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Characteristics of Successful Second Language Programs

Based on over 10 years of research and program assessments by Evaluation Plus Inc., successful second language programs (French and other languages) include the following characteristics:
1. Positive Education Authority Support
The education authority endorses the importance of learning the second language. The authority defines programming conditions (e.g., student eligibility, equitable access, instructional time), provides sufficient funding and hires competent teachers. The authority encourages career-long professional development and promotes the language programs.
2. Positive Principal Support
The school principal hires and assigns competent teachers and schedules sufficient time for the second language programs. The principal plays a leadership role in the administration and promotion of the programs, allocates an appropriate budget and supports the teachers.
3. Competent, Enthusiastic Teachers
Using French as an example, the teachers possess at least a B2 level of French language competency if they are teaching Intensive–Post-Intensive French, at least a B1 level in Core French and at least a C1 level in French Immersion. The teachers are knowledgeable about second language acquisition and appropriate second language teaching and learning strategies. The teachers understand how to effectively integrate technology into their instruction. They teach effectively, providing a variety of interactive learning activities for students. They are competent in the content areas if they are teaching subjects other than French language arts, and participate in professional learning activities. The teachers create a positive, caring learning environment.
4. Positive Parent and Community Support
Parents understand and support the second language programs and encourage their children to learn the second language. As well, the business community and the community at large support second language learning as part of a world-class education. The teachers in the school support second language learning.
5. Sufficient Instructional Time
Research and experience have shown that students' proficiency in the second language is highly proportional to the time devoted to instruction in the language.
For example, Early French Immersion programs provide at least 75% of the instructional time in the French language at the elementary school level, 60% of the instructional time in the French language at the middle or junior high school level and at least 50% of the instructional time in the French language at the senior high school level. Following these guidelines, students would receive over 7,000 hours of instruction from Grades 1 to 12.
In Late French Immersion (LFI), British Columbia, for example, recommends 100% in French in Grade 6 (year one) and 80% in Grade 7 (year 2). Manitoba suggests a range of 80%-50% instruction in French throughout the program. In Ontario, Ottawa-Carleton – offers 75% instruction in French in Grades 7 and 8 (years one and two).
In New Brunswick, LFI is offered in Grades 6, 7 and 8 for 70% of the instructional time, in Grades 9 and 10 for 50% of the instructional time or for 70% one year and 30% the following year. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador recommend 70 to 75% in the first two grades in Late French Immersion. Prince Edward Island recommends 80% instruction in French in Grades 7 and 8 and 50% in Grade 9. In Alberta, most school districts offer LFI for at least 65% of the instructional time, instructing French language arts, mathematics, social studies and science in French. Teacher availability and parental views often determine the degree of intensity.
At least 70% to 80% of the total instructional time should be provided in French in the first two years of the Late French Immersion program. Throughout the program, the minimum instructional time in French should be at least 50%.
In schools with Intensive French, French is taught intensively in Grade 5 for at least 75% of the school day for half the school year. In schools with Post-Intensive French, French is offered for approximately 200 minutes per week.
In schools with Intensive French, French is taught intensively in Grade 5 for at least 75% of the school day for half the school year. In schools with Post-Intensive French, French is offered for approximately 200 minutes per week.
Research has shown that the most efficient way to learn French is to spend concentrated time with it. A total of 60 hours concentrated into three weeks with four hours a day will produce higher results in language learning than with 60 hours spread over three months with one hour a day, even though the number of hours is the same.
Minimally, Core French programs should provide between 150 and 200 minutes of instruction per week over 10 months.
6. Clear and relevant curricular expectations
The curricular expectations are easy to understand and help students to develop a meaningful level of language proficiency and cultural understanding in the target language. In immersion, students learn effectively a variety of required and optional courses through the medium of the second language.
7. Students engaged in interactive learning
Students learn the second language in situations that are as close as possible to real communication. They develop an understanding of the target language system and subsystems (phonological, syntactic, semantic and pragmatic) by using the second language in authentic contexts. They develop communication skills through games, skits, simulations and dramatizations. Students make contact with speakers of the second language through structured interviews, writing letters or e-mail messages and meeting people who speak the second language.
Students are motivated through age-appropriate, enjoyable learning activities, many involving pair- or small-group work. Most activities have a strong focus on communication and student interaction. The second language teachers use strategies that include opportunities for intensive and extensive practice.
Second language students use information and communication technologies and other media to increase access to communication in the target language with both native and non-native speakers in Canada and in other countries.
8. Quality learning resources
Sufficient and appropriate classroom and library resources are available to support the second language programs. Learning resources are appropriate for the students' interest and language level. Resources include internet, online resources, computer software, dictionaries, novels, newspapers, magazines and books for personal interest, DVDs, films, music, television programs and other technologies.
9. Well-articulated programs
Students experience a similar learning program at a given instructional level in schools across the education authority. Program expectations, instructional time, instructional and assessment practices and learning resources are similar at each grade level.
Smooth and logical transitions occur between elementary and secondary school levels. Program expectations at the secondary school level build on knowledge and skills acquired at the elementary school level.
Elementary and secondary school language teachers and school administrators work together to develop programs, which build on previous learning in the second language and content areas.
In both Immersion and Intensive French programs, the French language arts and English language arts teachers undertake joint planning to eliminate needless repetition of skills already taught in one language, to maximize the possibilities of language transfer and to reduce interferences between the two languages.
10. Professional Development
The teachers access a variety of second language professional development activities. The teachers belong to a language education professional organization and subscribe to one or two professional journals dealing specifically with the teaching of a second language. School administrators encourage and support lifelong professional learning.
11. Communication, Promotion and Marketing
The school shares learning outcomes and program expectations with parents at conferences held at the beginning of the school year. The school invites parents of elementary school students to participate in language learning events. The school newsletter reports regularly on events and achievements in the second language program. The school provides new parents with a parent information package about the second language programs. The school has developed successful partnerships with families, the community, and business.
The education authority and schools promote the benefits of learning second languages. The promotion highlights job opportunities, research results and study and exchange opportunities. The second language programs are promoted through information packages for parents and students, open houses, information evenings, brochures, educational authority or school web site, school displays, student clubs, e-mail pals, field trips, student exchanges and posters. The second language is visible in the school through the use of signs, bulletin boards, displays, school concerts, extra-curricular activities and school announcements.
12. Student Access, Support and Recognition
The second language programs are available to all students. Students who have special needs, including gifted and English language learning students, receive appropriate assistance. Students are recognized for their achievement through certificates, awards, bursaries and other incentives.
13. Assessment, Achievement and Certification
The school implements an assessment system that diagnoses language learning needs at the entry point, provides feedback on progress and certifies achievement at the end of the program.
The school has a clear system for placing students in an appropriate language level class. The school uses language portfolio assessment to help students record and reflect on their language learning. Students demonstrate a high level of achievement in language learning.
14. Suitable Facilities and Equipment
The school provides appropriate classroom space and equipment for language learning. Students have access to computers in the classroom as well as in a computer lab.
15. Financial Support
Sufficient funds are available to purchase learning resources, student assessment materials and to fund professional learning needs, cultural activities and student and staff recognition.

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