Structured English Immersion in ESL Instruction Research Paper Starter

Structured English Immersion in ESL Instruction

(Research Starters)

Structured English Immersion (SEI) is a method of teaching English as a second language. Several states have passed legislation mandating the use of Structured English immersion in service of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students unless otherwise exempted by waivers. This paper briefly introduces the concept of LEP and Federal LEP program expectations and educational access rights as they apply to SEI and all LEP programs. The bilingual Canadian concept of language immersion, upon which the original concept of structured English immersion was based, is introduced with the varying definitions of what SEI is or is not. Diverse applications of SEI in the states of California, Massachusetts, and Arizona are presented.

Keywords Bilingual Education; English Immersion; English Language Development (ELD); English Language Learners (ELL); English as a Second Language (ESL); Immersion Education; Primary Language (L1); Second Language (L2); Limited English Proficient (LEP); No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Structured English Immersion (SEI)

English as a Second Language: Structured English Immersion in ESL Instruction


According to the US Department of Education (2004), there are 5.5 million limited English proficient (LEP) students whose first language is other than English. While, eighty percent of LEP children have the ability to speak Spanish, over four hundred first languages exist for the US LEP population as a whole. All of these children face the challenge of learning academic skills and content, and most often not in their first language (Collier & Thomas, 2007) in addition to developing proficiency in the English language.

In the US, educational programs for LEP students can be categorized into two categories: ESL and Bilingual Education. Most programs include parts of both. While English Immersion falls under the category of ESL (National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Language Instruction Educational Programs, 2007), in its original conception Baker and de Kanter (as cited in Baker, 1999) suggested that it include some instruction in students' first languages. The subject is further complicated as immersion, as it relates to learning a second language, has traditionally been a concept in bilingual education (Mora, 2002). The approaches and goals of both types of immersion are vastly different.

LEP Students

The term Limited English Proficient describes the English as a second language learner as having a deficit in English (Cummins & Davison, 2007). LEP children are diverse in age, formal educational backgrounds, first languages and cultures, socio-economic status, first and second language development. They also have diverse program options, based on where they live. Some LEP children enter the US formal education system at the secondary level and others at the primary level. For some, it will be the first time (often due to war) that they have had the opportunity to sit in a classroom, handle a pencil, or use a book. Others will have had seamless first language and content instruction in their countries of origin, and will possess literacy and academic content knowledge and skills to transfer into their new learning environment (Collier & Thomas, 2007).

The educational options available to LEP students in the United States are a function of the state, district and school boundaries in which they live. There are federal protections for LEP students. Because of the Supreme Court's 1974 ruling in Lau vs. Nichols, it is not legal to place a child in a mainstream English class before he or she can "participate meaningfully" (Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy, 2007, page 4). Providing the same education to language minority students as to native English speakers is a violation of the language minority children's civil rights (LoBianco, 2007) as protected under Title Six of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (United States Department of Education, 2005a and 2005b). The Court offered ESL and Bilingual education as adequate remedies but also stated that additional remedies might be acceptable.

English as a Second Language (ESL)

In the US, ESL or English as a Second Language has as its goal, the development of social and academic language proficiency (Linquanti, 1999a). It is often perceived as remedial instruction. What constitutes an ESL program depends on the social, political, and cultural environment in which it exists (Candlin, Mohan, Leung, and Davison, 2001). All ESL programs are provided in English. Some ESL programs address English language learning in isolation of the mainstream content that English proficient peers continually receive. Others address English language learning concurrently with content and cognitive learning (Collier and Thomas, 2007).

The three areas of ESL instructional focus are grammar, communicative use of the language, and learning the language through often-simplified academic content skills and concepts (Linquanti, 1999a).

Bilingual Education

As in ESL, there are varieties of bilingual programs that reflect the social, political, and cultural values in which they exist. Bilingual education programs are more easily implemented in learning contexts where there are a substantial number of learners from the same first language background (Vialpando, Yedlin, Linse, Harrington, and Cannon, 2005).

Bilingual education uses the first language of the learner, as well as English, to teach English proficiency in all models. In some forms it allows the learners to develop full academic proficiency in both the first and second language while learning academic content(Linquanti, 1999) while in others it has as its goal of academic proficiency in English only while learning academic content (Collier and Thomas, 2007). Each bilingual program has an ESL component to it (NCELA, 2005).

Bilingual Immersion

A great variety exists in conceptual use of bilingual terminology. Collier and Thomas (2007) for example equate two-way bilingual immersion with two-way enrichment dual language education. Linquanti (1999a, 1999b) makes a distinction between bilingual immersion and dual language bilingual immersion. Linquanti (1999c) defines bilingual immersion as a two to four year transitional program with the goal of L2 development. In bilingual immersion, students of a common first language group receive one hour of literacy and academic concept instruction in their first language each day. This is followed by content instruction in Sheltered English for the rest of the day.

The term immersion education, from a second language learning and teaching standpoint, is most properly understood as a category within bilingual education (Mora, 2000). Johnson and Swain (as cited by Mora, 2000) state that immersion has been excessively extended from its original meaning. They contend that its current misuse to describe English-only instructional programs for language minority students in the United States makes it difficult to discuss issues and problems in immersion education.

However, within in the field of bilingual education there are different concepts of what bilingual immersion is (Cummins, 1998; Linquanti, 1999a, 1999c; Thomas and Collier, 2007). For example, two-way dual language/ developmental bilingual education, which offers biliteracy and mainstream content to both language minority and language majority groups, is also called bilingual immersion. However, one-way dual language/developmental bilingual education, which offers biliteracy and mainstream content to LEP learners of a common first language, is not (Thomas and Collier, 2007). Furthermore, one-way dual language/developmental bilingual education for majority (English) language background students learning French, is called immersion (Cummins, 1998).

Both the US and Canada have implemented second language immersion programs under different social and linguistic contexts. Cummins (1998) explains that much of what is known about using a second language as a medium of instruction is based on the Canadian French immersion programs; for these programs were the first to have been studied long-term. The French immersion programs were designed for students of the majority language (English speakers) to learn the less dominant French language and culture (Genessee and Gándara, 1999).

Attributes of Immersion Programs

Johnson and Swain (as cited in Cummins, 1998) identified several attributes common to immersion programs:

• All programs used the second language as a medium of instruction and teachers were bilingual.

• The programs sought to add a second language to the first rather than replace the first with the second.

• All students entered the immersion programs with a similar and limited proficiency in the second language and their only exposure to the second language was while they were at school.

• The curriculum followed the mainstream curriculum of the L1 community, classroom culture was based on the culture of the L1 community, and L1 development was supported.

Cummins (1998) notes that consistent research findings on French immersion programs show that in all models of the program, there is no long-term slowdown of content mastery taught in the second language. In addition, students were found to be developing high levels of fluency and literacy in both languages. Because there seems to be no relationship to the instructional time in L1 and academic achievement in L1, Cummins suggests that the academic or literacy skills in one language transfer to the other. In Cummins' 1981, work (as cited in Cummins, 1998) this interdependence principle states that instruction in one language can be effective in promoting proficiency in another language when the learner has enough exposure to the other language and enough motivation to learn the other language. The implication of this principle in promoting literacy development in a second language is that if a child is slow in learning to read in the second language, literacy in the first or stronger language should be promoted and then, after literacy is achieved in the stronger language, it can be transferred to the second (Cummins,1998).


Bilingual Immersion in the U.S.

American bilingual immersion programs exist in two contexts: one-way developmental bilingual education and two-way/dual immersion Thomas and Collier, 2007). In addition, bilingual immersion programs in the bilingual context are claimed to produce the best English and academic outcomes for LEP students (Thomas and Collier, 2007; Rolstad, Mahoney, & Glass, 2005).

One-Way Developmental Bilingual Education (DBE)

In one-way developmental bilingual education, Collier and Thomas (cited in Collier & Thomas, 2007) state that LEP students with one common language background are instructed in two languages and academic content for six to twelve years. The goal is for students of varying levels of language proficiency to learn together with uninterrupted cognitive development and accelerated achievement in academic content areas (Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence, 2001). Boals (2001) explains that in comparison to two-way DBE, one-way DBE programs are designed for minority language speakers and often have less support than two-way DBE programs who serve language majority and language minority groups. Nieto (as cited in Boals, 2001) also adds that one-way DBE programs exist mostly at the elementary rather than secondary level. In academic classes, students of higher language proficiency levels are function as peer tutors to others. A DBE program needs enough language minority students for at least one class at any specific grade level and planning must be done to make sure enrollment is adequate for future maintenance of the program (CREDE, 2001).

Dual Language Developmental Bilingual Education (DBE)

In two-way immersion, also know as dual language/ developmental bilingual education, LEP students close the academic achievement gap with non-LEP students by the end of the six to twelve year long program (Thomas and Collier, 2007). Christian (as cited in Howard and Sugarman, 2001) explains that in two-way immersion programs the goal is to promote academic language proficiency in two languages in addition to grade-level academic achievement in the mainstream curriculum. In this setting, language minority and language majority students are integrated for most or all of the day.

English Immersion/Structured English Immersion (SEI)

The term English Immersion is often partially defined by what it is not: bilingual education. It refers to a variety of English-only programs for LEP students (Torrance, 2005). Torrance (2005) and Noonan (2002) state that contrary to what some critics claim, it is not done in a sink or swim, or submersion, context where LEP students are left to survive on their own in mainstream classes. Rather, it is an approach to LEP education that uses English as a means of instruction and has as its goal the development of proficiency in one language: English (Torrance, 2005). Baker (1999) explains that there are several versions of Structured English Immersion (SEI) but that all are characterized by extensive use of English and ESL methodology.

SEI was originally recommended by Baker and de Kanter (as cited in Baker, 1999) based on the success of the Canadian immersion models used to teach French to English speakers. They proposed that the Canadian Immersion model could be adapted to teaching LEP students English in the United States. Furthermore, SEI would share the bilingual education feature of teaching content and a second language simultaneously. According to Baker (1999), SEI does not mean English-only instruction. Baker and Rossell and Baker (as cited in Baker, 1999) state that the use of a child's native language in an SEI setting can help with student motivation, emotional comfort level, self-esteem and in rapid student teacher communication.

In the original form of SEI, LEP students with beginning levels of English proficiency were to have native language support in understanding content (Adams & Jones, 2006). Vialpando, Yedlin, Linse, Harrington, and Cannon (2005) define Structured English Immersion as an English-only ESL program with no overt teaching of English. In their definition of SEI, language is taught through content area instruction and students are mainstreamed after two to three years. They recommend that teachers possess adequate second language skills to be able to clarify English instruction in the first languages of the students when necessary.

Linquanti (1999c) defines three models of English Immersion. The first is called English Language Development (ELD) or ESL pull-out. In this model, LEP students are partially integrated with English proficient peers. LEP students are taught away from the mainstream classroom for a specified amount of time. During the pull-out time they receive instruction with Grammar-based ESL, Communication-based ESL and sometimes, Content-based ESL. The second English Immersion model is the Structured Immersion model in which LEP students are segregated from the mainstream. In this model, LEP students receive sheltered content-based instruction in all subjects, mostly in English. The...

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