Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Literacy Development in Early French Immersion Programs

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Literacy Development in Early French Immersion Programs

Article excerpt

Research findings on reading acquisition in early French immersion programs are reviewed. Findings on general reading outcomes, in English and French, are reviewed first, followed by a review of reading outcomes for students who are at risk for reading difficulty because of below-average levels of academic ability, poor first language abilities, disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, and minority language status. There follows a review of studies on individual differences in reading outcomes, including research on students with or at risk for reading difficulties, and on interventions to support students with reading difficulties in immersion. Conclusions along with suggestions for future research are offered.

Keywords: literacy, second language reading, French immersion

The Canadian educational landscape changed dramatically in 1965 with the introduction of a French immersion program in the small community of St. Lambert, Quebec. This program took a radical departure from traditional education in Canada by educating English-speaking students in French. Students in this new program received initial literacy (and academic) instruction in French before being taught reading and writing in English. Immersion programs have proliferated across the country (and indeed worldwide) since 1965, and there are currently over 300,000 Canadian students in immersion (Canadian Parents for French, n.d.). The original St. Lambert program provided all instruction in French beginning in kindergarten until the end of Grade 2. Alternative forms of immersion have been developed, varying primarily with respect to when French is used as a medium of curriculum instruction (in primary or middle elementary grades, or later-in late elementary or high school) and how much instruction is given through French; distinctions are usually made between total and partial immersion with the latter consisting of less than 100% instruction and a minimum of 50%. Detailed descriptions of prototypical immersion program models can be found in Genesee (1987, 2004).

We review findings on reading acquisition in students in early French immersion programmes (see Genesee, 1987, 2004; Lambert & Tucker, 1972; and Swain & Lapkin, 1982, for general reviews). There was an initial surge in research on immersion programs that lasted until approximately the mid 1980s. Research during this period was motivated largely by concerns about the effects of immersion on student achievement, including reading. This has been followed by research with a greater focus on individual differences in, and processes underlying, the acquisition of French reading skills in immersion. We begin with research that has examined general reading outcomes in English and French, followed by studies on students who might be considered at risk for low levels of achievement in reading because of below-average levels of academic ability, poor or impaired first-language abilities, disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, and minority language status. We then review studies on individual differences in reading outcomes, including research on students who are at risk for reading difficulty, and finally studies on interventions for students who need additional support.

General Reading Outcomes

English

Evaluations of early total immersion, many of which were carried out during the first two decades after the program was inaugurated, found that students scored significantly below grade level on tests of English word knowledge and reading comprehension during those grades when no instruction in English was provided (Genesee, 1978; Geva & Clifton, 1994; Lambert & Tucker, 1972; Swain & Lapkin, 1982). Immersion students achieved parity with English comparison students in these same skills usually within one or two years of having English language instruction (e.g., Genesee, 1978; Lambert & Tucker, 1972; Rubin, Turner, & Kantor, 1991; Swain & Lapkin, 1982). …

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