As a division, Saskatoon Public Schools believes that all students can achieve, given enough time and the appropriate supports. We strive to create a love of reading and to grow a culture of literacy in all our students. We are left with the following question: what are the research-proven supports that ensure that all students achieve in French Immersion?
In my previous post, I reviewed highlights from Fred Genessee’s research and 2013 presentation at the Canadian Association of Immersion Teachers’ National Conference in Calgary. The information strongly supported the early identification of and activation of early interventions for at-risk readers in French Immersion. You may want to read the first entry here: http://tinyurl.com/Shouldtheystay
In this post, I would like to continue exploring these topics but expand the research base. The April 2009 What Works? Research into Practice article from the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat of the Government of Ontario entitled Early Identification and Intervention for At-Risk Readers in French Immersion asks: How can early French Immersion teachers prevent struggling readers from experiencing persistent reading problems?
The Ontario research article emphasizes that learner confidence is key in taking risks and that ultimately that success begets success. Struggling students lack the confidence to overcome their difficulties and need support to be successful. Reading difficulties are said to be the most important factor influencing student transfer out of French Immersion. Students who do struggle in reading will most often transfer from French Immersion prior to the end of grade 3. Historically, assessments for potential reading problems occur late, often once students have acquired listening and speaking skills in French. Researchers refer to this as a wait to fail approach.
“[T]he more frustration these children experience, the more disinterested they become in reading.” (Wise N., Chen X., 2009)
In contrast to this past practice, Wise and Chen, researchers from OISE/University of Toronto suggest a new approach. Students should be given a phonological awareness test, which will help predict future reading ability. The challenge in administering a phonological test to French Immersion students is that they do not yet have the language ability to complete the assessment. Wise and Chen assert that an English phonological awareness test will identify potential weak readers in French and in English and should be administered at the beginning of the school year.
“Our young readers in French Immersion programs need early reading instruction as much as our young readers in English language programs.” (Wise N., Chen X., 2009)
As per the advice the researchers, once identified, interventions should be initiated while the gap in ability is small among students. Students identified will benefit from systematic and explicit phonological instruction and that a specific sequence should be taken:
- Begin instruction at the word level and increase difficulty by targeting syllable and phoneme level
- Increase awareness that:
- sentences are made of words
- words are made of a syllable or multiple syllables
- syllables are made of phonemes
- Target instruction on segmenting and blending to develop early reading skills
Improving our practice and process in supporting at-risk readers in French Immersion will decrease the gap between strong and weak students and will ultimately lead to the increase in the proportion of bilingual secondary school graduate—the goals of the federal government’s Action Plan for Official Languages.