Dual-language Books: Addressing Linguistic and Cultural Diversity in French Immersion Classrooms

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1 Dual-language Books: Addressing Linguistic and Cultural Diversity in French Immersion Classrooms Liana Appelt, University of Calgary, ABSTRACT: Students in French Immersion (F.I) in many parts of Canada are now bringing with them home languages other than French or English. This diversity requires extensive modifications in the classroom to attend to the needs of children with linguistic roots from around the world. Typically the focus and delivery of early elementary F.I. teaching is on French alone. However, a growing body of literature suggests that qualified inclusion of the child s first language is also advantageous. The main objective of the research was to study one method of employing dual-language books written in both French and a variety of mother tongue languages spoken by the parents of children in a selected Kindergarten F.I. classroom. The results of the study demonstrated that there was no negative effect of using dual-language books in the classroom. On the contrary, there was strong support of dual language book use by the classroom teacher and the volunteers who participated in the study. The most significant finding was that dual language books offer a meaningful volunteer experience in F.I. classrooms. As well, this study supports past research, which demonstrated that duallanguage books allow students to share their linguistic knowledge and cultural roots with their teacher and peers. KEYWORDS: French Immersion, linguistic diversity, cultural diversity, cultural responsive pedagogy, teaching methods, first language literacy.

2 Introduction F.I. programs in Canada have been recognized as one of the most successful models of Second Language Learning (Genesse, 1987; Swain & Lapkin, 1982, 1986). This content-based program provides not only a cognitive basis for language learning, but also a meaningful way in which to learn a language (Lyster, 2007). However, there is always room to improve programs and pedagogy and instruction and F.I. programs are certainly not exempt from criticism and appeals from researchers for a change some stoic and often-archaic teacher practices. Most recently, well known Canadian second language researchers such as: Miles Turnbull, Vivian Cook, Jim Cummins, Roy Lyster, Diane Dagenais, Shelley Taylor and Fred Genesee have been examining shortcomings in F.I. programs and have completed many studies in an effort to modernize and improve our current immersion programs so that they better meet the needs of our current Canadian population. According to 2006 Alberta language statistics, out of the 1,070,295 surveyed in Calgary 242,895 people that declared that their mother tongue was a non-official language (Statistics Canada Website resource, 2008). Of equal importance to note is that only 16,310 declared that their mother tongue was French. According to the same government website, immigrants for the Middle East are most likely to know both official languages. F.I. is also no longer the only language alternative in most Canadian Provinces. The Calgary Board of Education now offers bilingual programs in German, Spanish, and Chinese in which the students spend half their instructional time in English and the other half in the target language (L2). F.I. enrolment continues to increase in most provinces. Need for research to improve F.I. pedagogy Given the overwhelming demand to address the needs of multi-lingual learners in the classroom, second language researchers across the country are beginning to study the many complex issues in providing support for ESL learners. This is particularly of interest to Jim Cummins who has noted the urgent need to change F.I. pedagogy in response to the shift in linguistic demographics. His recent publications (Cummins, 2007) urge F.I. teachers to rethink their Monolingual Instructional Strategies. He challenges the two solitudes assumption, in which bilingualism is developed through two separate monolingual instructional routes. Cummins urges a re-examination of this

3 linguistic separation in F.I. pedagogy and bases his concern on a growing body of research that has documented the increase of meta-linguistic awareness that bilingual students experience as the result of processing two languages (Cummins, 2001). He also suggests that multi-lingual students in F.I. could benefit from the spontaneous focus on similarities and differences in their two or three languages. It is suggested by Cummins that students could benefit from: systematic encouragement by the teacher to focus on language and develop their language awareness (Cummins, 2007). Naturally, this directly challenges the current direct method assumption, which is still being practiced in many F.I. programs. Cummins makes several concrete suggestions to the F.I. teacher including the creation of dual-language multimedia books and projects. He notes that using dual-language books in F.I. promotes cross-language transfer and the development of language awareness. Dual-language books also provide students with an opportunity to showcase their bilingual literacy skills which is impossible if teachers remain convinced that French is the only language of discourse in Immersion classrooms (Cummins, 2007). Dual language books are used in this project as defined by Naqvi (2006), as a narrative format books highlighting two languages. The purpose of this research is to investigate the effectiveness and use of dual-language books in a F.I. Kindergarten Classroom. The goal of the research was to contribute and support past research involving dual-language books while introducing the complexity of still unanswered questions in F.I. pedagogy. Research Questions The specific research questions being investigated were as follows: 1. Will presenting dual-language material assist children s learning through facilitating their ability to compare and contrast aspects of the language on which the learning material is based, when presented in the target language (French) and a variety of other languages, rather than solely in French? 2. Will the parent volunteers that participate to read the text of the dual-language books in their mother tongue judge that their participation was meaningful and satisfactory? 3. Will the participating teacher judge that employing dual-language books is an effective multilingual method as part of teaching Early French Immersion?

4 Method The qualitative case study, as described by Berg, (1989), and Merriam (1988, 2001) was selected as an appropriate methodology for investigating the three research questions. One school site was identified by the researcher as having the student population demographics (within a F.I. context) to conduct the study. The researcher then contacted the Kindergarten teacher at that site and the project began in the winter of 2007, completed in late spring of the same year. Within the project there was a pilot study followed by a 10 separate book readings where data was collected. After each dual-language book reading the volunteer/parent who participated in the reading was given an anonymous questionnaire that they were welcome to fill out immediately or take home and return to the classroom teacher at a later time. At the end of the project the classroom teacher completed a similar questionnaire, which was submitted electronically to the researcher. The first research question investigated whether or not dual-language material assisted children s learning though facilitating their abilities to compare and contrast aspects of the language on which the other learning material is based, when presented in the target language (French) and a variety of other languages, rather than solely in French. This question was approached by collecting correct student responses based on a vocabulary picture-word card test given at the end of each duallanguage book reading. Student responses were recorded by the researcher and analyzed at a later time. Each vocabulary word was selected a priori by the research and given a difficulty rating by an independent group of experts in the field of early French Immersion education. The words deemed the easiest were given a rating of 1 out of 5. Consequently the most difficult words were given a rating of 5 out of 5. Word vocabulary difficult was factored in as part of the analysis. The second research question investigated if parents/volunteers that participated in the dual-language book readings judged that their participation was meaningful and satisfactory. This question was approached by giving each parent/volunteer a short questionnaire at the end of the dual-language book reading. The third research question was similar in nature to the second, however this time the questionnaire respondent was the classroom teacher. The research question was if the Kindergarten F.I. teacher involved with the project would judge that the method of employing dual-language books was effective in terms of introducing other languages while teaching a second language.

5 Summary of results of research question 1 The analysis and interpretation of the raw data in the study strongly suggest that the dual-language books used as outlined in this portion of the study do not increase word-vocabulary recall and retention of vocabulary when presented and evaluated as it was done in this study. Based primarily on the data presented in Graphs 1-1, and 1-2, the researcher concludes that dual-language material, as presented in this study, did not assist children s learning of vocabulary. Further, the data analysis revealed that word-vocabulary activity did not facilitate the students abilities to compare and contrast aspects of the language on which the learning material is based, when presented in the target language (French) and a variety of other languages. Even though the data analysis presented does not support this hypothesis it is far from conclusive that dual-language readings do not increase language awareness. Summary of findings: Research Question Two Overall, there was complete consensus amongst the volunteers that the dual-language book reading was a meaningful experience and that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with participating in the project with the Kindergarten students. The responses to Research Question Two appear to provide important insight into the value of reproducing this project in another classroom. The feedback regarding the quality of the translations of the dual-language books provides valuable information to future work in this area. The quality of the translations from English to another language must be considered if dual language books are to be used in any fashion in classrooms. All together, the data collected in response to Research Question Two appears to provide support for using dual-language books in the classroom as all the participants did in fact respond positively to the dual-language book experience. Summary of findings: Research Question Three The questionnaire revealed that the teacher did not find that the duallanguage books were effective in facilitating the children s learning of French. This is consistent with the results found in the data analysis of the picture wordvocabulary card activity, which served as the point of departure to evaluate the use of dual-language books. It is interesting to note that the teacher did respond that she would like to use the dual-language books in the future and that she saw other benefits to their use, such as the perception that the children were proud

6 when their heritage language was featured in the classroom. She commented that it gave the parents who do not normally volunteer an opportunity to participate in the classroom. The results of the teacher questionnaire also confirmed that she would be interested in using the dual-language books in the future, due to her perception that they were useful in developing an interest in other cultures amongst the students as well as pride in their heritage language. The response to Research Question Three is consistent with previous research conducted with dual-language books; they appear to create an opportunity for students to inquire and learn about other cultures. The results also indicate that this particular teacher felt that there was a significant benefit to the students regardless of whether or not the books assisted in the learning of French. These results offer positive endorsement for dual-language books in terms of cultural awareness and parent participation, if teachers wish to use these books as part of their curriculum. Conclusion For this project, the researcher developed a method that lays the ground work for future studies in assessing the use of dual-language books in F.I. The research discussed in this thesis is in full support of previous work done in this area and also creates new questions as to other potential benefits for using duallanguage books in early F.I., which is an entirely new field of study. Showcasing students linguistic skills in F.I. classrooms continues to be the strongest rational for using dual-language books. This study added the element of assessing the experience of the volunteers involved in the project, which also showed positive support for dual-language books. Unanswered questions still remain, however this study contributes to a growing body of literature which suggests that duallanguage books have the potential to be an important tool for teachers who wish to address linguistic diversity in their classrooms.

7 Figures Vocabulary difficulty ordered by reading Average Difficulty French + Language Average Difficulty French Graph 1-1 Picture word vocabulary difficulty by reading.

8 Vocabulary difficuly % Correct French + Language % Correct French Graph 1-2 Number of correct responses in each session and average word difficulty.

9 References Bismilla, V., Cummins, J., Leoni, L., & Sandhu, P. (2006). Incorporation of Students first language into classroom instruction: Effects on self-esteem and academic engagement. Retrieved December 1, 2006, from Berg, B. (2001). Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. Needham Heights, MA. Allyn and Bacon Chow, P., & Cummins, J. (2003). Valuing multilingual and multicultural approaches to learning. In S. R. Schecter & J. Cummins (Eds.), Multilingual education in practice: Using diversity as a resource (pp ). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Cummins, J. (2000). Immersion education for them millennium: What we have learned from 30 years of research on second language immersion. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies of Education. Retrieved January 10, 2007 from Cummins, J. (2005) Affirming identity in multilingual classrooms. The Whole Child, 63(1), Cummins, J. (2001). Negotiating identities: Education for empowerment in a diverse society (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: California Association for Bilingual Education. Genesse, F. (1987). Learning through two languages: Studies of immersion and bilingual education. Cambridge, M.A: Newburry House Lyster, R. (2007) Learning french as a second language through immersion. To appear in D. Ayoun (Ed.), Studies in French Applied Linguistics. Amsterdam: Benjamins. Merriam, S. (2001). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

10 Naqvi, R., Coburn, H., Goddard, S., & Mayer, L. (2007) Speaking in Tongues, What do I do when 80 per cent of my students don t speak English? ATA Magazine, 87(4). Swain, M. & Lapkin, S. (1982). Evaluating bilingual education. Celvedon, England: Multilingual matters. Swain, M. & Lapkin, S. (1986). Immersion French in secondary schools: The goods and the bads. Contact, 5 (3), 2-9.

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