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Immersion schools started for a number of reasons, but predominantly to include native language use in the education of language-minority students. This enabled children from other countries to learn English along with studying in their native language. Immersion integrated native English speakers and native speakers of another language (such as Spanish or French) for most of the day, with the goals of promoting academic achievement, language development and cultural understanding of other students.
Immersion schools keep their populations balanced, they hold around fifty percent native English speakers and fifty percent speakers of a non-English language. The academic instruction is held in both languages, with the non-English language being used from fifty to ninety percent of the time. This way the students can be the learners and the teachers at the same time. The two-way immersion creates a bilingual environment for all students; since the first language (for example English) is maintained while the second language (for example Spanish or French) is acquired.
Schools are set up to promote this bilingual language learning. Teachers are persuaded to use cooperative learning, hands-on material and visual and graphic displays to teach the content material. The schools are required to have classroom materials in both languages, and school wide materials such as library resources and computer software in both languages. They ask for support from families and the community. They make serious efforts to ensure that both languages and cultures are thought of equally, and the families are included in the school decisions.
Schools face some problems with beginning the immersion program. Not many of their teachers had ever experienced this kind of language immersion when they were in school, which makes it difficult to understand how to teach these children. The schools tend to try and create a program for the teachers to attend before coming into their own classroom, but there is only so much a program can prepare that teacher for. Traditional teaching and teaching at immersion schools are dramatically different. In Immersion schools language acquisition is important along with the basic teaching skills. Although teaching the second language is the most crucial part of immersion schools, teaching the basics and making sure that the children understand is still very important.
Teachers at the immersion schools have four specific teacher tasks: to make the input comprehensible, to provide opportunities for language output, to enhance the comprehensibility of readings and to develop a system for providing constructive feedback.
Students acquire language most meaningfully when they also have the opportunity to speak often. Where they are able to produce new forms of sentences and use words they don’t always use. Teachers are often inclined to do most of the talking in the classroom, therefore it is important to focus on allowing students more opportunities to use the language and extending wait time to refrain from immediately supplying students with the answers. This will encourage them to begin to think first in this new language, and secondly in their native language. It takes time to translate thoughts into words that aren’t from your first language. Teachers also must begin enhancing the comprehensibility of readings. Teachers must constantly give the students new vocabulary and help them to make connections between the new vocabulary and concepts
and the old. This allows them to draw on their background knowledge to aid in their comprehension. Teachers use techniques such as story mapping, story grammars and semantic mapping. Taking the time to discuss the title of the book, the year and the place of the publication, the author, the format and other aspects of a work will make the students understand the big picture.
Immersion schools come in many different languages. For example, a Spanish immersion school in Milwaukee has a staff of a Spanish blend of Hispanic backgrounds… Mexican, Nicaraguan, Puerto Rican, Ecuadorian, and Colombian. This enhances mulitculturism. Their curriculum consists of learning reading, language arts, mathematics, science and social studies through Spanish. They begin at the kindergarten level where vocabulary, short sentences, and passive comprehension of Spanish is stressed. The teacher speaks in Spanish while making use of many visual aids and using a great deal of body language. The children may use English when speaking, but they are encouraged to use Spanish vocabulary and expressions that they are comfortable with. They continue into the first grade where they learn to read in Spanish and are expected to make consistent use of the Spanish expressions, vocabulary and structures. Only the special classes of art, music and physical education are taught in English because these specialists to not speak Spanish. When the children begin to read in English in the second grade, the many skills that transfer from learning Spanish enable the students to catch up in English reading and writing within one to two years. But considering English is encouraged at home, usually the students catch on quickly.
In another immersion school, French is the chosen language. The French language was used to teach language arts, mathematics, and science for half the day; English was used to teach the other subjects during the remainder of the day. The students in this program worked actively at learning centers situated around the classroom. The students were offered a number of different learning activities at each center and were free to choose from among the alternatives. The projects chosen by the students were usually hands-on activities (for example building models, preparing blueprints or gathering objects) along with doing library research. This way most of the student’s second language learning was brought on by actual physical activity. The students were encouraged to interact in French by working on projects together or consulting each other as their work progressed. They were expected to make oral and written reports in the second language on the progress of their work. This type of classroom was usually full of activity and students were vocal – chattering away in French. The teachers in these classrooms acted more as consultants and advisors then just standing in front of the classroom talking mostly in French.
This varies greatly from other versions of immersion schools that are more teacher centered. The students in the teacher centered classrooms all worked on the same projects at the same time and in the same way; students were offered less activity based learning and much less individual choice in learning activities. Another difference between classroom oriented teaching and teacher centered classrooms is that the teacher centered program provided a full day of teaching in French, where as the classroom oriented sessions used French for only about forty percent of the entire school day.
Immersion schools are successful in teaching children a second fluent language, whether it be Spanish, French or any other language. The reviews of this kind of language learning has shown that the students perform as well or better then children enrolled in regular public schools in that same neighborhood. Mostly though, immersion schools have shown that language minority students enrolled in this two way immersion programs attain higher levels of academic achievement over the long term than students enrolled in other educations programs within the same district.
There is one common problem with immersion students. The errors in grammar tend to be more abundant then students that learn through the later years in basic instruction in high school. The children that learn in the early years tend to be taught just to speak. They are not corrected on their language skills as often as someone in a high school basic foreign language learning class, but their ability to speak clearly and make full statements without having to translate every single word from their native language English into their foreign language is much more skilled. It has been found that immersion teaching tends to be entirely meaning oriented and does not pay enough attention to the form of the message. Immersion teachers are told that excessive reliance on grammar instruction and error corrections are to be avoided because this slows down the learning process. Immersion schools seem like the best choice in teaching a child a second language if that is the main priority to the parent. Any child will learn a second language later in high school that can either become something they want to continue or something they struggle through. Learning another language when you are younger makes it the most meaningful and is the only way to be fluent in a second language. It becomes more and more difficult to attain a second language as you become older. Immersion schools make learning a second language fun, not a chore for the children. It opens up more doors when that child graduates high school with a fluency in a second language and gives them a new outlook on another culture. It just has to be a choice for the child, not a requirement from the parent.