Member Kudos: Mandarin Dual Immersion and Spanish K-14 Program, Farwell Area Schools

2015 Education Excellence Award Recipient

DashBoard, June 3, 2015

Students took home a trophy from the 2014 Foreign Language Day at Saginaw Valley State University.

The 20 recipients of the 2015 MASB/SET SEG Foundation Education Excellence Awards are some of the greatest examples of unique and innovative public school programs in the state of Michigan. Over the next few months, MASB will share the details of each program from their applications, presented in alphabetical order by district. This week we highlight the Mandarin Dual Immersion and Spanish K-14 Program offered by Farwell Area Schools.

Description: Farwell has an extremely high population of at-risk, low socioeconomic students who had previously fallen behind many of the world languages opportunities offered at different districts around the state and country. The scope of this program is one of the grandest in the state, especially for high-poverty rural school districts, that seeks to provide students with a robust exposure to another language and culture while ensuring standard curricula is also met. The program involved a dual language Mandarin Chinese immersion (only one of five in state) that began in the preschool held in the elementary. Currently, students can still attend a virtual classroom taught by a teacher at Michigan State University. Likewise, students in the elementary take Spanish as “a specials class” and continue with their instruction in the middle and high schools. By their sophomore year, students can dual enroll in college Spanish courses taught in the high school and continue with 200-level coursework in their junior year. The ultimate goal for students who take full advantage of the program offerings is to graduate from high school with college credit, as well as high levels of proficiency in three languages (Spanish, Chinese and English).

First grade class

Funding/Resources: Overall, the program was implemented within the general fund. Two additional Spanish teachers were hired, one for the elementary and one for the middle school. At least one of these hires was necessary in order to help students meet the Michigan world language graduation requirement. The high school teacher was approved to teach all the Spanish courses offered by Mid-Michigan Community College as an adjunct instructor allowing students in these courses to expand their options without additional costs.

In regard to the Chinese program, the district received an Early Childhood Development Corporation grant in order to begin the preschool Chinese language offerings. Moreover, the dual immersion model has allowed Chinese instructors to be contracted from Michigan State University's Confucius Institute at no additional cost to the standard budget. These teachers were paired with American teachers and exchanged students halfway through the school day. This way, each teacher saw up to fifty students per day. The teachers were hired through attrition of staff and cost the district no additional money. Dual immersion programs have become a recognized revenue neutral way of engaging students in extended sequences of world language instruction.

Ms. Wenting's Class

Outreach: The Farwell Elementary Mandarin Dual Immersion and Spanish K-14 Program expands educational opportunities that improve students' abilities to achieve the Four C's.

Communication: To begin, the language offerings clearly increase students' abilities in communication. First and foremost, students were able to enroll in Chinese language during half the school day. Students not only learn about the Chinese language and culture, but they also had their math and science instruction in Chinese. Immersion education has continually demonstrated that students can achieve as well or better in English while advancing in the target language. Likewise, students can learn other subject areas within the language instruction without experiencing a decline in performance. The immersion choice offered students the opportunity to reach intermediate and advanced levels of proficiency by the end of course sequences.

In regard to communication, teachers are expected to reach the advanced proficiency threshold before they are awarded a teaching license in Michigan. Moreover, all students also receive instruction in an extended sequence in Spanish. As previously discussed, students in the high school can graduate with 12 credits of on-campus, college-level instruction and even more as dual enrolled students. Therefore, the most engaged students can initiate their university coursework at the 300 (advanced) level in Spanish, well above most communication outcomes from similar schools. Students in the Chinese Immersion program learn Spanish as well, increasing their communication to three languages. Lastly, even their communication tends to improve. Research supports student gains in English performance with continued foreign language study. Truly, students that complete this program will expand opportunities to communicate with one-third of the planet.

Creativity: Students expanded their opportunities to express themselves creatively in up to two other languages. Likewise, their language abilities allow them to design their own projects, skits and other presentation materials that have won awards at competitions at both Central Michigan and Saginaw Valley State Universities.

The expanded language pathways also allow them to consider many more possibilities at the university and workforce level. For example, students that have taken the Spanish college-level classes at the high school have gone on to study abroad opportunities, graduate school and into Spanish language teacher positions. For students that are extremely at-risk and economically disadvantaged, there are many more creative outlets in their future.

Critical Thinking: Foreign language education has changed much in the United States. Rather than being a rote memorization course that has students parrot back memorized responses, students are asked to utilize their language skills in a functional way and combine elements of the language they know creatively. They do not have to focus on perfection, but instead on using the language in a communicative and problem-solving way.

When the language is being used as a medium of instruction rather than solely as the content of instruction, in the immersion and upper-level courses for example, students' opportunities for critical thinking are increased. Indeed, students have to wrestle cognitively with understanding the language as well as the content they are learning. Any communication they make in this manner is functional and their critical thinking is enhanced because of the nature of the communication. There is no way to simply parrot back a learned response; they must combine elements of the language in novel ways. Hence, the majority of the language modeling and usage is produced with critical thinking.

Collaboration: This program has increased opportunities for students to collaborate on multiple levels. For example, students at the upper end of the K-14 course sequence in Spanish learn to collaborate with two different institutions and their processes, policies and procedures. Students in the high school college Spanish courses have had the opportunity to attend classes, professor discussion nights, cultural events and even make presentations at Mid-Michigan Community College, and Central Michigan and Saginaw Valley State Universities. They have also collaborated online through Google software with Global Brigades and a microloan organization in Honduras and produced training materials for college students to use on alternative spring breaks. They have also served as interpreters for "Read Around the World" Skype collaborative interactions with classrooms around the United States and internationally. At the other end of the spectrum, elementary students have had to learn how to interact collaboratively with their Chinese instructors. These instructors are Chinese nationals and our students have had to implicitly and explicitly learn how to behave bi- and multiculturally.

Results: To begin with, the achievement results from the Mandarin Immersion program have been one of the most analyzed areas in the elementary building. It was found that the scores for immersion students tended to be suppressed in kindergarten and sometimes first grade compared to traditional students with various assessments of English language arts and mathematics.

However, the immersion kids achieved at a faster rate and by second grade assessments and beyond were typically outscoring the nonimmersion students. For example, a cursory examination of the third grade MEAP results released in 2014 showed that the Chinese immersion students outscored the traditional students in mathematics by an average of 17 points and in reading by an average of eight points. This also coincided with Farwell Elementary's rating at the 35th percentile for the 2013-2014 school year, compared to ranking at the 7th percentile in 2011-2012. The 2013-2014 results included the immersion students' scores for the first time.

The results of the program have been intensely scrutinized and published as a 2014 thesis written under the guidance of a learning and memory researcher. Using advanced statistical analyses and controlling for levels of poverty and kindergarten readiness, the analyses support the immersion students performing on par with the traditional students in tests of English language arts and mathematics, in addition to their increasing fluency in Mandarin Chinese. (The Defense Language Institute suggests that Mandarin is one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn.)

The immersion students were able to achieve at a comparable level to their peers, even though half their academic day was not taught in English. However, the most interest achievement data in mathematics came in the third grade year. All students were administered the MEAP in fall 2013 and the immersion students' lead approached statistical significance. More spectacular, the final STAR Math assessment at the end of the third grade indicated that the immersion students outscored the traditional students and the results were statistically significant.

In regard to the K-14 Spanish program, enrollment data suggests that more students are enrolling in the on-campus dual enrollment Spanish 101 and 102 courses than in previous years. The very first year that the dual enrollment Spanish courses were offered, five students completed 102 and four students completed 201 for a total of 36 college credits. For the 2013-2014 school year, 18 students completed 101 and 13 finished 102 for 124 credits. These students may still take Spanish college courses their junior, senior or early college year off campus. The K-14 Spanish program has increased the success of our students at the university level. For example, one student that attended the University of Michigan placed into the 202 course after completing the 102-201 sequence at the high school.

Further, achievement results from the National Spanish Examination also evidence the effectiveness of the K-14 Spanish programming. In the 2013-2014 school year, students that took the exam demonstrated a considerable increase in achievement. While performance on the ACT affirms that 80 percent of our students score below the national average, more than 50 percent of the students scored better than the national average in at least one category of the NSE. Additionally, one student earned an honorable mention certificate while another placed at the 92nd percentile in reading proficiency.

Other markers of excellence include a 2012 student that placed at the 93rd percentile in listening proficiency, as well as two of seven students earning Excellence Prizes and a third-year student that placed at the 71st percentile for overall performance in 2010. These proficiency results are also demonstrated at university foreign language day competitions. In 2014, a student placed second in Song at Saginaw Valley State University to add to third place wins in Level I/2 Poetry/Interpretive Reading in 2012 and Level 2 Skit 2011 at Central Michigan University. Likewise, Farwell Spanish students took first place in the Michigan Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese Poster contest in 2010 and 2011. The expanded opportunities for language study have opened many doors to success for our students.

Lastly, anecdotal evidence supports the achievements of our sprouting trilingual students. The former elementary Spanish instructor had noticed that the students that were in Chinese immersion appeared to learned Spanish with greater ease than the traditional elementary students. Not only were these students learning a third language, but they were learning it more efficiently than those only learning their second language in the K-14 Spanish program.

Program Coordinator: Sean R. Hill, District Chairperson for World Languages,

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