In this model, majority language students receive 100% of their academic instruction in a second language. In grades K-2, children learn to read first in the immersion language (L2). The instructional time in the immersion language decreases by percentages as the students progress through elementary school. In most strands in the U.S., however, fifth or sixth grade immersion students continue to receive a minimum of 50% of their instruction in the immersion language.

90/10 two-way immersion

This model emphasizes bilingualism and biliteracy for both majority and minority culture learners by enrolling equal numbers of students from each language group at every grade level. All students receive literacy instruction primarily in Spanish (or other L2)., but due to the presence of heritage speakers within the classroom population, English is introduced sooner than in the early total model.

Middle/High School program model

At the middle school level, students continue to practice mastered language skills (written and spoken) and to present themselves (written and spoken) in both formal and informal settings at a deeper level, which is reflective of their growing cognitive abilities.

In order to guide students to advanced levels of proficiency in the target language, students require significantly more time in the immersion language. However, due to the conflicts with scheduling, this is when students typically see a decrease in the time spent in their immersion language courses. This means courses in the immersion language at this level must be carefully articulated to integrate content with systematic exposure to language function and structure!

At the secondary level, add.a.lingua partner schools offer a three-course sequence designed to make explicit connections between the immersion language and English so that students increase speaking, reading, listening, and writing skills in both languages, at a time in their development when they are cognitively ready to do so at a deeper level.

We’d encourage you to seek out one of these models, if at all possible, and to look for adherence to the instructional minute allotments noted above.

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