Language and Identity in a Dual Immersion School

Language and Identity in a Dual Immersion School

by Kim Potowski


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781853599446
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 02/01/2007
Series: Bilingual Education & Bilingualism Series , #63
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Kim Potowski is an Assistant Professor of Spanish at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she directs the Spanish for heritage speakers program. Her research focuses on the Spanish of bilingual speakers, including how Spanish is spoken in the United States, the effectiveness of curricula for heritage speakers, and professional development for teachers. She is the author of Fundamentos de la enseñanza del español a hispanohablantes en los Estados Unidos (Arco Libros, 2005).

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Language immersion is thought to be the most successful of several programs types that teach languages other than English at the elementary school level. Immersion delivers a substantial portion of the school curriculum in the second language (L2) rather than treating it as a separate subject. This approach is based on the premise that people learn a second language much as they learned their first: by being exposed to natural language use, and by being socially motivated, indeed required, to communicate. Learning the language is therefore a by-product of learning new content material, although a focus on linguistic form often does enter the curriculum in later years.

Canadian immersion programs were established in the 1960s under middle- and upper-middle-class parental pressure for more effective French language education. At that time, Quebec was experiencing ethnolinguistic tensions as Francophones began making demands for linguistic and cultural equality (Genesee, 1987: 8), and French immersion sought to promote "a more fair and a more interesting society ... for all ethnolinguistic groups in the Canadian mosaic" (Lambert, 1984: 9). These were soon followed in the 1970s by similar programs in the United States. Research in both the United States and Canada over the last three decades has indicated that immersion results in the highest levels of L2 competence of all elementary foreign language programs, at little cost to children's first language (L1) development. Additionally, immersion students often develop more positive sociocultural attitudes toward native speakers of the L2 (Lambert, 1984: 15).

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, United States educators began developing a program type called dual or two-way immersion. These programs integrate into the same classrooms native-speaking language minority children (those who already speak the non-English language) along with English-speaking children learning the minority language. Instruction in the minority language can range from 50% to 90% of the school day. The presence of approximately equal numbers of native speakers of both languages in the classroom theoretically provides opportunities for students to communicate with native-speaker peers (Christian, 1996b), creating benefits for both groups. Three of these advantages will be mentioned briefly. First, unlike typical U.S. "bilingual education" programs for language minority students – which in reality do not promote bilingualism, but rather seek to transition students to all-English classrooms as soon as possible – dual immersion encourages students' native language development, thus making an important contribution to heritage language maintenance in the country. Second, while many bilingual education programs utilize pullout classes that separate students from their English-speaking peers, dual immersion allows language minority students to remain in classrooms with their native English-speaking peers, resulting in linguistic and sociocultural advantages (Christian, 1996b). Third, native English-speaking students who are learning the non-English language benefit from having native-speaking peers in the classroom instead of relying on the teacher as the sole source of input (Genesee, 1987: 131). As of May 2005, there were 317 dual immersion programs operating in elementary schools in the United States in 10 different languages, with 96% of them (298) operating in Spanish (Center for Applied Linguistics, 2005).

Research examining standardized test scores suggests that both one-way and two-way immersion results in above-average levels of academic proficiency (Cohen, 1975; Lambert, 1984; Lindholm-Leary, 2001; Swain & Lapkin, 1982). Notably, in a comparison of the different educational models available to language minority students in the United States, including pullout ESL and transitional native language support, dual immersion resulted in the highest levels of academic achievement (Thomas & Collier, 1997). Dual immersion also results in high levels of proficiency in both English and the non-English language for both groups of students (Christian et al., 1997; Lindholm-Leary, 2001).

Despite the encouraging findings of standardized tests, we know very little about actual language use in one-way or in dual immersion classrooms. According to Genesee, there has been "little systematic documentation of how language is used in immersion classrooms by either students or teachers," leaving us with "an insufficient empirical basis on which to draw firm conclusions about the discourse characteristics of immersion classrooms and, therefore, about the impact of classroom interaction styles on language learning" (1991: 190). This remains the case in 2005, with less than half a dozen published studies documenting quantified observations of immersion classroom language use. Tarone and Swain called this lack of classroom research striking, given the "ample evidence that social context can cause the speech of second-language learners to vary substantially in its grammatical and phonological structure" (1995: 176). On the basis of their observations, Tarone and Swain (1995) proposed that one-way immersion classrooms become diglossic over time, with students preferring to use English with one another and reserving the L2 almost exclusively for academic purposes. Recent research has supported this claim (Broner, 2000; Fortune, 2001).

We know even less about students' language use in dual immersion classrooms, which are arguably more complex than one-way immersion because of the presence of students who are native speakers of the non-English language. Studies of language use in dual immersion classrooms are necessary because combining students from different language backgrounds does not ensure that they will interact (Genesee, 1985: 554), nor that they will do so in Spanish when it is the "official" language of the instructional period. We need answers to some very basic questions about dual immersion language use, answers that may vary from school to school and even from classroom to classroom: How much Spanish do students use? With whom do they speak Spanish, under what circumstances, and for what purposes? Does the presence of L1 Spanish speakers in dual immersion classrooms increase the amount of overall Spanish use by students, from what has been found in one-way immersion classrooms? Given that most theories of second language acquisition (SLA) recognize the need to actually produce the language, and since it is reasonable to assume a similar requirement for heritage language development and maintenance, it is crucial to examine students' Spanish output in dual immersion classrooms.

Research in any type of immersion classroom becomes more complex when we acknowledge that classroom opportunities to use Spanish can be given by teachers and by peers, can be created by the students themselves, and can also be resisted by students. Whereas traditional SLA research has utilized the concept of motivation to explain learners' desires to practice their L2, recent qualitative work in the field of English as a Second Language has shown that people's identity investments play an important role in their language use (McKay & Wong, 1995; Norton, 2000; Willett, 1995). Researchers argue that it is necessary to examine learners' reasons for creating and resisting opportunities to use a particular language, since "a learner's motivation to speak is mediated by other investments that may conflict with the desire to speak – investments that are intimately connected to the ongoing production of the learners' identities and their desires for the future" (Norton, 2000: 120). McKay and Wong (1996) claim that in order to understand success and failure in language learning, one must move beyond a "language-as-code" approach and instead view the L2 learner as a complex social being. Norton (2000) argues that SLA theory needs to develop a conception of language learners as having complex social identities that must be understood with reference to larger and often inequitable social structures, which are reflected in day-to-day interactions.

Although there have been several in-depth ethnographic studies of dual immersion schools that illustrate the complex sociocultural nature of these environments (Carranza, 1995; Freeman, 1998; McCollum, 1994), to date, investment has not been employed in regular or dual immersion research. The present study combines a quantification of dual immersion students' classroom language production with a qualitative investigation of the identity investments that may have promoted or hindered their Spanish use.

Purpose of the Book

The purpose of this book is to describe and explain the patterns of Spanish and English use by four dual immersion students (two Spanish L1 and two Spanish L2) in fifth grade and again in eighth grade. It also seeks to describe their Spanish proficiency in eighth grade, their final year at the school, along with the Spanish proficiency of the rest of their classmates. Unlike previous dual immersion research, this study used systematic observations, audio and video recordings of naturally occurring classroom speech, and a combination of standardized and specially designed language proficiency measures.

In addition, this study utilized qualitative research methods, including interviews and long-term participant observation, to explore the relationship between students' identity investments and their classroom language use. It was found that students who had strong investments in using Spanish, because it enriched their sense of self or their status within their families and communities, used Spanish more often. It was also found that one student with problematic participation habits was not granted the floor as often during Spanish lessons, which limited his opportunities to practice the language. As noted by Gal (1979) in research on sociolinguistic communities, macrosocial factors can influence the language choices of speakers through their effects on the shape of social networks and on the statuses speakers want to claim (1979: 17). My study therefore takes a sociolinguistic perspective on language use in this dual immersion classroom, using qualitative research methods to explore relevant factors that were both internal and external to the classroom. Qualitative data were also useful when attempting to explain the apparent gender-based differences in language use.

As noted by Elías-Olivares et al. in research on sociolinguistic communities, only after we understand the linguistic habits of the speakers of Spanish can we begin to formulate a program of language planning that can be implemented (1985: 4), and dual immersion is arguably a form of linguistic planning (Freeman, 1998). This study suggests that although dual immersion can be a successful model for linguistic and cultural education for both language minority and language majority students, both L1 and L2 students may not be using as much Spanish as educators believe. Nor are they using Spanish for a wide variety of communicative purposes. It suggests that the prevalence of English in the wider society affects students' language use within the classroom, even when Spanish use is fostered by teachers and the curriculum. It also calls for an examination of the role of peer group work, which is believed by some educators to foster collaborative knowledge construction, but which resulted in high levels of English use in this classroom.

Having summarized what this book will attempt to achieve, it may be useful to briefly mention what it does not. Given that it is a case study of one school, it does not address the overall effectiveness of dual immersion schools across the country. Lindholm-Leary (2000) is a better resource for a national picture of dual immersion. Nor does it analyze the curriculum or lesson types or their effectiveness. In this sense, it is principally not a pedagogically oriented book. To give another example, this book points out specific areas in Spanish in which the students had difficulties and suggests that teachers implement lessons with a greater focus on language form, yet no specific lesson plans are offered. Readers interested in best practices in dual immersion might consult Soltero (2004), which devotes lengthy attention to common instructional approaches in dual immersion programs, as well as Tedick and Fortune (2005). A very noticeable trait of Inter-American School is its commitment to social justice, another topic that I describe briefly but that was not the object of in-depth study. Finally, educators seeking advice about how to structure a dual immersion program will probably find Soltero's (2004) treatment of program models and other administrative concerns more useful.


Chapter 2 reviews relevant research in one-way and two-way immersion contexts. It also explains the methodology of the study. In Chapter 3, I describe the setting, Inter-American Magnet School, one of the oldest dual immersion schools in the United States. In Chapter 4, I present the quantitative findings of the four focal students' classroom language use in fifth grade. Chapter 5 describes the fifth grade students' investments in speaking Spanish, in an attempt to explain the language use patterns reported in Chapter 4. In Chapter 6, I present findings on classroom language use in eighth grade, while Chapter 7 describes the Spanish proficiency of the entire graduating class. Chapter 8 revisits the question of students' identity investments in learning and speaking Spanish, this time during their eighth-grade year. Chapter 9 offers conclusions about the role of this dual immersion school in heritage language maintenance and foreign language learning, as well as suggestions for future research studies.


Immersion Classroom Research and Methodology of this Study

Dual immersion education seeks to accomplish multiple goals. For language minority students, dual immersion promotes the learning of English as a Second Language (ESL) in addition to maintaining the students' first language. For monolingual English speakers, dual immersion seeks to provide a rich foreign language acquisition environment. In this way, dual immersion programs are a combination of what Hornberger (1991) calls maintenance and enrichment bilingual education. Dual immersion also promotes high levels of academic achievement for all students. In addition, many programs have strong social justice themes and "alternative" curricula. Given that both one-way and two-way immersions are complex learning environments, research has approached them from many different angles. This chapter will present a brief history of language immersion and describe salient research on both one-way and two-way immersion classrooms. Then, it will describe the particular research methodology that I used during the two years of my study at Inter-American Magnet School.

Language Immersion: Program Descriptions

One-way immersion

In typical one-way immersion programs, all children are native speakers of the country's dominant language, and they are taught the regular school curriculum totally or partially in a foreign language. Canadian one-way immersion programs were established in the 1960s under middle-class and upper-middle-class parental pressure for more effective French language education for their children. At that time, Quebec was experiencing ethnolinguistic tensions as Francophones began making demands for linguistic and cultural equality (Genesee, 1987: 8). In 1965, parents of an Anglophone Montreal suburb convinced the school district to set up an experimental kindergarten French immersion class. An important goal of the program was functional competence in French through its use as a natural means of communication and instruction, but the primary goal was improved relationships between English and French Quebecois (Genesee, 1987: 11). The parents cited their own low French proficiency as evidence of the failure of foreign language teaching in Canada, which typically consisted of an hour of instruction per day.

The goals of French immersion today are the same as when such programs were first developed. Teachers seek to develop students' "functional competence in the L2" in addition to normal levels of L1 competence, grade-level academic achievement, and appreciation for the target language group's language and culture (Genesee, 1983: 3). Immersion was designed to create the same kind of communicatively-rich conditions that characterize first language acquisition, particularly creating desire in the students to learn the L2 in order to engage in meaningful communication. Language learning is content based, which means that French is learned through math, science, and social studies. That is, Anglophone children are taught the regular school curriculum in French by teachers that present themselves as monolingual. The teacher is usually the only native speaker model with whom the students interact.


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Copyright © 2007 Kim Potowski.
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Table of Contents

Table of ContentsChapter 1: IntroductionChapter 2: Immersion Classroom Research and Methodology of this StudyChapter 3: Inter-American Magnet SchoolChapter 4: Fifth Grade Language Use and ProficiencyChapter 5: Identity Investments of Fifth GradersChapter 6: Language Use in Eighth GradeChapter 7: Spanish Proficiency in Eighth GradeChapter 8: Identity Investments in Eighth GradeChapter 9: Conclusions

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