Friday, December 7, 2007

Hot topic: language immersion

A visitor has requested that I add an immersion discussion topic. Here tis...


  1. why are immersion programs so hot among white families these days (i focus on white families because i think it's obvious why the native speakers would be drawn to them)? i totally subscribe to the notion that exposure to a foreign language is beneficial to young brains, but why immersion? for parents who want their kids to be fluent, what do you plan to do after elementary school? because i seriously doubt that a language will stick if the child doesn't continue with it at least through middle school (i'm no expert but i personally know people who were born and lived in a foreign country until they were 9-10 and almost completely lost the language, which wasn't spoken at home, when they moved here). if immersion is so progressive and cutting edge, then why aren't private schools doing it?

  2. i am attracted to immersion mainly for stragetic reasons. one of my fears about public school is that it won't be challenging enough for my child (i see him being bright, bored and ignored). i think immersion will add a layer of difficulty that will keep him engaged. also, it is my understanding that the immersion programs are subject to less district oversight than GE programs so teachers have a little more freedom to tailor their lesson plan to the individual kids.

  3. Our interest in immersion programs has less to do with learning a language than experiencing other cultures. We believe that immersion programs are great ways to interact and work with kids and parents that our family would not otherwise meet.

    Now one might argue that we could simply go to a Latino-dominated school and get the same thing. However, the immersion program aspect of the school seems to draw families that are committed and invested in their children's education - families either culture.

    Maybe this is a false assumption, but it is our attraction to immersion. I agree that the language skills will disappear quickly after 5th grade if the program is not continued. So in the long term, the value is broadening our lives to include another culture.

  4. a couple of private schools do do it: French-American and Chinese-American in particular. And many private schools teach 2nd languages just in that language for an hour or so a day / "immersion"-style.

    My understanding is that studies show that exposure to second languages at a young age is very helpful to brain development. Because the types of immersion programs that we have here are so new, I don't think that we have comprehensive and conclusive data yet on what exactly the difference is in later years.

    In my mind, a worry is that a lot of the Spanish Immersion schools in particular (as opposed to say AFY) are also schools that tend to have lower parent involvement and arts enrichment. I guess that Alvarado would be an exception to that, but how many of us can get admitted to Alvarado? Meanwhile, historically low performing schools are leveraging low-income and often low-supporting communities to enrich the English-speakers with Spanish speaking classmates. But are the ELL kids being benefited from this? There are so many open question in my mind. Maybe the immersion advocates can fill in the blanks.

  5. to the parent interested in challenging their bright kid: but will immersion alone do that? I mean, will learning to read be any more challenging simply because the phonetics are explained in Spanish? I am not so sure about that.

    I'm actually worried that the lessons will be LESS challenging because they need to be taught with such simple language and hand gestures. How do you get across complex mathematical concepts with hand signals?

  6. That's a good point about the complexity of instruction. As a former middle school science teacher, it was critical for the kids to understand subtleties in language to understand science concepts.

    But maybe its different in elementary school?

  7. i like the cultural aspect too but i i fear the reality might be different from what we want. when we visited the starr king table at the sfusd fair, there was a group of chinese mothers there (i couldn't tell if they were starr king parents or prospect parents) and all they did was talk to one another in chinese and they completely ignored us. it made me question whether an immersion program (especially a chinese one) is for us.

  8. A helpful summary:

    Two-way immersion is an enrichment model for both language majority and language minority students. Two-way immersion programs provide instruction to language minority and language majority students in both English and a foreign language. The goal of two-way Immersion programs is for language minority students to acquire proficiency in English while maintaining and increasing proficiency in their primary language. In addition, English-only students gain proficiency in a second language while maintaining high levels of academic achievement in English.

    Two-way immersion programs are not traditional bilingual programs. In traditional bilingual educational programs language minority students are given an educational ‘boost’ by using their primary language to support the transition into English for one to three years. This results in the loss of the primary language and is a deficit or remedial model of instruction.

    Two-way immersion programs are a proven better method of addressing the issues facing educating language minority students in California today. They not only provide an effective model of instruction for English learners, where students achieve at or above academic achievement levels of their language peers, but they also increase the number of English speaking students proficient in a foreign language. Additional benefits of two-way programs include appreciation of people from different cultures and increased parent involvement. As our educational system strives to educate all students to high standards, two-way immersion programs offer great promise for the future.

  9. We are a Spanish immersion family that is planning to continue with it in middle school at James Lick. I do think that keeping that up through 8th grade, followed by heritage language courses and AP at the high schools, and hopefully continued language exposure through travel and exchanges in college, will solidify the skills.

    Even if a family cannot keep it up, I figure the more we get those language synapses firing at an early age, the better. Plus having access to language also gives a window to the cultures that speak it. Most European countries teach multiple languages from an early age as a matter of course; we are behind the curve there.

    Yes, the language instruction has added an additional (good) challenge in elementary school. The parents across both cultures seem to be highly committed to the project. It is my sense this is true in all the immersion schools, not only Alvarado.

    Native English speakers, your kids will do fine in these programs, including in English language arts. The Spanish will be a wonderful bonus for you. The data for ELLs has been good so far, especially for kids who follow the program through 8th grade, but more research needs to be done. As has been mentioned on other threads here, the ELL parents have a high stake in their kids learning English well, higher than the stake of the native English speakers in their kids learning Spanish, so it is very important to study this. On the Flynn thread, Cate mentioned the immersion yahoo listerv group, which addresses these issues among others.

    Math in two languages has not been a problem in the early grades. The kids' language skills are sufficient from the beginning to be able to grasp addition (dos mas dos son cuatro and also two plus two equals four) and subtraction (ocho menos dos son seis and also eight minus two equals six) and so forth. Numeric symbols are largely shared in English and Spanish, with the exception of the comma and the decimal point signifying place.

    Not sure how any of this works in Chinese where the written systems are different, but I'd guess the kids young minds do fine. In all of these programs I'm sure it also helps that math manipultives like blocks or beans (esp for the early grades) are totally cross-linguistic. By the upper grades, there is more instruction in English.

  10. I love the idea of immersion- I would love my child to be bilingual and biliterate.
    I wonder how much my child will appreciate the experience. I think kindergarten is a major transition/adjustment and I wonder how stressful it would be to be in an environment where the teacher cannot speak to you or comfort you in english. I did not find the schools had any additional support to aid that transition.
    Love the idea of Mandarin but was concerned when you get to the upper grades and a very small percent of your classmates are performing at grade level (look at the scores of the gen ed at these schools)and observe the classrooms.) I agree with the principals (that it is important to integrate the classes but when 10 or more kids may be a full grade behind how happy will I be the the academics. It seems like there is a price to pay in other areas when you take immersion at a low performing school.

  11. I love the idea of immersion- I would love my child to be bilingual and biliterate.
    I wonder how much my child will appreciate the experience. I think kindergarten is a major transition/adjustment and I wonder how stressful it would be to be in an environment where the teacher cannot speak to you or comfort you in english. I did not find the schools had any additional support to aid that transition.
    Love the idea of Mandarin but was concerned when you get to the upper grades and a very small percent of your classmates are performing at grade level (look at the scores of the gen ed at these schools)and observe the classrooms.) I agree with the principals (that it is important to integrate the classes but when 10 or more kids may be a full grade behind how happy will I be the the academics. It seems like there is a price to pay in other areas when you take immersion at a low performing school.

  12. I'll chime in here...

    First, when I started this whole school search process, I was completely thinking either private school or GenEd at one of the top SF schools (Clarendon, Clarendon, Ca. But I'm now pro-immersion and GenEd programs are sinking lower down the list.

    1. It is much, much easier for kids to pick up a second language at a young age. And the more languages they learn when they are young, the easier it will be for them to pick up subsequent languages later. Start now!

    2. I think it's going to be increasingly important for our kids to see themselves as global citizens. The world is getting smaller and smaller. I want my kids to know a second language - to appreciate other cultures and peoples, and be able to communicate with them in their native tongues.

    3. Studies show that immersion learners exhibit greater nonverbal problem-solving skills and flexible thinking (their brains work in new ways). I've heard this anecdotally from friends who speak several languages.

    4. On a very practical level, there will be wider educational and professional opportunities open to them.

    5. Their English skills may lag behind for the first few years, but eventually they will catch up and probably surpass single-language learners (This was a big hurdle for me. I was initially afraid they would not learn English)

    Now, I know this is a big commitment because I will insist that my kid continue the language through high-school. This may mean private school for junior high and high school, but we were prepared to do this anyway (depends where SFUSD is in 6 years.) We'll also need to make sure the English writing/reading is keeping pace too, but I'm ready to take on whatever challenges it brings. I also see us traveling to the country on an annual basis(Mexico or China), to reinforce their learning.

    So, yes, it is a big commitment but I really see it is a great opportunity for our kids, and the longer we wait to get them hearing another language the harder it will be for them to pick-up.

  13. i agree that immersion is no guarantee of a "better" education than non-immersion, but with a 4-year old who can already read, write and do math, at least i know he will be learning something new.

  14. to the prospective parent who wrote about fears that cultural mixing will not happen, yes, it is hard work! most of us humans have a hard time leaving our zone of comfort. that is why i think immersions programs are one good way to help us do that. your kids will learn to do this. parents will too, through shared volunteering, pta committee work, seeing each other in the classroom and chaperoing on field trips, and at events. yes, there will be moments of difficulty. there *always* is in cross-cultural work. still, what a great thing for all of us, especially our kids, to learn how to do. ultimately, we all want our kids to thrive and that is a great common ground to start on.

    --current immersion parent

  15. I have a girlfriend (asian american) who had her daughter in a chinese immersion program and try as she might, the chinese parents didn't seem interested in including her non-chinese family in their circle. She said that it was mostly the white parents who volunteered and participated in school activities. Her daughter did fine because kisd are just more open that way. Has anyone else had this experience?

  16. i come at this from the other side: why *wouldn't* someone want their kid to learn everything they would have learned anyway, plus another language, plus open an as-of-yet little-understood door in their mind that could lead to a wonderful breadth of cognition later on?

    that said, i do believe that immersion is not for every kid or family. having lived abroad twice, i can say that it is exhausting to be unable to speak the local language; you have to be able to deal with not being a fully functioning human being for a while. you have to have a certain kind of stamina for this. then again, this is mostly an adult fear; kids are still in language acquisition mode at kinder age. they don't seem to react the same to this process as adults do. words are words.

    my daughter is bilingual in french because her father is french-speaking. the way this typically plays out in a family in which the parents speak english with each other and you are in a mostly english-speaking society is that the kid has complete french (or other) comprehension and responds in english with a smattering of french and franglish thrown in. just last night when we were decorating the tree with fruit-shaped lights--don't blame me!--she said, "mama, hand me the ananas!" for pineapple--even though i'm the english-speaking parent. in her childcare coop, maybe half the kids were multilingual or bilingual. i would say in only one case did it slow down the kid's vocabulary acquisition, and that kid was somehow learning four languages at once! (the bilingual kids seemed to all be ahead of most of the monolingual kids verbally -- go figure.)

    my husband and his sister are a good case in point. they are americans who went to live in france at ages 2 and 4. my husband remembers his first week in french school, being thrown in with absolutely no french to the local rural school in normandy. he says there were a few days of terror and then--wham!--instant comprehension and fluency shortly thereafter. no trauma and no real impact. anecdotally, as far as how the early bilingualism affected their learning...well, it's interesting. true bilingualism is rarer than people think. if you go somewhere too late, you may achieve fluency but not the language or cultural awareness of a native speaker. they did and do have this, because they were so young and they spoke franglish at home. my husband studied german and learned to speak spanish quite well pretty easily, and he's not gifted at languages (to his mind). his sister, who is gifted linguistically, speaks near-native spanish and some obscure african dialect from her time in the peace corps; she is an amazing linguist and a public health statistician (are her math/statistics skills related in some way to her early language acquisition? maybe...) one neat thing i've noticed is that my husband seems to pick up vocabulary as an adult more like a child does in english or any language--more organically. whereas i feel kind of fully baked (and tired...and, well, you get the idea).

    i think that when that mysterious mind-door opens, it never really closes, even if you leave an immersive environment.

    i also think that although you may have the chance to study a language at some later point in life, never again may you get the opportunity to achieve cultural fluency, a native accent, and all the other nuances of a language/culture that children pick up differently than adults.

    so that's our little family story. needless to say, we love immersion. it's a gift. i plan on taking spanish so my daughter can insult my accent in two foreign languages ;- ) .

  17. Great/funny comments, Kim. Thanks! To the point by another poster about there being a "price to pay." Believe me: I'm grappling with this issue everyday right now as I try to figure out whether to list Mandarin Immersion programs and where (given the odds of getting in) I should rank it. "Do we want this? How much do we REALLY want this?" I don't have the answer (yet) and rumors that Asian families are not accepting of White families are cause for further concern... beyond the fears that my kids will be unhappy and under-enriched. So, pro-immersion yes! but do I have the guts for certain schools, I'm being honest here when i say "i'm not sure yet."

  18. I guess I would say to the gung-ho immersion folks: what makes you think that immersion is the ONLY way to learn a foreign language? Per the very first poster, a child can learn a language, then the CHILD can choose not to continue it, and the language is gone. I know one person who told me that his parents forced him into an immersion K-5 (can't remember what language but I'll ask him) and he couldn't wait to leave it and go to a gen ed junior high.

    And to Cate's point about continuing in high school, I think that by the time that a child is in 7th grade or so, you can't force them to take any class. I remember when I quit French in 7th grade, my parents were mad and my guidance counselor was livid. I had quit both French and violin the same fall, as well as rejected acceptance in an accelerated math class (I just wanted to be a normal kid and have friends). My guidance counselor actually told me that I would never amount to anything in life as a quitter! Almost 30 years later, with 2 ivy league degrees (and 2 foreign languages) under my belt, I know he was wrong. But the point is: it's a bit optimistic to assume you can convince a junior high or high school student to keep anything up, even if it is something that seems so logical and wonderful like a coveted foreign language!

    With that in mind, we are looking for the best _academic_ program, whether immersion or otherwise. I don't want to settle for a less-than-stellar academic program simply for the sake of it being taught in a foreign language. Are there studies showing that the level of academics is just as high, or higher, at the emerging immersion schools? I know, a very loaded inquiry, it seems.

  19. No, you can't force it, and immersion is not for every family. I still think six years of exposure is in most cases a good thing for the brain and for socialization no matter what happens in middle school (and at least then you have provided the option!), but again, it may not be the best fit for you.

    The question about "emerging" immersion schools is interesting. I am certain that if a school attracts more middle class families, which immersion tends to do, then the test scores will rise. Hopefully this is not only the demographics of those kids doing better, but also the greater resources and an improved academic milieu and set of expectations so that *everyone* is improving. It's a real question, and there is conversation going on in the immersion education community about sub-group scores and if the ELLs are doing okay in that system. Generally, it seems the middle class kids do very well no matter what, at least in terms of test scores.

    However, it may mean having the "guts" as Cate put it to be a pioneer in the early classes, before there is a larger mix of middle class kids. My sense is this may mean spending more time there, being present and attentive and to digging on providing those resources through a nascent PTA. Again, maybe not for everyone. There was a time, though, when Alvarado and also General Ed Miraloma both had much lower test scores. Some had to be the pioneers and kudos to them.

  20. something one of the anons said piqued my interest: that their family is looking for the "best academic program." this statement made me realize something kind of shocking.

    we are not.

    okay, sure, we want our kid to learn basic and beyond-basic skills. we want her to be challenged. but the entire process of touring schools has shifted our focus in so many ways. one of these is that it is deprioritized what i now regard as an erroneous emphasis on academic rigor (whatever that really is). call me a bad parent. call me postmodern. call me nuts. call me a bourgeois who takes education for granted. the thing is this: that elusive thing that makes any institution the right place for an individual to spend a huge chunk of her life has got to have something going for it beyond just academics. it's got to have that special something that will help a kid trust herself/learn to be a content person/feel like she belongs to something. it's hard to explain without sounding hopelessly new-agey--i have started to know it when i see it, that's all.

    IMHO, some of the best-regarded schools lacked that quality. as in, LACKED IT. the absence of that quality is what makes me hear about the impressive accomplishments of lowell high students and then almost instantaneously think, that place scares the crap out of me.

    for us, immersion in a non-dominant language and culture feels like that special something. it is really not an academic issue at all. it's experiential. i guess my husband and i have had positive formative experiences in language and culture immersion. we are guessing it will help our children feel complete as well.

  21. right on, Kim, right on!

  22. I guess it depends on your priorities and where you think that your children would be "at home," Kim. I think that my children would be incredibly unhappy in a non-rigorous academic program, where the children were not focused on learning. They really love learning. I know that it would make them miserable to be in a place where children around them were disruptive, where the focus wasn't on the joy of learning. I don't want them to be in playground all day, even if the playground is in a different language. Thus I can't imagine not prioritizing academics. I don't mean this in a condescending or judgmental way. It could be a cultural thing. Every family is different, I suppose. (And FWIW, it's one reason that AFY is on the top of my list.)

  23. Immersion is not the only way to learn a second language, it's the BEST way. Our target language of choice is Chinese. Our daughter will grow up and become her own person, make her own choices. Yes of course we want her to be fluent both in English and Chinese (and any other language she might want to learn -- be it Spanish, Japanese, C++, Java, whatever!). But right now, we only want to give her a CHOICE to be fluent later on in life, and make that choice less difficult. That's all. And we think she might want that because she is half Chinese.

    And, the notions of global citizenship, being able to relate and function within another culture besides American, all of that is what we strive to achieve ourselves and want for our daughter.

  24. Wow! Great discussion. I have to admit that AFY is still on the top of my list too. Strong academics is critical to me, and I want a school where families share this value. My chief concern, as expressed earlier, with Flynn and the MI schools, is that the overall tenor of the school will not be rigorous enough. What I saw at AFY is not high-pressured kids with too much homework. Rather, I saw kids that were engaged, learning and having fun in a very constructive environment. It is an exceptional school and kids end up learning 2 languages (Cantonese and intro Mandarin). The place simply blew me away. But let's face it: AFY is very over-subscribed. We have to explore other options and consider the ways we, as parents, can supplement where the school might fall short. There are trade-offs to all of these schools. Through the process, we're all hopefully figuring out our priorities. It's true my kids could rebel in middle or high school and refuse to continue studying the language, but I still think it will instill values and skills that will serve them throughout their life.

  25. We are in the same boat Kim is. When I first started this process, I had a vision of an educational community that had lots of experts on learning and teaching, committed parents, plenty of resources, and inherently had strong academics (in a broad sense). In some ways, Clarendon embodies that vision.

    But by the time I visited Clarendon (my 8th tour), I found that it was lacking "the thing". It was a great school, an amazing school, but did it have "the thing" I was looking for? Not really.

    "The thing" has something to do with providing a challenging, creative, curriculum in a diverse community. The challenges in the school should not just be in the classroom, but should come from being part of the school. The school as a whole should be full of people committed to wrestling with questions like 'what is the best way to help kids learn?', 'what is most important to learn?', 'how do we make learning experiences as inclusive as possible?', and 'how do we take advantage of variety and diversity rather than "tolerate" it?'.

    Clarendon doesn't seem to be wrestling with much (I'm not knocking Clarendon specifically; I'm just using it as an example). However, schools that are taking on the challenge of immersion programs are inherently wrestling with some serious questions. For me, an immersion school is more likely to have "the thing" that I am looking for.

    Of course, wrestling with these questions still takes able and creative teachers, committed parents, and a talented principal who can guide the ship. Immersion programs do not necessarily have these characteristics, but it does say something that these teachers are willing to take on this challenge.

    Where does that leave us? Our goal is to find a school wrestling with these issues whether it is immersion or not. We've got some candidates, which include the Flynn immersion program. But it will be really difficult to parse out where the GE schools go in relation to the immersion schools.

    Good luck to all in this quest!

  26. A lot of people quote "learning a 2nd language helps in brain development". Where is this coming from - what we read on a blog that 'someone said'? Yes there might be some studies that show kids who learn another language score higher or are better in a certain measurement but that does not prove causality. The families who choose to teach their kids a 2nd language may be inherently different in other ways ie. there are many uncontrolled variables in a such a study.

  27. I am really excited about immersion programs. I am Chinese, but not fluent in Mandarin and my husband is Caucasion. I think we are lucky to be able to give our kids the opportunity to become bilingual when really it seems this may be the only time in life for it to be successfully accomplished. I was one of those kids that lost the language after I started elementary school. But I do retain enough to get by and understand and speak some basic conversation. I feel this extra language -though not complete- enriches my life and I still have the door open to become fluent if I did choose to live abroad for a few months. I rebelled against my weekly Sunday morning Chinese school and finally forced my parents to allow me to quit it when I reached high school. I feel bad about this now as an adult and value the language skills I have left. I'm glad to be able to connect with people that I wouldn't otherwise be able to. I also value the basic Spanish that I know having studied it as a subject in school for 12 years for the same reason. I just think having an extra language in your brain, aside from the practical opportunities it opens up, makes your life richer and opens up windows into worlds to which you would not normally have access.

    Though solid academics is important I think the opportunity to become fluent in another language is something that is very difficult to pass up when there is such a small window of opportunity to do it. Even if your kids rebel against the language program in middle school or high school, they will probably thank you for it later in adulthood and will still get some benefit from it.

    We visited Starr King and really loved the feel of the school. I admit when comparing the test scores to some other schools, it gives me a little pause. But it seemed another poster was referring to "disruptive" behavior that might distract more academic kids from learning and I did not see anything like that. And the school overall felt very warm. All the kids and teachers seemed to be actively into the lesson plans. I'm disappointed to hear there may be some division between the Asian parents and non-asian parents in the Mandarin program. Maybe it is a language barrier? As far as the volunteering maybe there is an economic reason for it?

  28. For the poster curious about the studies:

  29. I have started to realize also that I am shying away from schools that are described as academically rigorous which is surprising because I was always into getting good grades. But when I look back on it, I wish I had focused more energy on just learning for its own sake and understanding the reasons behind why I was learning the things I was learning - why it is important to the world and society. I don't feel that I had as much curiosity as I should have when I actually arrived at college because I was focused too much on just learning things for the tests to get good grades. And also I was burnt out. I never liked school and didn't have much social life. So when I got to college I was a little too preoccupied with the social aspect of it. Not that I think my academic career was a total failure, but it probably wasn't as rich as it should have been. Probably a lot of this was my own personality. But I think I want to steer away from this type of attitude for my kids. I think what I want is to find a school that will offer a solid academic curriculum and have good teachers that connect with the students. But I don't want there to be too much pressure to excel academically. I am hoping the kids will excel just because they are so interested in learning and happy in their school. Am I being too idealistic? Will this strategy hinder them from reaching their full potential? Ug. I don't know anymore.

  30. Ack! Sorry, the URL did not paste properly. Go to:

    Click on "Resources" tab
    Select "What the studies show"

  31. I went to public school. I think that an anti-intellectual climate is harmful to learning. I think that subjecting children to teasing because they are smart or want to succeed is harmful to self esteem.

    I happened to be confident enough, but barely (still scarred) to survive this type of teasing, isolating and outright ostrosizing - the mean names, the cruelty, the peer pressure to conform.

    For me, strong academics enables the kids to want to achieve to achieve. And the kids that don't, well ... they'll do their own thing no matter where they are. Hopefully far, far away.

    I wonder how our own academic scars or happy experiences shape the choices we make for our children, who actually might be very, very different from us.

  32. I find these discussions so interesting. In reading your discussion about finding the right place for your kids I realized something that hadn't occured to me. My son really could have fit well in a few totally different scenarios. Realizing that right now (since Miles is presently in Kindergarten) makes me want to soothe you all in this process: there is no exact right choice because the choices can be right for different reasons. With very few exceptions I believe your child will do well in any of the schools you like, and probably even several of the ones you don't!

    My fantasy of the way a school looks is like Synergy, where I can picture Miles learning earthy crunchy values, thinking outside the box, hatching elaborate cross-disciplinary project ideas with his cool, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, coming-from-every-possible-family-make-up friends. And honestly it was hard for me to let go of what was really MY fantasy of what school looks like. Miles would have done great in one of my fantasy schools. But we went with immersion for other reasons trusting that the immersion thing would be really good for him in his brain and in his life. Throw in that for my International Relations degree I concentrated on Latin America and the fact that my mother-in-law is Colombian and it seemed immersion made sense for us on different levels. And then choosing Flynn for still other reasons: the proximity to our house, and really liking the idea of being a part of something on the rise, making a difference.

    The schools on your list will be the ones you like, probably all for different reasons, and they will all be good choices for your child. I guess just be mindful of where your OWN fantasy is getting in the way.

  33. To clear up a few conceptions:

    Non-English-speaking families aren't always attracted to immersion programs. Many want immersion in English and are worried that their kids will fall behind otherwise, regardless of the fact that their kids will lose their first language.

    I don't believe that not studying a second language in elementary school will leave children retarded for life. From what I've read the biggest benefit is in accent, and other areas like grammar show little difference.

    Asian families seem friendly enough to me, although 2-way immersion will mean that some parents don't speak English. PTA's and so on have to work continuously to translate newsletters, etc., and there isn't a strong policy for providing translations.

    Parents who don't speak the immersion language should plan on learning at least the basics. Parental involvement still counts. Likewise PTA, etc. volunteer hours will benefit from language skills.

    Kids will probably retain their language better in a school context, discussing academic subjects, vs. "Mommy I pooped" heritage learning.

    Immersion language assessments aren't systematic, and some kids slide by. You'll get English API scores, but not for the immersion language.

    Kids in 2-way immersion will be at different levels most of the time, and yes, sometimes they will get bored.

  34. We are looking at language immersion as a way of preserving our own family's"cultural" and "generational" heritage. Our child's grandparent and great grandparent both speak another language almost exclusively (along with many aunts, uncles, cousins who live outside the USA). My spouse has been speaking both English and the other language to our child since birth, so there's already some ability for the different generations to communicate, and it means so much to them. We are hoping to expand on that in an immersion program. We are thinking of immersion as a "very nice to have", but we're not going to kill ourselves if it doesn't work out. If we lived in most other public school districts in the USA, including some of those suburban districts considered to be the very best, we'd still be unlikely to find so many immersion options. Thus, we are grateful to have the chance to enroll in such programs, but we're not going to "hold it against" SFUSD if we don't get into an immersion program.

  35. i can see there is a new partisanship emerging between the pro-academic-rigor folks and the less-pro-academic-rigor folks (let's call them the pro-well-rounded folks). it is not surprising that this is growing out of the immersion discussion, because there is such a widespread misconception that (a) kids learn a second language at the expense of something else; and (b) immersion schools cannot provide academic rigor because of various factors.

    the notion has also been raised--albeit very politely-- that some kids "love" learning more than others do.

    i have to respectfully disagree.

    all kids will want to learn if the ingredients are in the recipe (i.e., if they are supported at home, if they've had breakfast that day, etc.).

    too, there must be different types of learners, right?

    i'm afraid the perception is growing that immersion programs--let's just say it, SPANISH ones--are loosey-goosey. so not! (fyi, i saw loosey-goosey yesterday and it's called creative arts charter somethingorother--okay, okay, it was a very warm and sweet place with lots of cool factor, but it reminded me of my daughter's childcare coop--with 8th graders thrown in. not for us.).

    but i digress.

    i was stunned at the comment that suggested there is an anti-intellectual underpinning to the pro-immersion argument, and in public schools generally. i have not seen that to be the case at all. there is, however, a desire on the part of many pro-immersion parents for (1) well-roundedness in the individual; (2) the child to have a sense of their place in the larger world (not just [insert city/state/country here]); (3) the child to associate with people from different backgrounds, even if those people are not currently achieving at the same high level; (4) a life-enhancing experience that cannot be replicated at a later age.

    my personal belief is that kids who "love learning"--budding intellectuals? future GATE-d community members?--need to be protected from themselves a little. this is not to say smart kids are dorks, or that we should want our kids in schools where smart kids are regarded as dorks. just that what good is academic brilliance if it comes at the price of balance? of not developing empathy? of being a stress case with suicidal, perfectionistic tendencies by the time you're 12?

    there is a growing body of knowledge on this subject that suggests that nurturing a growth-mindset as opposed to a you're-great-see-what-you've-accomplished mindset actually creates a vaster receptacle for knowledge acquisition later on (see below).

    my own daughter is a case in point. contrary to the impression i may have given, she, too, "loves learning." or, as i would call it, loves to be good at things. i do not think it is good for her for us to encourage the idea that achievement is everything. i do not think it will help her in the long run. i think hungry learners need balance and a broader exposure to life experiences to diversify the sources of their self-esteem. these genius kids? one failure and they're basket cases! and make no mistake: they WILL fail at something. everyone does eventually. clarendon, AFY, burke's or harvard--i don't care what you think you're buying there, but it ain't an antidote for failing.

    have any of you read "the inverse power of praise" by po bronson? there's a growing body of knowledge that emphasizing inborn talent/smarts/results over hard work and effort is the dark path.

    check it out:

    there's also a blog on the subject that i haven't checked out thoroughly yet:

    anyway, just some food for thought. as a partially reformed perfectionist and competition junkie who spent my whole childhood worrying incessantly in spite of the fact that my parents were clued in, salt-of-the-earth and didn't pressure us at all, i can testify that there is much more to life than academic achievement. that is just one small piece of the pie. if a kid's in a program that doesn't challenge her every second of every day in the (very narrowly) defined category of academics and wants more, she can get her butt over to the library and read.

  36. Kim, I think you misunderstand a couple remarks. First, the anti-intellectual comments were not directed at immersion generally. See AFY. They were directed more at your comment. Second, a school can be pro-intellectual and not be pro-grades a la Po Bronson's hugely cited (overcited IMHO) article. (What will be the big trend next year?) The issue is a cultural feel at a school. And certainly ANY SF public school will be "well rounded." What shape you like it is up to you.

  37. Here's another question about language immersion: it seems like teaching in a language immersion school is a very specialized skill. How does the district find enough exceptional teachers? Is there ever an immersion teacher shortage?

    How about finding teachers as the programs continue from the new K-5 programs into the middle school support which will be needed? I would appreciate insight into that.

    And finally, to those parents who did not choose language immersion, why not?

  38. i can see there is a new partisanship emerging between the pro-academic-rigor folks and the less-pro-academic-rigor folks (let's call them the pro-well-rounded folks)

    How 'bout let's not. That's an inverse version of anti-abortionists calling those who favor choice "pro-abortionists." Well-roundedness and academic rigor are not mutually exclusive...

  39. I think Po Bronson has too much time on his hands.

    "Thomas was dividing the world into two—things he was naturally good at and things he wasn’t."

    Yo, don't we all do that quite naturally?

    "Some things came very quickly to him, but when they didn’t, he gave up almost immediately."

    Not like that guy over there on the dance floor.

    "Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test."

    Sounds pretty intelligent to me. Pass test; get praised for intelligence. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    The best quote of all comes from a commenter:

    "You must have worked really hard on this article."

  40. I'm honestly having a hard time following the Po Bronson jabs, but will try again later to digest. ;-) In the meantime, I want to second the call to end the "partisanship" idea. we all want what's best for our kids and we're all nearly going to the ends of the earth (i hate to think how much time I've devoted to the school search at this point) to figure it out. there is a wide and wavy continuum of "academic rigor" out there, with many pluses and minuses to all these schools. overlay that with the unique qualities of each of our kids and we're bound to disagree on what is "right" - not only for our kids, but also for our families, our world-views, etc. I, for one, am enjoying all of your comments and I think it's helping me clarify my choices (the 1/7 deadline is looming). I'm caught somewhere between AFY, LF and SK. Yikes! Now... to the question about how the district finds good teachers. I asked the principal at Starr King how he finds Mandarin teachers since SK needs to add a Mandarin teacher each year for the next 4 years. He says he gets hundreds of resumes; it has not been a problem at all gathering a good applicant pool. His challenge is finding teachers who have the ability not only to teach Mandarin but to teach/nurture children. (He gets plenty of PhDs from the University in Beijing, but...) The Mandarin Kindergarten teacher at Jose Ortega used to teach Cantonese at West Portal, and I was really impressed with the Mandarin K teachers I saw at SK. True, it is harder to find Mandarin teachers in SF than Cantonese teachers, just as it's harder to populate these supposedly dual-immersion programs with Mandarin speaking kids. I can't address how they find teachers for the immersion programs in the upper grades, but there is a new Asst. Superintendent in charge of the programs and there a bunch of "task forces" out there (can't name them) that work on these issues. Join the PPS Immersion listserv if you want details.

  41. cate, I'm pretty sure that the deadline is 1/11, not 1/7 - I sure hope so because I need those extra 4 days!

  42. Can anyone speak to the homework challenge faced by kids who speak only English at home and attend an immersion program? I'm not interested in micromanaging my kids' homework, but realistically, I know that they will sometimes need a little help. Since I don't speak the language they would be learning, and I honestly don't have time to take classes on my own, I'll need to help them find assistance from someone else. What do parents do?

  43. This question was posed to the principal at AFY. Her response, "We don't want you to help with homework." Pretty hilarious.... though I see her point a bit.

  44. I can answer the homework thing for kindergarten at Flynn. When the homework is a math packet it comes in the home language of the child. When it requires that they write, the instructions come in both languages and the child has a choice whether he does it in English or Spanish. (Or even one page in English and the next in Spanish.)

    An example is "What does your family like to do?" and asks the kids to write a response and draw a picture. Remember this is REVIEW so the vocabulary words are ones they are working on at school. So Miles can write "A mi familia, le gusta...." and then depending on his answer we might have to help him with the Spahish word for "dance" or "eat" or "sing", but as you have the child answer it for you in English it may well be that he knows the word himself for dance or eat or sing (although you need to figure out how to spell it.)

    At Flynn for K and 1st grade the day is 90% SP and 10% ENG, in 2nd and 3rd it's 70/30 and 4th and 5th grades it will be 50/50. So know that the kids will be able to translate anything for you by the
    1st or 2nd grade.

    Also, I think if your child is having trouble with the homework the teacher will tell you, or you will tell the teacher and you'll find assistance.

  45. And do most people find their kindergarteners don't have trouble completing the homework? we have a "young 5" (september baby). i think she'll be ready to go to "big kid" school next year, but i do wonder about keeping her back. not because i want her to be ahead of the pack academically, but i do worry whether kindergarten these days is developmentally appropriate for that age. from what i've gathered, there is some substance to the idea that today's kindergarten is yesterday's first grade. So I worry that asking five-year-olds to act like six-year-olds isn't a great idea. But then again, maybe I'm reading too much into things. Do current parents of K's find their children still get a good deal of unstructured time? And the recess thing -- is it enough running around time? Our daughter gets like a greyhound if she's cooped up too long ...

  46. RE: young K's and homework:
    We also had a young K son (early Sept B-Day). We realized by observing the 2 K classes at his future school and talking with other parents that one class seemed more developmentally appropriate for our son (more hands-on learning, less emphasis on handwriting) and wrote to the principal requesting this class. The principal was happy to assign our son to this class. (BTW other parents, specifically requested the other K class, which they saw as more "academic.") There are often different approaches in K classes at the same school, and it helps if you write and or meet with the principal so that s/he can find an appropriate placement for your child.

  47. specifically in regard to Flynn and McKinley -- do both offer K's that feature hands-on learning, less handwriting, as mentioned by the previous poster? because i too am interested in a kindergarten like that for my son, and while i liked both schools, they both seemed to be pushing early literacy (aka i don't remember seeing many toys,play kitchens, that sort of thing, in the classroom). but maybe it just happened to be ABCs time when I toured. I worry, because our son gets frustrated quite easily, and I dont' want him to get frustrated about school by being asked to do things that he's not developmentally ready for (his preschool director feels he could go either way in terms of heading to kindergarten or waiting another year. not much help.)

    We had my son do a year of pre-K and I am so happy we did. His birthday is Oct 25. Reasons we kept him back: he is/was socially mature and bright, but he is a kid who will wait until he's good and ready before doing something and then do it in a burst. Also with kindergarten having more academics and less playing, and a longer day, I felt there was no rush. Also my birthday is mid-October, my brother's late November and upon a move to a new State we were both held back (for 1st and K respectively), and I believe it made all the difference for us, for different reasons. In any case I am a big supporter of not rushing if there is a question. Consider the future, not just right now. Do you want your kid to be among the youngest 7th graders, HS Sophomores, College freshmen...I was worried about the intense social pressures today too.

    RE HOMEWORK My son whips through the math homework but the ones that require writing, (or worse, drawings! His perfectionism really kicks in if he needs to draw) he drags his feet. I keep thinking how much harder it would be if he were a whole year younger. I don't think Kindergartners get to play nearly enough so I am really glad Miles got his yayas out last year.

    BTW - he went to the pre-K program at Little Bear School on Ocean near Mission (a very quick 8 minutes from North Bernal through the San Jose corridor)and while I thought their regular preschool was a mad house (way too many kids) the pre-K program was excellent with lots of free play, lots of literacy and pre-math stuff and weekly dance, yoga, tumbling and lots of art. Hoestly it was a perfect last year for him before the more rigorous elementary school.

    I have three friends with sons with late summer or Oct. birthdays who entered Kindergarten as young 5s (in different States; one at Alvarado here) and all are now in reading recovery as 1st graders. My opinion is that by age 7 the kids are more developmentally ready to learn to read, and that kindergarten is too soon for most kids. I worry what "falling behind" does to their desire to learn, their interest in school and how they feel about themselves.

  49. kathy, thanks so much for your comment. i'm in the same boat as the last poster, only i have a daughter. what you've said made a lot of sense. so, your son is at Flynn? would you say they do have a more academic approach, as opposed to hands-on learning? i feel like i need to go back for a second tour ... i remember loving what i saw of the teachers, but i don't remember seeing a make-believe play area (for instance, at Commodore Sloat, they had a lot of hands-on learning stuff). i have a spotty memory at times, though. thanks.

  50. Responding to the question of Flynn and if there is much hands on learning. Now I have not been in the classroom for much of the day so I don't know exactly how it unfolds but they are mostly learning the building blocks of math and reading and writing. I wouldn't say there is a lot of free time for kids to play. They get to go to "centers" (or "rincones") every day and each of the classrooms does have a little "playing house" set up, but also there is a block corner (Miles ONLY goes to the block corner unless it's full and he does puzzles instead), also art, library corner. Not sure what else. And I think they get to play with things of their choosing at their tables as well for a chunk of time. They also have PE, music and go to the library once a week. And have had quite a few field trips already. Nothing at all like pre-school however. I remember thinking certain schools offered more of hands-on learning (or the appearance of it anyway) like Miraloma, Harvey Milk, Rooftop. But I am not sure how it breaks down in actuality.

    I think in deciding whether children should do an extra year before kindergarten, you have to figure out what the downside would be. Is it monetary - that one more year of preschool? Is it the grandparents who wouldn't get it? Is it a feeling of shame ("my kid is smart enough - we don't want anyone to think there is something wrong with her!") I just think that readiness is a huge part of whether they'll succeed. Could Miles have gone to kindergarten last year? Sure, and probably done fine, but he is so much better prepared now, more mature, more able to sit still and focus, more able to handle whatever they throw at him academically or socially. And I always want him to be confident enough to stand up to peers who might be doing something they shouldn't, and not go with the mob mentality. (I think for girls this kicks in with sexual pressure as preteens and teens. Girls have to navigate a different set of pressures now. Oh man, this is a whle other subject, but you want them to have such a strong sense of the themsleves that they can stand up for themselves and age helps here. I know of what I speak - I founded an organization that educates about the way media images impact girls and women's self-esteem, and it's all entertwinded. How they feel about themselves, how they let boys treat them, etc.)

    I just happen to have this blurb from Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine sitting on my dresser.

    "Waiting a year to enroll children in 1st grade who otherwise would be among the youngest in their class could boost self-esteem, say researchers at the Univ. of Alberta, Canada. The researchers studied the records of 1,100 students from first grade through ninth in Edmonton. Those who started first garde at a slightly older age than their classmates scored higher on tests that measured self-esteem. This is important, because high self-esteem in chldhood is linked to happiness, learning and success in adulthood."

    When we toured Eureka Learning Center for Pre-K, the teacher really struck me when she said the extra year "is a gift."

  51. Ah, redshirting... The sad truth is that everyone is doing it, so to not do it puts your child at a great disadvantage.

    There is a broader social impact to this phenomenon though in furthering the inequities between rich and poor due to the cost of an extra year of preschool. As quoted in the NYTimes article regarding this subject, "The oldest child in any given class is more likely to be well off and the youngest child is more likely to be poor."

  52. thanks again, kathy. i really appreciate your taking the time to respond in such depth. it's so helpful!

  53. i understand the idea of "redshirting" creating inequities (because of the cost of another year of preschool), but i can also understand why parents hold their kids back. my question is why do the public schools (and private i guess, for that matter, since their cut-off dates are even sooner) continue to push academics so young? yes, some children might be ready for it, but in general it seems developmentally off. is there a movement under foot that i can join to protest that? and yes, i understand the point of thinking in terms of the public good and not just the good of your own child, but at some point i can see putting your child first.

  54. this is somewhat OT, now that the conversation has branched...

    i know i was soundly spanked for my positions earlier in the discussion, but for anyone still (kinda, sorta, mildly) interested in the Fixed vs. Malleable Intelligence school of thought, this is a good place to start (carol dweck is the stanford researcher who is doing this groundbreaking research):

    regardless of whether po bronson's consumer-facing article was any good, this may be the wave of the future in the classroom.

    a friend who is a teacher at university high school tells me this paradigm is getting a lot of attention from educators. she just attended a conference on the subject in boston called "learning and the brain"; they're doing one in SF in the spring. the research is there, and the results are pretty unequivocal in terms of later learning potential.

    i do think this issue is relevant to the question of immersion, at least for native english speakers. it plunges them into a situation in which few are truly gifted, and most improve as a result of time and effort. so it's a natural "teaching moment" as they say.

    also, the redshirting question is probably worthy of an entire post topic or, better yet, a poll, kate! i have a late-september-birthday girl myself. a small girl, and one who isn't much for the physical stuff either. but girlfriend is going because, well, she must.

    my sister and i started 1st grade in california one year early (they let you do that then if you went to a private kindergarten to avoid having to wait a year due to jan/feb birthdays). personally, i don't feel it made a huge difference academically or socially. i do remember turning up at college my first week at 17, jailbait city, out of my depth and just outta braces, taking a look around and thinking, how the hell am i going to get one of these grown-ups to go out with me?

  55. Sorry that this is a bit OT, but since we're talking about red-shirting: what is technically considered young? I have a son w/ an early May birthday. Is he old enough that holding him back a year is not really a consideration? He is doing great developmentally -- talkative, able to stand up for himself, able to focus, good with his numbers and some very basic math concepts, good w/ his letters and the sounds of letters. Any advice for an early May birthday?

  56. Sounds like he is very ready. For privates, he would be on the young side. For publics, he's just fine.

    General speaking, months 1-6 are good, 7-12 are questionable, especially for boys. I'm telling all my friends not to have babies in the second half of the year.

  57. And what about us academics who have to time our babies for June-August?

  58. Kate,

    Yes, please, would love a discussion on REDSHIRTING! I would love to discuss why the privates have such different cutoffs. Seems like there must be a developmentally optimal time for what is expected but the cutoffs are so different.

  59. Redshirting. We were unsure about whether to send a Sept daughter to kindergarten. In the end, we were swayed by our feeling that she was ready, our pediatrician, and our research. Stanford's Dean of the Graduate School of Education Stipek, an expert on kindergarten-readiness, was kind enough to e-mail us back and to say that if the parents believe that the child is academically ready, she recommends kindergarten, not waiting a yr. The second piece of advice we found compelling was in Lise Eliot's "What's Going on In There: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life?". (She is a professor of neuroscience). With the important caveat that every child is different and that some late birthdays do benefit from being held back, her survey of the academic research on the topic suggested that redshirting didn't really benefit the child and could in fact backfire. (Comparing two kids with similar birthdays yielded higher IQs from the younger fifth-grader than the similarly-aged older fourth-grader, for example). A lot of the pop literature out there and teachers' union position papers we found on-line weren't as persuasive to us.

    There are some 5 yr olds who are developmentally not ready for K. The harder questions are the young fives who seem developmentally and physically ready. Asking your pediatrician is also helpful, especially if he/she has known your child for years.

  60. Back to immersion for a moment. Maybe someone is in a similar situation (Kim Green)? We speak primarily Dutch at home and my son is learning English at preschool and from friends. I fear that if we send him to an immersion kindergarten (Spanish), his English would fall behind. Would he be fluent in Dutch and Spanish but not English? Even now his Dutch seems better than his English, although I cannot say for sure since obviously that is what he speaks with me. However, I'd love for him to go to a Spanish immersion program for many reasons mentioned in earlier posts. My husband and I both speak 4-5 languages although we both learned them later than elementary school. Any input would be very much appreciated.

  61. Cloggie, there are several families in this situation at Alvarado. I'm thinking specifically of a Chinese (also Vietnamese) speaking family; several German-Spanish (mixed) language families, and just plain German-speaking families. Based on hearing them talking with the kids, these families seem to be trying to keep up their native languages at home as well as support the Spanish and English learning at school.

    From interacting with them, it seems to me these kids are doing fine in all the languages, including English which predominates on the playground, but if you are really concerned you might make inquiries about it on the pps listserv, the sfschools listserv, or the immersion listserv and see if you can get someone to talk with you personally about it.

  62. cloggie -- i wish i could speak to it, but i am a native english speaker, so we're in a different boat (the one where my husband struggles to keep up their french). your own experience probably speaks for itself; if you absorbed all these languages as an older person, i have no doubt your kids can do the same with minimal short-term impact. it's very exciting for them, i think.

  63. i second kim: it would be very exciting for them. a friend of mine speaks 5+ languages because, in his words, he heard 2 languages in his home from the time he born, and was taught English in his Finnish elementary school from the time he was 6. the subsequent languages (german, italian and a few others) just came easily to him as a result. his "ear" was opened at a young enough age. when i told him we were considering language immersion for our kids, his immediate response was "it's the best gift you could give them." it took me a long time to get over my fears that my kids wouldn't learn english well. but i've heard from many people now that the opposite is true: they may lag behind in english at first but they'll catch up and are likely to even surpass single language learners.

  64. Redshirting. I agree with the people who say we all know our kids the best and consult with your pediatrician if you are not sure.

    My son was born in late May. His pre-school thought we should redshirt him, they said he wasn't ready.

    They were right in that he was a young 5, but I also worried another year of pre-school might bore him.

    We felt he was ready to move on, even if it would be a small challenge for him.

    I talked to our pediatrician who advised us against holding him back. She said he was a bright boy who was just taking a little extra time, and if we held him back now, he might get bored later.

    He was behind the first few months of Kindergarten. His teacher pulled me aside after the first 6 months and said he was coming in to his own and was at grade level (average) He entered first grade, not knowing how to read though.

    By the middle of the 1st grade he accelerated to the point he was reading at an early 3rd grade level, his math was off the charts.

    I looked at his fist grade report card the other day. The first two quarters he was average, last two he was exceeding grade level, except in handwriting.

    Now he's in second grade, he exceeds grade level in all subjects, except handwriting. His teacher sends home extra homework in math regularly.

    He is socially right where his friends are. He is reading at a late 3rd grade level, and comprehends the text (is able to answer questions correctly about what he reads).

    I'm glad I listened to my gut and our pediatrician. I think he would have been bored otherwise.

    I have to challenge him at home because he roars through the homework in minutes. Though the extra math work he gets from school is good, it makes him think harder.

    I also have to push him to write, he hates it, but is at grade level in punctuation and excels in spelling.

    What I've learned is this isn't a static situation, your child can blossom at any time. However, there are real reasons and needs to keep them back a year.

    While I'm glad we made the decision we did, I also know others who faced the same choice, decided not to redshirt as well, but then had to repeat the grade. In the end, we can only do our best research and hope we're doing right by our children!

  65. Thank you above anonymous poster! It's good to hear a story from the other side of the table. It seems to me that most of the stories out there are from parents who are happy with their decision to redshirt their kid, about how it was for the best and everything. It's great to hear from someone who did not redshirt, contrary to some of the advice of some, and that it turned out well also.

  66. Am I the only one concerned by how few of the teachers teaching Spanish immersion are native speakers? I've visited several schools (Flynn, Alvarado, BV, Fairmount) and have heard grammatical mistakes at all of them from Spanish-language teachers.

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