The Lambert research blueprint

Report
The Lambert research blueprint
Sharon Lapkin
OISE/University of Toronto
Initial fears as expressed by principals
 While we favour bilingualism and the effective teaching of
the French language from kindergarten to grade XI, we
reject the so-called bilingual school which attempts to give
equal or nearly equal importance to two languages as media
of instruction. We are of the opinion that the average child
cannot cope with two languages of instruction and to try to
do so leads to insecurity, language interference, and academic
retardation...”
Key features of Lambert research design
 Comparison groups selected based on similarity of parental
backgrounds and therefore socioeconomic status
 Non-verbal IQ measure was administered to ensure
comparability of classes and to establish a baseline for future
comparisons
 Two cohorts of immersion students (and comparison classes)
followed for multiple years (longitudinal design)
Research questions
 What effect does French immersion have on the students’
first language (English) skills?
 How well do French immersion students perform in school
subjects such as mathematics?
 How well do French immersion students develop second
language (French) skills?
English language skills
 English language arts instruction was introduced for one
hour a day starting in grade 2
 Assessed at the end of grade 4 (1st cohort) and grade 3 (2nd
cohort), immersion students were generally comparable to
regular English program students on standardized tests of
English and on tasks like story retelling
 These results were replicated in subsequent program
evaluations in other jurisdictions across Canada
English language arts (cont’)
 In less intensive French immersion programs (less French,
more English), French immersion students performed as well
as but not better than regular English program students
(based on standardized tests of English achievement)
 EQAO results from Ontario on curriculum-based tests show
that immersion students perform very well
English language skills (cont’)
 Original research question was adapted What is What is
the nature of the benefits that accrue to immersion students
in the area of first language (English) skills? WHY?
1. Early immersion students reach a threshold level of
proficiency in French, triggering a positive impact on first
language (English) skills (Cummins, 1979)
2. Early French immersion students are “linguistic detectives”
as a result of the ‘additive’ nature of their bilingualism
(Lambert and Tucker, 1972)
Achievement in mathematics
 Both of the St. Lambert cohorts performed as well as their
respective comparison groups in math in grades 3 and 4,
suggesting the knowledge was transferring from the target
language (French) to the first language (English)
 “as [immersion students] develop high levels of L2 skills, their
fluent access to two languages can give rise to enhancement
both of L2 skills and other aspects of cognitive functioning”
(Cummins, 1979)
 These findings were consistent with those of the EQAO
testing in Ontario
French language skills
 Lambert and Tucker found that the performance of the lead
cohort at grade 4 was comparable to that of francophone
peers in listening comprehension
 Their achievement scores placed them at or above the scores
of half the francophone comparison class
 French vocabulary knowledge was somewhat (but not
significantly) below that of francophone peers
 French speaking ability not as advanced as that of
francophone comparison group
French language skills (cont’)
 In an Ontario study of grade 9 French immersion students
writing a test designed for franco-Ontarian students,
immersion students performed better than the comparison
group in reading and less well in writing
 On Public Service Commission tests, based on a sample from
Edmonton, most grade 12 immersion students would be
qualified for employment in the public service
Lambert’s contribution
 Without the Lambert blueprint, we would not have French
immersion programs today
 The Lambert legacy includes hundreds of research projects
focusing on immersion education over the last 40 years or so

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