Monthly Archives: April 2013

Measuring the success of Utah’s dual immersion program

It’s a question I hear over and over again from parents: How do I know if my child is excelling academically?

The battery of tests our kids take suggests schools are constantly probing the same question. But do those tests apply to dual immersion students?

Utah parents were promised two things when they enrolled their children in dual immersion: that their kids would become fluent and literate in a second language, and that they would suffer no setbacks in reading, writing, math, science or social studies. 

State officials have developed specialized tools to gauge how much Mandarin, Spanish, French or Portuguese students are acquiring. One of the measures, “summative” assessments of their listening, speaking and writing abilities will be given this spring for the first time to all immersion third and fourth graders. Parents will get results next fall. More on that later…..

But conventional year-end tests show that for several years running, Utah has come through on its second promise that no academic harm would come to immersion students. Data show Utah’s immersion students perform as good as, or better than, their non-immersion peers on state reading and math assessments, said Utah World Languages Specialist Gregg Roberts. 

This suggests students are absorbing some second language, since up until 3rd grade math is predominantly taught in that language, notes Roberts. It also squares with the experience of other states and other countries, including the birthplace of modern immersion, Canada.

According to the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition:
“Immersion students met or exceeded English program students’ performance in mathematics and science, and province-wide assessments in three Canadian provinces found that at grades 6, 8, and 10, respectively, immersion students did as well as or achieved at a significantly higher level than those in the regular program. (Bournot-Trites & Tellowitz, 2002; British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2000; Dube & MacFarlane, 1999; New Brunswick Department of Education, 2000; Turnbull, Hart & Lapkin, 2000.)”

How is this possible, you ask? Scientists exploring the benefits of bilingualism offering one explanation – being bilingual boosts your brain, they say. Studies suggest being bilingual enhances cognitive abilities and may even help stave off dementia, reports The New York Times.

Of course, such research is still in its infancy; there is no direct proof that being bilingual makes you smarter. Could it be that kids who enroll in immersion programs tend to be overachievers from upwardly mobile families who start the school year already well ahead of their peers? 

Portland is testing that assumption by comparing year-end scores of students who won the immersion lottery to those who tried enrolling but lost the lottery, said Roberts. A Utah-commissioned study by the Educational Policy Center at the University of Utah pursues the same question from a different angle.

Researchers compared year-end reading and math scores of immersion students at 17 Utah schools to non-immersion students. To make sure they were comparing apples and apples, they weighted students’ scores differently based on a student’s socioeconomic or non-English-speaking status, explained Roberts. They found immersion students on average scored 5 points higher on English Language Arts CRT’s and 4 points higher on math CRT’s. In addition, they were more likely to be reading on grade level and were less likely to be chronically absent than traditional students.

“Keep in mind the immersion kids are also going up against all the gifted and talented programs in the state,” said Roberts, noting that immersion programs accept kids of all abilities.

Now, back to the language assessments. Are you still with me? 

By now most parents have probably seen the Student Proficiency Reports that immersion teachers produce showing whether students are making adequate progress in their world language. Next fall you’ll also receive results from the first round of AAPPL tests.  “Language is a skill, a skill that can be demonstrated and tested,” said Roberts.

Computerized, role-playing assessments developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the AAPPL tests are conversational and interactive. Students sit at a computer wearing special headsets and are prompted to answer questions by a videotaped person speaking Chinese, Spanish, French or Portuguese. Students responses are recorded and sent to ACTFL for scoring.

Here’s a video showing how it works.

Immersion students will take these tests every year starting in the 3rd grade. Testing for the first few years will alternate between measuring interpersonal listening and speaking skills versus their presentational writing skills. In latter years, tests will be added to measure interpretive listening and reading, culminating in 9th grade with the College AP exam. If they pass, students will be able to take college-level courses in high school.  Here’s a spreadsheet that breaks it down into more detail with links for more information.

These tests cost money, and show just how much the state has invested in this program and wants it to succeed. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the results!

Bilingual acting camp opportunity

The Utah Children’s Theatre is hosting a unique ESL Arts program this summer and is looking for families willing to host Chinese participants.

Date: July 9-18 (approximate) Time: 10:00-4:00 pm (approximate)
Age Range: 8-14, plus high school age group leaders. Cost: $399 or Free (see below)

Experience an acting camp like no other! Students from China will be coming to Utah for a fun, educational arts opportunity. American and Chinese children will learn public speaking and communication skills, play sports and theatre games, sing, dance, and have an interactive experience that could lead to lifetime friendships. Days and times may vary and some activities may be held on Saturdays. Field trips to the Natural History Museum, State Capitol, University of Utah, or other local destinations are included. A recital showcase featuring scenes and songs from the musical Pecos Bill will be held on the evening of July 17. Host 2 Chinese students in your home and your child takes the class for FREE! Please continue to the end of this description for more details.

In addition to having a unique arts experience with their Chinese friends, all American students taking the course will receive an American Mentor Certificate and a letter of recommendation which can be used in college applications. Student group leaders will also receive the Helen Foster Snow Leadership Award. This is a great way to bolster Sterling Scholar, college, and scholarship applications.This camp may also count toward community service hours for citizenship.

Camp participants will generally attend field trips in the morning and classes in the afternoon. In addition to singing and movement rehearsals for the final showcase, there will be American culture and ESL classes attended by both the Chinese students and their American mentors. The showcase performance is free and open to family and friends who wish to attend.

Host Families

Host families are an important part of the Chinese arts experience. If you host 2 Chinese students in your home for the duration of the camp, your child gets to take the camp for FREE. Additional children from the same immediate family may attend for half price. Parent volunteer opportunities may also be available to help pay for the cost of the camp.

Homes should be clean, comfortable, and welcoming. Two Chinese students of the same gender will be assigned to each home. They do not need to have their own room, but they must have their own bed. The bathroom must have a lock so students can change in privacy. An adult with a valid driver’s license and car insurance must be available to transport the students to and from camp daily. A photo of the host family will be sent to the Chinese students a few weeks before camp starts. A home stay coordinator will arrange a home check, meet the family and ensure the guidelines are met.

Utah Children’s Theatre will provide lunch for all students on class days. All other meals are provided by the host family. The Chinese students spend evenings and weekends with the host families. Host families are encouraged to eat together and take the Chinese students with them wherever they may be going. A shopping trip with the family to one of the local malls is also encouraged, as the students want to purchase souvenirs and other memorabilia. While the time away from camp is up to the discretion of individual host families, we hope the families will do activities with the students, such as go swimming, play games, hike, go to a movie, or do other fun things a typical American family enjoys.

If you are interested in hosting Chinese students for the camp, or have any other questions, please send an email to

An all-immersion school in Scottsdale

The Arizona Republic reports that every single student at Pueblo Elementary School in Scottsdale will soon spend half the day learning in Spanish:

“Principal Art Velarde said the immersion program has proven so popular that it was no longer feasible to offer a non-immersion program.

‘I only had 12 students in the conventional strand for kindergarten next year, and eight of those were there because they hoped to gain admission to the immersion program the next year,’ Velarde said.”

The story touts Utah’s immersion program as a model.


$300 million scholarship opportunity for studying in China

From the New York Times:

“HONG KONG — The private-equity tycoon Stephen A. Schwarzman, backed by an array of mostly Western blue-chip companies with interests in China, is creating a $300 million scholarship for study in China that he hopes will rival the Rhodes scholarship in prestige and influence….

The Schwarzman Scholars program will pay all expenses for 200 students each year from around the world for a one-year master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

The program’s creation underlines the tremendous importance of China and its market to Wall Street financiers and corporate leaders, who have become increasingly anxious as security and economic frictions grow between China and the West,” reports the New York Times.


Solutions to foreign language teacher shortage

Some say language immersion programs are a fad. But their steady pace of worldwide growth suggests otherwise.

For a glimpse at the future: just look at Canada, the birthplace of modern immersion. About 8 percent of the public school students in British Columbia are enrolled in French immersion, according to the Vancouver Sun.

Increased competition for qualified teachers has contributed to a foreign language teacher shortage. In Ohio, demand for immersion teachers has long outpaced supply, according to news reports. The shortage is especially acute for Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Portuguese programs, in part because businesses, hungry for bilingual workers, woo educators away from classrooms with the promise of higher earnings.

Utah isn’t immune to the shortages. But our reputation and leadership role has given it us an edge in recruiting, says Utah Chinese Immersion Program Director Sandy Talbot. “We receive applications from across the country. Universities tell their graduates, ‘If you’re interested  in teaching immersion, look to Utah.’  But a lot of [college education degree programs] don’t have the qualifications we require.”

Some states, including Oregon, are remedying the problem by going virtual and having teachers conduct online lessons from their homeland.

China, which struggles to recruit English teachers, is deploying a similar strategy.

But Utah –  taking a longer view, and benefitting from the mistakes of others who have been doing immersion for far longer – started growing and grooming a local pool of teaching talent from day one. The state’s five major universities offer an endorsement for immersion teachers. Talbot says corporate head hunting groups have also offered to help recruit teachers. To be hired as a non-native speaker, you must first pass a PRAXIS test, “a difficult oral interview and reading and writing test,” of a person’s fluency, she said. State education officials also do open houses to encourage foreign language educators-in-training to consider jobs in elementary schools. Previously, the only option was to teach in secondary schools. 

“It takes time. You don’t just do this overnight. But we are starting to see the fruits of three years of work,” said immersion director at Canyons School District, Ofelia Wade.

Today the state employs close to 100 Chinese teachers, about a third of them from overseas. These guest teachers enrich the program culturally and expose children to native accents, which is especially important with a tonal language like Chinese. But they come here on J-1 visas and by federal law can only stay here for up to three years with approval from the district. Most stay for one or two years because they have jobs and lives to get back to at home, Talbot says.

Another pathway to teaching for native speakers is through universities. Students from other countries who complete graduate programs in the U.S. can stay and work here for one year under an F-1 visa. They call this occupational training, and though limited to one year, it is a pathway to another visa known as HIB and later, a green card, which allows them to stay longer. The University of Utah has a master’s of world language program with seven native speakers on the F-1 track, says Talbot. The process is expensive, however, and often requires getting a lawyer involved to handle paperwork.

High teacher turnover has been a concern in some immersion classrooms. 
“Guest teachers are not the long term solution,” but will remain part of the solution, said Talbot. “We won’t do away with the program, because they bring a cultural component.”

Among the unsung benefits: Teachers recruited through the Hanban, a division of the Chinese Ministry of Education, go through two months of cultural indoctrination and classroom management training – six weeks in China, two weeks at the University of California, Los Angeles and two weeks in Utah at the AUDI conference where they’re exposed to the curriculum and lesson plans, Talbot said. These teachers also come with a $13,000 stipend. Some districts take a portion of this off the top of their salary and use it to hire classroom aids or interns.

The teachers are solicited and the top ones picked by the Hanban. They are among the best educators in their country, reliable and expected to be good ambassadors for the country, said Talbot. “Last year 3,000 teachers applied in China and only 300 to 400 accepted [by the Hanban].” Talbot is on a national Council of State Supervisors of Foreign Language appointed by the College Board to fly to Beijing once a year to interview and place these teachers in program across the country. “Last year I interviewed for Utah and seven other states,” she said.  “We place all of the teachers in the schools while we are in China. I go there knowing what the schools need.”

Of the eight Hanban teachers hired in 2012-13, only one returned home at the end of the year, said Talbot. “The rest are staying for another year.”
Previously Utah also recruited out of Taiwan, but has temporarily suspended its memorandum of understanding with the country. The government there decided it could not financially support the program, said Talbot.

Each school district also appoints officials – a welcoming committee of sorts – to help guest teachers get settled. But parents, too, should reach out to their principals with offers of help. Try to imagine the obstacles these teachers face when they get here. Little things like securing and furnishing apartments, getting a driver’s license and opening bank accounts.

You can help by inviting your teacher over for dinner or for a weekend getaway to the mountains or southern Utah dessert. Offer to be on-call to answer questions.  The experience is bound to be personally enriching and teachers will, no doubt, remember these warm gestures when they return home. 

Host a foreign exchange student

From council Representative Wendy Hadden:

We are looking for great families to host some excited Chinese students coming toUtah this summer. This is a really fun experience and your family will have the opportunity to build a special relationship with your student.
Dates: July 8- July 23
Compensation: $100
Ages: 13-15

Compass provides opportunities for the student to see and experience Utah, like a trip to Salt Lake, City Creek, and the University of Utah. We will be doing other activities like the Legacy Center, Wines Park, and the outlet mall. There are two more activities that have yet to be decided. Families are invited to every activity we do, and if the host children are old enough, they may attend with out a parent.

Only 4 Family responsibilities:
Families are responsible for providing a bed for the student. Their own room is definately not necessary, and in fact, we do not encourage that. We find that the student interacts more when they have to share a bedroom. They may only share a bedroom with a child of the same sex.
Families are responsible for providing food for the student. Breakfast, lunch and dinner must be made available. This does not mean that mom must cook every meal, just that the student has access to food 3 times a day. A packed lunch is sent with the student on days when the student has a Compass activity.

Families are expected to treat their student like a member of their family. These students are so excited to come to Utah and will blend in with your family if given the opportunity in a warm loving home!
Families need to get their student to the activities Compass is providing. The meeting place will either be RA or the Front Runner station behind Thanksgiving Point.

Students come with their own insurance and spending money.
If you would like to experience the Chinese language and culture in your own home and have a fun time doing it, then hosting a Chinese student is the thing for you! 

Teresa Freeman

Brush up on your Mandarin

Some people can do yoga or P90X at home. Others need the motivation that only a gym class can provide.

Guess I’m among the latter, since I’ve only once used the self-directed Rosetta subscription I purchased.

So for those of us in need of a little face-to-face instruction – and peer pressure – here’s a list of adult Mandarin courses offered at various school districts. They typically run $65 to $85 for 9-12 hours of instruction. Thanks to Sarah Erwin for compiling this.

Know of other courses not listed here? Please share!

Canyons District:
Canyon’s School District Community Education
Class held at Indian Hills Middle School.  Two levels of Mandarin instruction.

Davis District:
Davis School District  
Classes held at Layton High School.  Chinese for beginners.

Granite District:
Granite Peaks Lifelong Learning  
Classes held at Cottonwood High School in conjunction with The Confucius Institute.  Four levels of Mandarin Instruction.

Washington County:
Dixie State College Community Education
Classes held at Dixie State College. Speaking & writing for beginners.  

A great site on raising Mandarin bilingual children

Nothing quite like Mommy power.

Mandarin Immersion Parents Council

There’s a San Francisco Bay area  Mandarin-speaking mom named Vickie Tsui who was frustrated enough at the lack of good bilingual books that she sat down and wrote one herself. She’s also got great tips about raising bilingual kids when you speak Mandarin but the world around you doesn’t. Check out her blog (and her book) here:

She’s also got a great web site

where she reviews and explains books in Chinese and has a great link to files where she’s actually read them aloud. She totally rocks.

And for those in the Bay area, a nice spreadsheet of afterschool and Saturday Chinese programs, along with local immersion schools.

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Continuing education opportunity for Chinese dual immersion teachers

The Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah has announcned its schedule of summer professional development workshops for educators.

One of the workshops, “Contemporary China,” will cover contemporary Chinese society, art, literature, film and politics. The one-week workshops cost about $60, are taught by U. faculty and can be counted as credit toward teaching degrees (for an extra fee).

Space is limited and registration is open now.

For more information, visit: