This year, Saskatoon Public Schools has struck a strategic committee to review its highly successful French Immersion (FI) program after 30+ years of instruction. The committee includes diverse voices from throughout the program from K-12 including classroom teachers, a Teacher Librarian, a Resource Teacher, schools administrators, the French Immersion Instructional Consultant, a Coordinator of Curriculum and Instruction and is chaired by a superintendent of Education. One of the first tasks taken on by the committee has been drafting a vision statement for Saskatoon Public School’s French Immersion program.
While drafting the vision statement, several pertinent questions were uncovered by members of the committee. These questions lead to rich discussion and were not easily answered. Some of the most challenging questions were:
- What is the goal of a FI program?
- What does a FI program consistently accomplish?
One of the most immediate answers to the question of the goal of a FI program was to achieve bilingualism. Members of the committee debated the definition of bilingualism in Canada, Saskatchewan and in Saskatoon and the level of proficiency of French Immersion graduates. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines bilingual as : 1. having or expressed in two languages 2. Using or able to use two languages especially with equal fluency. The discussion continued to explore bilingualism until a group analysis of our past and present students was initiated by this question:
- Who were the historical FI students and who are the current students enrolled in French Immersion?
This last question was particularly interesting because historically FI students in Saskatoon were children born to families who spoke English exclusively. Currently, it is not uncommon to have a significant percentage of students in a FI classroom who speak more than one language. The goal of bilingualism doesn’t seem to accurately represent these students although they are enrolled in FI to learn French. Our committee started to explore the possibility of referring to students as language learners who are working towards the goal of being able to read, write and speak French, but to which extent?
I shared one of most recent pieces of research I had read on the subject of bilingualism to support the committee with the task of expanding the wording of the vision statement. Roy Lyster in his 2007 publication Learning and Teaching Languages Through Content – A counterbalanced approach quotes (Day & Shapson 1996:91) on page 22 stating: ”Functional bilingualism”-is a vague and relative notion and can mean anything from the ability to understand and make oneself understood and get by in everyday social situations to the ability to function like a well-educated native-speaker in demanding social and professional settings”. The members of the committee shared the same opinion that bilingualism seemed vague and was interpreted differently by all members of the committee. To counter this vagueness, Lyster later quotes Fred Genesee on the same page refining that bilingual competence is: ”the ability to use the target languages effectively and appropriately for authentic personal, education, social, and/or work-related purposes.” Because of the complexity of the program and the task of creating an all-encompassing vision statement, the committee concluded the meeting making a commitment to continue to reflect on the terms and language of the vision statement.
During our next meeting, we will continue our work drafting and committing to a vision statement that encompasses the unique elements of our K-12 French Immersion program and the diverse language learners it serves.
Lyster, R. (2007). Learning and Teaching Languages Through Content: A Counterbalanced Approach. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.