Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hot topic: SFUSD Immersion

Tonight PPS-SF hosted an event for parents interested in SFUSD's language immersion programs. Did anyone attend? What did you think? Do incoming kindergarten parents have any questions about immersion?


  1. I attended tonight. Compared to a similar meeting last year held at Daniel Webster, I think it was better: more organized. I appreciated the handout which clearly listed the language programs offered in the district. Thanks, especially, to all the parents on the panel this evening!

    Questions I still have:
    1) Are there any 4th and 5th grade parents of Spanish immersion students who can speak to how happy they have been with their program? And do they plan to continue with immersion after 5th grade?
    2) Most everything was in support of immersion programs. Can any current immersion parents tell us what they may have given up by choosing immersion over GE?
    3) I know there is an expected delay with immersion students in terms of keeping up with their peers in GE (at least until a certain point), but do you feel you've given up anything in terms of education in core subjects in order to attend an immersion school to gain the bilingual, biliterate, bicultural education?

  2. "2) Most everything was in support of immersion programs. Can any current immersion parents tell us what they may have given up by choosing immersion over GE?"

    I can give only a partial answer, my kid being in kinder at Alice Fong Yu, but my impression is that there'll be a larger proportion of our evenings given over to homework in the later grades than would be the case for a GE program. That may be idiosyncratic to AFY, so others could give a better picture.

    Parents at e.g. Flynn, Monroe, West Portal or Alvarado where there are parallel GE/immersion programs might be better able to make a comparison of GE and immersion at their schools.

  3. I've told this story elsewhere, but since it's so directly relevant to this thread, I'll risk being boring and repeat here: Last year, a family was told by the Buena Vista kindergarten teacher several weeks into the school year that she could not teach their Anglophone child Spanish. The child does not have learning differences so it was something else. The family left mid-year for another school. The only point being, before you get your heart set on immersion, it's wise to educate yourself about what the indicators might be that immersion will not be a good choice for your kid.

  4. There's a useful FAQ on immersion programs at the Center for Applied Linguistics at - http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/0304fortune.html

  5. "Last year, a family was told by the Buena Vista kindergarten teacher several weeks into the school year that she could not teach their Anglophone child Spanish. The child does not have learning differences so it was something else. The family left mid-year for another school."

    According to the Center for Applied Linguistics' FAQ:

    There are, however, many unanswered questions concerning the suitability of language immersion for children with language-based learning disabilities. Research on this topic is scant. Some researchers and immersion practitioners argue that children whose first language acquisition is seriously delayed or who struggle with auditory discrimination skills may be overtaxed in a language immersion program (see review in Genesee, 1992). Previously identified language-processing challenges should be considered prior to enrolling a child in an immersion program. Still, many children with mild learning disabilities, knowledgeable teachers, and supportive families can and do achieve well in immersion programs and develop proficiency in a second language. Parents and educators need not assume that learning in two languages will overtax these children. In fact, many instructional techniques used in immersion are similar to techniques recommended for struggling learners. Understanding how to make language immersion classrooms more inclusive for a broader spectrum of learners is one of many topics of interest to immersion educators.

  6. Parents with kids in the Spanish Immersion program at Lick Middle School are upset that there are not enough books to go around, that kids are sharing xeroxes, and can't take books home at night to finish the novels they are reading in class.

    Apparently the district is dropping the ball on Spanish Immersion at the middle school level and has refused to buy the books. There is a court order requiring the District to supply one book per student , but they are trying to get around it by saying that Language Arts in the target language is not "core curriculum", so therefore they do not need to buy a classroom set of books.

    They also say that the four novels which make up the curriculum for Spanish Language Arts at Lick are not basic materials but are "supplementary", like dictionaries.

  7. things i feel we have given up by having chosen immersion -

    1. teacher diversity (we are in chinese immersion)
    2. fewer choices of overall school

    for #2, it was weird to have a round 1 and 2 list of what many people would consider less-desireable schools (low test scores, tiny PTAs, fewer bells and whistles, etc.)! it was also very strange to visit miraloma - a school which reminded me of my own elementary school - and instead choose starr king and marshall. it made me realize that my child's experience in immersion will be very different from my experience as a child.

    but our #1 priority was language and we are so happy for the opportunity. we love our school and the teachers we've had.

  8. For non-Chinese speakers in Chinese immersion, you give up a degree of day-to-day involvement in your child's education because frankly you have no idea what's going on in their classroom. It takes a fairly large leap of faith. I would say that parents who don't feel comfortable unless they're very clued in to what's happening in their child's life might find it distressing.
    And when there *are* problems in class, it can take awhile for them to come out, because so few of the parents have a good sense of what's going on.

  9. I would say from our immersion experience so far that the kids are getting an elementary education that is qualitatively very different from what their general ed peers are receiving. They are learning a new language, and metalingustic skills (thinking about language), and learning how to really pay attention to their teacher, and science concepts, and basic English literacy skills. I think they are not getting as much in the way of guidance with social-emotional development, since they only understand and talk with their teachers using simple/limited vocabulary for a few years. They are not getting as much sophisticated academic written and verbal content for the same reason. For children in schools with separate strands they may be slower to make friends who are in the other strands. And for children in Asian language immersion the reading and writing process is REALLY DIFFERENT. No alphabet. No sounding out new words. No guessing how to spell words.

    We landed in immersion round 2 and have a first grader and so far everything is going well. I do think there are things to be cautious of, and just accepting there will be a gap and blindly trusting things will be fine is not a good plan with immersion in any language. Be prepared to monitor your child's academic and social progress and look for a school where there is an open relationship between parents and teachers.

  10. We have a kinder in immersion and I would agree with the comments of the parents above. We were so focused on language when we put our list together. Overall my daughter is doing well and enjoying her class, but I am up and down on the tradeoffs. It's early in the year and perhaps some of the more seasoned immersion parents can let me know if this is a very typical reaction. We are struggling with the 1 hour a day in ELA, studying a district wide curriculum. We feel our daughter's literacy ability has not been properly assessed and she is not being challenged to work appropriate to her potential - in English. In the target language she is soaking it all in and is starting already to try to produce sentences but it is very difficult to express herself in the limited vocabulary she has.

    When we went through the lottery we felt language immersion was a priceless gift to our child - and I still believe that there is no comparison to building fluency or at least high proficiency through 6 years of immersive experience. But there are real trade-offs, would she be advancing in other curricular areas, or developing other social and emotional qualities if she wasn't devoting so much of her brain energy to acquiring language?

    On other days I think maybe I am just suffering from 'the grass is always greener'.

  11. 9:22, this is 8:13. Trade-offs is the word I forgot to include in my post. If immersion parents think there are no trade-offs, I think they have been misled or are in a little bit of denial. I think about the things you wrote also, but for now my kid is happy and at grade level and that is okay for now. We are also trying to supplement some of the things he might be missing--reading at home in English more for example. It has also been helpful for us to share our concerns with our school's principal and teachers. They have been very responsive.

    Life is full of trade-offs I guess.

  12. my daughter is a first-grader at fairmount. FM is becoming an all spanish-immersion school (i.e., the last gen ed classes will graduate out in 2012). our case is interesting because she started as a first grader with no prior spanish. (you're allowed to apply as an EO through first, but that's it.) we were very committed to immersion and it took us two years to get in, so we left our other school after kinder, which we spent at clarendon jbbp. so i suppose that gives us a comparison point, as far as the trade-offs go.

    one thing i've noticed is that there is such a big range in the way the EO kids learn the target language, and such a big range in reading acquisition skills generally (both sp and en kids), that the immersion is almost beside the point, in terms of the learning challenge it represents; there is so much that is individual, that i don't think you can define success in general terms in these programs. for instance, some EO kids in her class are just good at conversation -- they can translate, have adopted latin hand gestures, etc. others understand everything but persist in spotting their language with english. (i suspect the more perfectionistic kids do this.) some say very little. handwriting is all over the place. a few seem to be moving right along in english too.

    here's the miracle of the dual-immersion model: our kid seemed to hunker down for about 5 weeks, feeling a bit resentful that she was a nonstarter because she had no spanish, mourning the loss of her old school slightly, but generally okay. by week 7, she was a full participant (just needs to acquire more vocab). by the time they did the parent-teacher conferences, she was reading and writing AT GRADE LEVEL in spanish. extraordinary! she's not some genius -- it's just that she is well suited for the model (high stamina, not super physical, likes to sit her butt in her seat and learn, already comes from a bilingual home (french), enjoys language and culture).

    i also noticed some interesting things with her english. english reading was just starting to come together for her when she entered the program for first grade (age almost 6). for about two weeks, all her vowels dropped out of her english writing, while she learned the spanish alphabet pronunciation. then they came back! (not completely, but mostly.) and her english reading actually took a big leap after this development. i think she sort of organized the different letter sounds in her mind, and then it was sorted out. now, she reads english to herself at bedtime, and we read to her in english (and french, which she doesn't read at all, or speak that much -- she understands 100%). and that seems to be enough to propel her forward.

    but, as i've said on other threads, the biggest benefit i see from the immersion programs is the natural blend of kids from different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. it's a social benefit that is hard to explain. it's wonderful, and it tests and teaches the kids life lessons they cannot learn any other way. so i think it is vastly superior in terms of social development and diversity of experience, personally.

    as far as academics go, our kid has noted that she finds math easy and repetitive this year. but her kinder teacher was a math major -- perhaps she taught ahead in the everyday math curriculum? in any case, in contrast to some of the other posters about the overall differences, i find everything else about the academics so far to be about the same. but, then, i'm not hugely concerned with academic rigor for elementary kids, so take this with a grain of salt. i think social skills and cognitive adaptability are more important.

  13. I think that in this district Spanish dual immersion and Chinese immersion (often one-way, even if the label is dual) programs are very different experiences.

    I think there may be more trade-offs with Chinese.

  14. My apologies--i don't know how to close comments down. I suggest we just stop visiting this comment thread.

  15. sisterkourtney - huh?