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intervention guidelines for struggling learners in immersion contexts

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?

Struggling Learners & Language Immersion Educationadd.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:

  1. evaluate and intervene early
  2. keep interventions in the language of instruction (immersion language)
  3. 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:

1 Comment so far

  1. Our family have also experienced difficulties since we moved to Texas this year. My kid started out the year without being able to utter a word of English and was placed in a regular 2nd grade class. Although the school did not have an ESL program to speak of, both of his teachers knew what they were doing. Because I am an English teacher myself, I was able to help too. The language problem is gone in a few months (both in terms of basic interpersonal communication and his academic achievement) but the cultural difference problem lingers on. Interestingly, I find American kids are expected to be obedient at all times and are expected to behave like adults. Well, my kid has been taught, from a very early age on, to question authority and stand up for himself. Little did we know that this would get him into trouble a lot. Point being, perhaps the problem is not the ability to master the language, but to understand and internalise the school culture that gets “foreign kids” in trouble.

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