As a child, I grew up following the French Immersion program in Canada, and for me, the logic behind it makes sense – teach all subject areas in French and assess students based on their academic knowledge of French. Students are evaluated based on content taught, which means that for the most part, a learner’s ability to carry out a day-to-day conversation in French is not the focus – the focus is on their ability to explain topics covered in science, social studies, math, etc. As long as one is clear that the main objective of French immersion is academic French, one can acknowledge that it is a strong program.
Which brings me to bilingual programs and it isn’t that I’m not for them – the idea of teaching students both in their native tongue and in the second language at the same time is a good one; in fact, while I was working at the Netherlands Inter-community School (currently NAS) in Jakarta, students in both the Dutch and English streams were grouped together for certain subjects and taught in both languages with success. My issue with bilingual programs isn’t with their potential benefit for students: it’s the clarity of the expectations of bilingual programs and the assessment of students’ language abilities that’s the problem.
When we look at the definition of a bilingual program, most of us would agree that it is to provide students with academic instruction in two languages – native tongue and second language. And if bilingual programs stuck to that, they would work just fine. Where the confusion arises is in how students should be evaluated in both languages. To address this issue, the tendency is to evaluate students on their academic skills in their native tongue and then to bring in a framework such as the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) to evaluate students on their ability to communicate in the second language. And this is where things fall apart – frameworks such as the CEFR were not designed to evaluate academic language, they were designed to evaluate conversational language – i.e. one’s ability to talk about family life, to shop at the grocery store, order food at a restaurant, and to talk about one’s interests, etc. While these topics may be covered briefly in a bilingual program, more time is spent on topics related to core subject areas, such as math, social studies, and science, so to use a scale such as CEFR to evaluate students’ ability to communicate in the second language simply doesn’t match the objectives of a bilingual program.
What is the solution for assessing student language ability in a bilingual program? Keep it simple and focus solely on students’ ability to communicate in a second language academically. To do this, one needs only to look at the academic curriculum set out in the learners’ native tongue and hold them to the same learning outcomes in the second language, which means eliminating the use of proficiency scales such as the CEFR. For example, if students in grade 1 should know how to count to 100 in their native tongue, then assess them on their ability to do the same in the second language. In this way, content taught is the focus of the evaluation, which directly aligns with the goal of a bilingual program is – for students to function academically in two languages.
A bilingual program can be just as strong as an immersion program if one approaches it with the same mindset and understanding – that the second language students acquire is based on academics. Next week’s article will touch on tips and considerations for setting up the ideal bilingual program at your school – stay tuned!
Is your school making decisions based on meeting school and staff needs or based on meeting student needs? What’s the difference, and does it matter? The long and short of it is, there is a difference, and in my opinion, it does matter.
When reflecting on my career, I recall sitting through many discussions, ranging from what curriculum framework (IPC, IB, Cambridge …) the school should follow in the aim of increasing its student numbers, what type of technology parents would like to see in classrooms or technology teachers would like to have, what assessments should be used to communicate student achievement to the community, what learning resources the school needs based on staff wish lists, etc., but in all of these discussions, not once did I hear a question related to what the students themselves needed. Were wrong decisions made? Not necessarily. The curriculum frameworks chosen got the job done; the technology added to classrooms presented certain benefits for learners; assessments allowed teachers to evaluate student learning, and resources were required to teach lessons effectively, etc. But I sometimes wonder if the same decisions would have been made had the questions not been “What does the school need?” or “What does the staff need?” but rather, “What do the learners at our school need?” Had that been the case, would interactive whiteboards have been added to all the classrooms at a particular school I worked at? Maybe not. Perhaps if the question had been phrased differently, it would have been decided that for the benefit of the learners increasing the number of iPads or laptops in each classroom was the better option.
Back to question of, does it matter whether a school is basing its decisions on meeting student needs first? I believe it does. Too often learner needs are being pushed aside and replaced with school and staff wants, and although perhaps not detrimental, these decisions do have an impact on student learning in the long run. So, the next time your staff is meeting to decide on assessments that should be used, required resources, etc., try asking, “What do the learners at our school need?” and see where the discussion goes!
When I sat down to write my upcoming book, Empowering the Educator Within: A Guide to Enabling Yourself and Those You Serve, finding a publishing company or literary agent to represent me was the goal. Therefore, I went through the process of figuring out how to write a query and a proposal, and exploring which publishing houses and literary agencies would be the best fit. As I was doing my research, it dawned on me that perhaps this wasn’t the way to go, and that I should consider self-publishing for several reasons:
As I was looking at the requirements for submissions, I learned that several publishing houses and literary agencies required that I edit the manuscript before submission. Naively, I thought they would be responsible for the editing; this meant that from the get-go, I was going to have to hire an editor.
In addition to having my manuscript pre-edited, many publishing houses also required proof of my social media presence and evidence of public speaking engagements, signaling that even if I went with a publishing company or literary agency, many aspects of book promotion would ultimately be up to me anyway.
3. Wait Times:
As I was doing my research, I learned that the proper etiquette for submitting a manuscript to publishing houses and/or literary agents was to send one query at a time, wait 2 to 3 months for a reply, and then apply to another company or agent. If you were to abide by this style of etiquette, this would mean you could pitch 4 to 6 times a year at best.
4. Small Profit and Loss of Control:
The final straw was not only that would I lose control of my own book because the publishing company would have the final say in everything, but also that unless I had a best seller, by the time the publishing house took their cut, I wouldn’t be left with much of a profit in the end anyway.
Given that I would have pay to get my manuscript edited and that I would be responsible for my own book promotion anyways, it only made sense to ditch that route and self-publish. As I began this journey I realized there were several options I could go with:
In the end, I made the decision to go with West Coast Editorial Associates, a company that offers a wide range of in-house services. My reasons for doing so were as follows:
When I was looking at freelancer sites like Reedsy, Fiverr, and Upwork, the choices were overwhelming, and pulling a team together to help with each aspect of the publishing process seemed a little risky. What if I found a good copy editor but the proofreader and graphic designer fell short? Considering the amount of money I would be paying for each service, it wasn’t worth taking a chance on re-hiring and re-doing the work if some areas fell short.
2. Vanity Press:
I must admit that despite the many negative reviews, I did consider this option as it seemed an excellent idea to submit my work to a single company and have their help with every step of the process, including the book’s promotion. In the end, I opted out as I realized that if I went with a vanity press, I would be giving up the rights to my book and losing the opportunity to ever have it published elsewhere. Additionally, once they took their cut of the profits, I wouldn’t be left with much.
In choosing to go with a company that is not a vanity press but still has a team that can assist in all areas of the publishing process, the rights to the book ultimately belong to me and I have the final say in every stage of the process. And while it’s true that choosing this path poses a bigger risk as I don’t have a renowned publishing company to stand behind the book, ultimately, no matter which road I went down, the promotion and successful outcome of the book was going to be up to me.
Have you recently embarked on the process of publishing a book? Any take-aways you would like to share?
Empowering the Educator Within: A Guide to Enabling Yourself and Those You Serve is set to come out in August 2021, so stay tuned!
Other Tips for Educators