When children struggle in immersion classrooms, stakeholders may be tempted to blame the difficulty on the students’ learning in a second language. Because immersion research surrounding student outcomes is relatively unfamiliar to both families and mainstream educators alike, concern for struggling learners often leads a community to assume that removing these learners from an immersion program and placing them into mainstream classrooms will “solve the problem.” But is the immersion language or model really the issue?
add.a.lingua addresses this question regularly as we interact with stakeholders invested in immersion education. Our answer, based on research and twenty years of experience, is an emphatic, “no.” In fact, removing struggling learners from immersion settings may cause more harm in the long run as we inadvertently send the message to students that we believe they are not capable.
Given the intrinsic ability children have to acquire multiple languages, learning academic content through a language other than English is very rarely the cause of learning struggles. The issue, rather, is whether or not parents and educators believe that immersion education is appropriate for ALL types of learners.
The issue, rather, is whether or not parents and educators believe that immersion education is appropriate for ALL types of learners.
To help address the “struggling learner issue,” we talked with Dr. Tara Fortune during her add.a.lingua visit in January. Dr. Fortune, author of Struggling Learners and Language Immersion Education: Research-Based, Practitioner-Informed Responses to Educators’ Top Questions, provides three guidelines for immersion stakeholders to consider as they work to support struggling learners:
- evaluate and intervene early
- keep interventions in the language of instruction (immersion language)
- don’t assume that pulling the child out of the immersion context for support is the best
We’d encourage you to view Dr. Fortune’s response to a question about interventions for struggling learners in early-total immersion contexts for students whose home language is English below.
Dr. Fortune also noted that, “It is important to point out that there may be individual cases in which the family in collaboration with educators at the school may come to the decision that this program is not the best fit for a child. No program works in all cases for everyone.”
Interested in reading more case studies and fascinating research on the topic of struggling learners in immersion contexts? add.a.lingua recommends these two books:
- Struggling Learners and Language Immersion Education: Research-Based, Practitioner-Informed Responses to Educators’ Top Questions by Tara Fortune with Mandy Menke
- Dual Language Development & Disorders: A Handbook on bilingualism & Second Language Learning, 2nd edition by Johanne Paradis, Fred Genesee & Martha B. Crago.