A How-to Guide for Structured English Immersion

Published July 1, 2003

A new book by veteran public school teacher Johanna J. Haver, Structured English Immersion: A Step-by-Step Guide for K-6 Teachers and Administrators (Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2003), offers educators a how-to guide for achieving the progress toward fluency required by the No Child Left Behind Act.

Haver’s book provides a comprehensive and well-organized guide to the structured immersion approach to English language acquisition. It will be a valuable tool for anyone involved in teaching English learners the language skills they need.

“Structured English Immersion is designed to use English as much as possible,” says Haver, “so that almost any Limited English Proficient student in grades K-8 can be moved through the stages of immersion and into mainstream classes in 6 to 18 months at the most.”

California’s Prop. 227

It took nearly 25 years before the chronic failure of bilingual education landed it in the crosshairs of reformers. In 1998, California voters passed Proposition 227, effectively eliminating bilingual education and replacing it with an English immersion approach.

Since then, bilingual education reform has become one of the nation’s fastest-spreading public policy movements. Arizona and Massachusetts have passed laws based on California’s, while several other states have adopted changes to emphasize in their bilingual programs a more rapid transition to English fluency.

At the federal level, the No Child Left Behind Act establishes a system of block grants that require recipients to demonstrate progress toward improving English fluency. The system replaces a $300 million federal grant program that strongly favored non-English, native language instruction.

In the two years following Proposition 227, the greatest gains among English learners in California were made in school districts that chose the strictest interpretation of the initiative and implemented the most intensive English immersion programs.

Teacher Collaboration

In a section of the book addressing ways to incorporate content-area curriculum into instruction, Haver discusses the importance of collaboration among immersion and mainstream teachers and the value of pulling information and examples from mainstream sources. A section on assessment sheds light on the strengths and weaknesses of many commercial oral language proficiency tests.

Where this guidebook offers the most helpful information, though, is in curriculum development and lesson planning. Teachers will find many thoughtful suggestions on this topic, including audiovisual materials and resources. Another section that deserves careful study by administrators–especially those in school districts with large populations of English learners–describes how best to handle interactions with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education.

Don Soifer is executive vice president of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Virginia. His email address is [email protected].