When you envision a successful immersion curriculum for your students, imagine it in 3D.
Think of it as a sprawling cityscape with tall buildings, an impressive skyline and unique but functional architecture.
Of course, this may be easier said than done when you’re already being assailed by doubts.
“Is it really even possible to plan an immersion experience?” you may wonder.
After all, one of the hallmarks of authentic immersion is spontaneity.
But at the same time, you have specific goals and learning outcomes in mind for your students, which are difficult to achieve without planning ahead.
Paradoxically, you actually need more planning (instead of less) in order to meet these goals and still maintain the authenticity that is the heart of every immersion experience.
Here are the steps to building an immersion curriculum that supports your complete vision for your language program.
Your 4-step Guide to a Captivating Immersion Curriculum
Step 1: Formulate a mission and vision for your language program.
Before you build your curriculum, you need a clear picture of your final destination. Articulate that in a clear mission and vision statement that specifically spells out why your program exists and what you hope to accomplish.
Feeling stuck? Here are some concrete steps to homing in on your mission and vision.
- Refer to your school’s mission/vision statement. If your school has a mission and/or vision statement, this will help you clearly articulate what your program’s role is within the larger community of the school. Your program can reflect some of the ideas in the broader mission and vision statement while making them truly your own.
- Familiarize yourself with any local or state standards for language learning. Take a look at the ACTFL’s (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) World-readiness Standards for Learning Languages to find out what students in the US are expected to know and be able to do to demonstrate language proficiency. Your state or region may also have a set of standards for language learning. Take a look at these to inform your decision about what your final goals should be.
- Survey the community to gauge local resources or partners. It is possible that there are native speakers in your area that you don’t even know about. Retired language teachers and professors are also a potential untapped resource. The resources available to you for immersion language learning are part of the larger picture when planning an immersion program.
- Find out what access students have outside the classroom to language learning. Can students get any authentic language practice at home? Do their parents or siblings know the target language? Do they have access to language apps on their tablets or mobile devices? Take this into consideration when determining a direction for your program.
- Use “backward design” to articulate the results you want. In the “backward design” model, teachers start their planning with the long-term learning goal and design more short-term goals, activities and assessments around those long-term goals. How will students have changed as a result of achieving your goals? What skills will they have acquired? How will they demonstrate their knowledge?
Step 2: Take an inventory of resources available to you.
Once you have crafted the perfect mission and vision statement, the next building block to put in place is that of your resources. Hopefully, you have already done a preliminary survey of resources available to you, and now you just need to prepare to access them. Here’s how.
- Reach out to potential partners and helpers. Are there experts who might share your goals? What about area college students majoring in the target language? Do you have any personal connections through Facebook or Skype who could add something to your projected immersion experience? Or perhaps you could even invite a guest teacher from abroad to come visit.
The State of Ohio offers language teachers the opportunity to host visiting international teachers. The College Board facilitates teacher exchanges between American and Chinese schools. Search for a similar program that might meet your needs.
- Communicate with subject area teachers about your goals. One of the most effective ways to incorporate immersion is by using it in subject area classrooms. Get your coworkers on board. Educate them about the value of immersion learning and find ways to work together.
- Reach out to other schools in your area or district. Chances are, there is a language teacher near you who is already using an immersion curriculum with great success. Connect with him or her so you can discuss what has worked well. You might even consider observing his/her classroom.
- Collect relevant digital materials. Software, apps and websites are key components of curriculum in the digital age. As with traditional materials, gather these ahead of time so that you can incorporate them in your curriculum design. Examples of popular online language materials that are readily available and easy to use include Duolingo, WordReference and Memrise.
Step 3: Decide which immersion model works best for your school.
There is no one right way to do immersion. Every program, every school and every teacher is different.
Additionally, there are several different models, such as:
- Total immersion: Students spend 100% of the school day communicating and receiving instruction in the target language.
- Partial immersion: Generally students spend about half their day in the target language, although this can vary.
- Two-way immersion: In this model, native-speaking students of both languages are combined in one classroom with the goal of familiarizing them with the language of the other group. For example, this model is sometimes used in American schools in which there are a large percentage of native Spanish-speaking students.
The model that you choose should depend on various factors, including scheduling restrictions, student level and availability of resources.
Here is a step-by-step process to help you determine which model suits your needs the best.
- Evaluate the pros and cons of different models. Each model is great for some situations, but not so great for others. For example, total immersion is often considered a great option for younger students, but older ones may do better with a partial immersion program.
- Look at your school’s schedule. Are there blocks during the day that can be allocated to language learning? Are there subject teachers who would be willing to work with you to teach their subject in the target language? Look at the existing schedule and brainstorm ideas for shifting it to support your program.
- Learn how to integrate CLIL effectively. The best immersion experience will integrate other subjects and disciplines as much as possible, and CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) is an excellent medium to make that happen. Read up on best strategies and practices for CLIL and share them with colleagues. Work together to determine which model would best support it.
- Take into account the building of literacy skills in both languages. One frequent criticism of immersion language learning is that some students may struggle to master literacy skills. That can happen when you have students with widely varied learning styles in an environment like immersion which often emphasizes speaking above reading and writing skills. Carefully evaluate the needs of your student population when deciding which immersion model to choose, and consider how to best address their literacy instruction.
Step 4: Begin implementing your vision.
Congratulations! You now have a clear vision and goal in mind, with the resources, materials and overall structure to make it happen. Here are some additional tips to make your vision really take off.
- Educate parents and the wider community. Establishing an immersion curriculum is a big change, and you will need parents and community members on board to support you. Build a solid “Public Relations” base by posting links to relevant research and hosting information meetings on the value of immersion language learning.
- Incorporate authentic assessments into your teaching. At its heart, immersion teaching means authentic use of language, so assessments should be authentic, too. Ideally, assessments should provide opportunities for students to use the language they have learned in a way that seems natural—in their element as they socialize with one another, or in communication with a native speaker. You could have them converse about a favorite TV show or record a Skype chat with students from the target culture.
- Keep it task-based. Students will find the language more relevant if they are using it in ways that make sense in the context of the classroom to accomplish real-life tasks, such as working with a group to complete a lab or interviewing a subject area expert.
- Use authentic media, stories and people. When it comes to authentic media, the internet offers a wealth of possibilities, such as connecting with the language via news articles, TV commercials and Facebook posts. Encounters with such authentic media bring the language to life for your students. Include native speakers whenever possible, either community members or online partners, to give students an authentic view of the language and culture.
Once you have created the best curriculum for you, you are free to add all the spontaneity that makes immersion language learning truly memorable, all while keeping your goals in clear view.