Stakeholder consultation relating to non-francophone students enrolled in minority French language schools in pei parents, teachers and school leaders



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Stakeholder consultation relating to non-francophone students enrolled in minority French language schools in PEI - parents, teachers and school leaders
Original title of pilot project - Investigating the experience of non-francophone families who choose French first language schools for their children: Learning how to improve student achievement

Mary MacPhee

Miles Turnbull

Rachelle Gauthier

Marianne Cormier

Tess Miller


September, 2013

Correspondence concerning this report should be addressed to Mary M. MacPhee, Faculty of Education, University of Prince Edward Island, 550 University Avenue, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, C1A 4P3. Email: mmmacphee@upei.ca

Acknowledgement of funding for this project to the Joint Education Research Group.

CONTENTS

Executive Summary iv

Introduction 1

Background and Purpose 2

Theoretical Framework 4

Parental Experience and Involvement 4

Parental School Choice 5

Language Revitalization in Minority Francophone Settings 9

Interdependence of Languages and Use of First Language in

Second Language Learning 9

Methodology and Methods 10

Participants and Recruitment 11

Data Collection Instruments 11

Quantitative Data Analysis of Survey 12

Results 13

Parents 13

Descriptive Statistics 13

Sample 13

Non-francophone Parental Experience 14

Parental Involvement 14

Parental Beliefs 16

Parent Interviews and Focus Group 16

Beliefs 17

Experience 18

Parental Involvement 22

Teachers’ Perspectives 25

School Leaders 27

Discussion 29

Recommendations 33

Future Research 34

References 36

Tables


Table 1 Non-francophone Parental Experience 14

Table 2 Parental Involvement at School 15

Table 3 Parental Involvement at Home 15

Table 4 Parental Beliefs 16

Table 5 Parents’ Motivations for Choosing a French School 17

Table 6 Parental Beliefs 18

Table 7 Positive Experiences and Perceived Advantages 19

Table 8 Negative Experiences and Challenges 20

Table 9 Types of Parental Involvement mentioned by parents 23

Table 10 Barriers to Parental Involvement 23

Table 11 Addressing Parental Involvement Barriers 24

Appendix A Survey for non-francophone parents 42

Appendix B Focus Group Questions for NF Parents 52

Appendix C Individual Interview Questions with Parents 53

Appendix D Focus Group Questions for School Leaders 54

Appendix E Focus Group Questions for Teaching Staff 55



Executive Summary

The present study was designed to offer insight into the acquisition of French by anglo-dominant children in francophone majority schools and to analyze the interaction of family, school, and community factors, especially the role of non-francophone parents. We attempted to answer the following research questions: (1) What are the experiences and beliefs of non-francophone parents who choose francophone schools for their children?; (2) To what degree are non-francophone parents involved in the education of their children?; (3) What barriers to NF parental involvement exist and how can they be addressed?; and 4) What do PEI francophone school leaders and teachers identify as key issues in supporting and ensuring involvement of parents and academic success for NF children enrolled in their schools?    

This project used a mixed methods approach, with a focus group interview, individual interviews, and a survey with non-francophone parents. Focus group interviews with school teachers and school leaders were also held to gather their perspectives. Purposive sampling was used to recruit NF parents from one French minority language school in Prince Edward Island. Six parents took part in the focus group, five of these participated in individual interviews after the focus group, and a total of 15 parents completed the survey – a response rate of 42%.

Descriptive analysis of survey results suggest that parents are generally satisfied with their experiences at the school, and they feel welcome, are pleased with the level of communication (despite many having limited French ability) and happy with their child’s progress. Parents reported a high level of involvement with the school including such things as participating in meet the teacher sessions, volunteering, and informal contacts (notes, emails, etc.). Likewise, parental involvement at home was also high, including discussing education and the French language, reading to child, and providing support for school work at home. Results also revealed that parents value efforts aimed at improving student academic success. Parents are also willing to be involved in their child’s education at home and at school. These NF parents favored the use of French at school for children, but required staff to use some English with them as parents to facilitate communication and parental involvement.

Interview and focus group responses were qualitatively analyzed using transcriptions of the audio recordings. Primary findings suggested that parents were motivated to choose a French school to enhance their child’s bilingualism, to link to family heritage, and to benefit from French for travel, and future employment. In terms of beliefs, parents understood the importance of parental involvement and of using French with their children. Parental experience was dominated by positive regard for the quality of education received at this school, including its teachers, and the success of language and culture transmission. Negative experiences related to their difficulty in understanding communications from the school when written only in French, a lack of support from family and community, limitations in the support anglo-dominant parents can contribute to student learning and school activities, and the lack of extended curriculum and extra-curricular options at their school.

Results from the teacher and leader focus group suggested that they shared the concern and motivation for helping NF students and parents, and agreed on the important role played by NF parents in education and language acquisition for the children. Both teachers and school leaders showed a lack of consensus on how to define francisation, yet all agreed on the usefulness and need of a well-defined francisation program, especially if marketing by the CSLF attracts more anglo-dominant students and families. Early intervention and socialization in French was recommended by both teachers and school leaders to favor minority language acquisition. School teachers and leaders mentioned the importance of vocabulary and literacy development. The school professionals resist the use of English to maximize French in school, but are willing to use English to help NF parents understand and be involved in their children’s education. Teachers and school leaders agreed that there is a need for research and for pre-service and in-service professional development in minority language teaching, and in francisation in particular.

Overall our findings corroborate findings from other research located in published and unpublished literature. Our study adds to the research base with information specific francisation and one French minority school in PEI, and by acknowledging the need for research about different types of NF parents who have chosen French minority language schools. Analysis of the data and review of previous literature led us to propose recommendations for policy, practice, and future research. Despite the research focus on parents for this project, the recommendations are wide ranging to include actions by the Department of Education, CSLF, school leaders, teaching professionals, and parents. See page 33 for more detailed recommendations.


  1. Department of Education in partnership with CSLF, establish effective practice models for francisation in PEI.

  2. Department of Education in partnership with CSLF, offer an official francisation program in PEI and collect programming data to monitor success of the program. Effective practices might include but are not limited to:

  • Provide francisation program information for teaching professionals and parents about engaging parents, including and especially NF parents. Concrete suggestions include to offer workshops in English to: explain school mission; show literacy and numeracy goals each year; offer workshops to explain how parents can help with vocabulary development, use music, books, radio, television, video; multimedia technology, suggest other activities to encourage French outside of school, offer pronunciation tips, establish a parent buddy or support system, and encourage all parents to be involved in differentiated and diverse ways.




  1. Department of Education, in partnership with UPEI and CSLF, provide pre-service and in-service francisation and language learning training for teaching staff.

  2. CSLF explore options for making communication with parents more accessible to NF parents.

Despite efforts towards cultural and linguistic revitalization in minority francophone communities across Canada, these communities have been suffering a decrease in vitality (Landry, Deveau, & Allard, 2006). Many people feel an urgency to help the minority French community in Canada to thrive and maintain its language and identity (Cormier, 2005; Gauthier, 2001; Landry, Allard & Deveau, 2006; Rocque, 2006). Schools are seen as critical in this revitalization process (Arsenault-Cameron, 2000; CMEC, 2003; Skutnabb-Kangas, 2000). Since only 49.3% of right-holders1 in Canada actually send their children to French minority language schools (Landry et al., 2006), a national campaign has been launched to recruit eligible children into French schools (Martel, 2001). Moreover, a national marketing plan has been rolled out to attract right holders to register their children in French first language schools (Landry & Roussell, 2003; Landry, 2010).

Interestingly, as these issues of ethno-linguistic revitalization are addressed to some degree in research and government policy across our country, all provinces and territories have reported between 7.5 and 33.5 percent anglo-dominant students in French first language schools (CMEC, 2002; Allen & Cartwright, 2004, Landry, 2010). These students’ parents are usually constitutional right-holders but many do not speak, read, write, or understand French. Moreover, students in French minority schools generally are often underachieving on standardized tests such as Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (Rivard, 2006) and other common assessments (Allen & Cartwright, 2004). Non-francophone (NF) children whose parents cannot assist in French at home may be even more vulnerable and disadvantaged, and may be contributing to the underachievement noted in such testing programs.  More research is therefore needed in order to understand how to optimize success for these children and to understand the roles played by these NF parents as they support their child’s learning. This is one of the goals of the current report.

The importance of parental involvement in their children’s education is well supported  (Cox, 2005; Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003; Eccles, & Harold, 1996;  Hornby & Lafaele, 2011; Wong & Hughes, 2006) including in minority language settings (CMEC, 2003; Jeynes, 2003; Landry, 2010). However, there has been little research to examine parental roles in the minority language settings and very little to examine the involvement of NF parents (Cormier & Lowe, 2010).  Some research has been conducted on language and culture revitalization in minority francophone contexts, yet we need to know more about the role of NF parents whose children are in minority French language schools. The present study is designed to offer some insight into these domains.



Background and Purpose

Our project is part of a larger pan-Canadian project (Cormier, et. al., 2013) aimed at examining the following objectives:

1)      Examining minority language acquisition within an anglophone majority community in schools housing students with varying degrees of French proficiency when they begin school. The sub-goals of this objective include: a) Developing a language development profile for children aged 5-10 years; b) describing and understanding the interplay between French, English and other active languages that influence the linguistic and cultural practices of the young learners; c) exploring the cognitive, metacognitive, and social strategies at play during the language and cultural revitalization process.

2)      Analyzing the factors that influence and interact during the linguistic and cultural revitalization processes in school, family, and community contexts (e.g., pedagogical, social, socio-economic, cultural and linguistic identity, arts and culture, multimedia technologies, early childhood education, etc.).

The pilot study we report here was mostly related to the second objective above and was guided by the following questions: (1) What are the experiences and beliefs of non-francophone parents who chose francophone schools for their children?; (2) To what degree are NF parents involved in the education of their children?; (3) What barriers to NF parental involvement exist and how can they be addressed? ; and 4) What do PEI francophone school leaders and teachers identify as key issues in supporting and ensuring involvement of NF parents and academic success for NF children enrolled in their schools?  Research has revealed that some children in French minority language schools who begin school speaking little or no French, have required francisation efforts (CMEC, 2002; Cormier & Lowe, 2010 Vienneau, 2011). We therefore have also aimed to explore the awareness and use of francisation for students in discussion with school leaders and teachers in Prince Edward Island French schools.

This report comprises five sections. The first outlines the theoretical framework guiding the study; the second summarizes relevant previous literature that helped in the design and analysis of our pilot project; the third provides an overview of the methodological approach as well as the methods used to collect and analyse data; the fourth presents the findings; and the final section discusses the findings, along with an identification of limitations of the study, recommendations for stakeholders, and implications for future research.


Theoretical Framework and Relevant Literature

This project was framed and informed by theoretical models and previous research from three bodies of literature: 1) parents’ experience and involvement in education and parental school choice; 2) theories of language revitalization in minority francophone settings; and 3) interdependence of languages and use of first language in second language learning.



Parental Experience and Involvement in Education

The literature review on parental role and experience revealed that the parental involvement (PI) should be assessed at home and in the school context. It also became apparent that parents’ beliefs influence measures of involvement and their quality of experience (Hoover-Dempsey, 2011; Hornby & Lafaele, 2011). In addition to experience and involvement, this project therefore explored beliefs held by non-francophone parents about their motivations, degree of control and influence, ability to help, and value for their involvement when the child’s education happens in another language (Hoover-Dempsey, 2011).

There is an enormous body of literature from the last forty years that supports the positive impact of PI in the education of their children for academic and social success (Eccles & Harold, 1996; Epstein, 2001; Jeynes, 2007, 2010). Two strands of research have (a) identified barriers to parental involvement in order to address the barriers and improve PI (Hornby, 2011; Turney & Kao, 2009) and (b) encouraged school professionals to do more, as a result of what we know from the research, to incite and enable all parents to be involved in diverse ways (Edwards, Hoover-Dempsey, 2011; Hornby, 2011; Paik, 2011).

The parental involvement that has been shown to be important includes assisting at home (with homework, reading and vocabulary, and valuing the importance of education), attending school activities (maintaining contact with the school, sharing information about the children and contributing to school efforts), and community involvement (accessing community resources, and bringing children to socio-cultural events) (CMEC, 2003; Epstein, 2001; Hornby, 2011).  In French minority language schools, parental involvement is certainly important because, in addition to typical involvement, the parents need to value and promote the minority French language in English majority communities, where English threatens to assimilate (CMEC, 2003; Landry, 2010). Much research has been done on parental involvement in education, generally, but little has been carried out in a French minority language context. Our review of published and unpublished literature also revealed little literature examining teachers’ and school leaders’ perspectives of francisation (describe later) beyond two reports out of New Brunswick (Cormier & Lowe, 2010; Vienneau, 2011). The following section summarizes relevant studies about PI in minority contexts that informed this project.



Parental School Choice

Linda Arsenault (2008) conducted an ethnographic study involving one endogamous or mixed couple family (one francophone and one non-francophone parent) in Alberta. The study aimed to document and understand the family’s choice of a francophone school, how they lived their choice, their worries, and their opinions about this choice. Arsenault reported that in this case the non-francophone parent was integrated and involved at the school. As a school principal in a French minority school in Alberta, Arsenault questioned if there were sufficient strategies in place to enable anglophone right holder parents’ involvement in the schools while being true to the purpose of francophone schools. She also questioned whether the parents get enough information when making their school choice. Arsenault also explored the degree to which there is linguistic and social network insecurity for anglophone parents.

School choice decisions (francophone, English, and English with French immersion schooling) were examined by Dalley and St-Onge (2008) among twenty endogamous couples in the Yukon. Seven of the twenty couples had moved their children from French schools to French immersion programs, but information was not available to explain why this had occurred. These researchers found that for the twenty couples, regardless of choice, all valued bilingualism. The authors concluded that the research revealed social class, gender, and belonging to the francophone community were, as in other research, the most important factors for choice of school. They also summarized that the parents who did not share the ideas and culture of the francophone school, had rejected the French school (p.138). The authors posed the following questions about NF parents: (1) Is there intent (on the part of French minority language schools) to assimilate those who come through the door and risk excluding others? ; and (2) What is the lived family reality for the inclusion of (anglo-dominant) right holders and their children and is it done in an inclusive way? (p. 140). The authors asserted a need for more research on mixed couples’ choice of school, especially since the numbers of exogamous couples is increasing in French minority schools across Canada.

Jules Rocque (2008) conducted a case study based on a dozen exogamous couples in Western Canada where he looked at parents’ motivations for choice of French school, the use of French in the homes, as well as challenges for NF parent’s educational involvement. Motivating factors for parents’ school choice were quality of education (small classes and individual attention; comfortable atmosphere conducive to learning), importance of French, and the advantage of bilingualism for future employment. English was the dominant language at home and in the community for the participants. School was the exclusive source of French for students. Communication from the school was a problem for the anglo-dominant parents and most parents agreed that it would be better for schools to use more English to ensure that all parents understand communication from the school, thus allowing parents to be able to provide educational support at home. The school found it necessary to give more bilingual communication to parents. Given the omnipresence of English, Rocque suggested a modification of Landry’s and Allard’s counterbalance model (1997) by adding first language (L1) and second language (L2) to all three contexts: family, society, and school. He also recommended emphasizing the dominance of L2 in home and society and L1 at school.

Cormier and Lowe (2010) interviewed school personnel and NF parents about how parents had been welcomed and supported by French schools in New Brunswick. They found schools were marketing the French school, providing information and welcome kits to families with a NF parent, and were offering a variety of activities to help families with francisation2 of the children. Cormier and Lowe found that the decision process for parents to choose the French school was arduous, however, they felt well supported by the efforts of the school and were satisfied with their school choice, once made. These researchers commented that if parents had not been involved in the francisation of the children before starting school, then informing and engaging parents and having the involvement of families would be required to help the process during early schooling.  

A report on the state of francisation was composed by school district five, l’Étoile du Nord, in New Brunswick and was based on questionnaires completed by school leaders, teachers, language monitors, and parents (Vienneau, 2011). The results showed that literacy development and francisation were closely related and were mutually helpful. The researchers found that teachers needed more training to understand best practices and be able to help children in francisation, especially in literacy. Preschool programs were seen as an important addition to francisation. The research team was able to outline the roles and tasks of school professionals involved in francisation. Finally, they found that francisation efforts varied greatly in different school districts in New Brunswick.

Edwards (2011) argued that educators are currently aware of differentiating teaching for all students due to a variety of factors including: language, exceptionalities and experiences. Edwards argues that we can apply similar principles to benefit our families by differentiating our involvement with parents. Certain parents may need more support, such as low-literacy parents trying to read with children at home or those with a language that is different from the dominant language used at school. Edwards endorsed getting to know the parents and their needs, (which change as the child ages), will help teachers support parents, who in turn can better support the children.

The research literature also showed that attention has been paid to NF parents in exogamous couples for some time (Arsenault, 2008; Cormier & Lowe, 2010; Rocque, 2008). It demonstrated that some support is possible for non-francophone parents with children in the French schools, at least in New Brunswick and the western provinces. However, no mention has been made about parents who are completely non-francophone and navigating the French school system. Our review of the literature reveals that more research is needed about different types of NF families, as well as exogamous couples, and especially families where there is no francophone parent or French proficiency at home. Research is required to assess NF parents’ needs and experiences and to what degree French schools are welcoming and supportive of NF parents. This research project brings us closer to understanding if NF parents’ needs are met and if they feel welcome and supported at the French schools in our area, and specifically at our pilot school.



Language Revitalization in Minority Francophone Settings

Our research participants (NF parents, teachers and school leaders) were situated in the setting of a French minority language school which exists for the most part in an English majority language socio-cultural setting with weak French ethnolinguistic vitality (EV). 3 We draw, therefore, on the current models and theory in the French minority language situation to understand the influence of the community context, as well as the school and family aspects in this research. Given that the context of our project is in a French minority language school, we look to Landry and Allard (1990) who proposed a theory of language and cultural development and revitalization in minority contexts with attention to the school, family and community. Also key to our work is their theory of ethnolinguistic revitalization which posits that families (parents) are seen to play an important role in the transmission of French language and identity formation for children (Fishman, 1991; Landry & Allard, 1997) and because we contend that the presence of non-francophones may be assisting the revitalization efforts in French minority schools (Landry, Deveau, & Allard, 2006).



Interdependence of Languages and Use of First Language in Second Language Learning

Literature relating to judicious first language use in second language learning (McMillan & Turnbull, 2009; Turnbull & Dailey-O’Cain, 2009) and identity construction including the role of the family and community (Gauthier, 2001; Gérin-Lajoie, 2001; Lowe & Richard, 2009) also informed this work. Jim Cummins’ (2000) language interdependence theory also contributes to our thinking as we are researching about parents and students who are for the most part anglo-dominant and are being educated in French as a second or additional language.



Methodology and Methods

This project was primarily qualitative and drew on multiple data collection methods.  Quantitative measures complemented these data to allow for a more complete picture than would have been possible using only one data collection method (Greene, 2007; Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2011). We followed this mixed-methods design to help understand the complexities of a multi-dimensional social experience (Greene, 2007; Mason, 2006; Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2011).  A qualitative approach, including focus group interview and individual interviews with NF parents, and focus group discussions with teachers and school leaders was chosen to collect a depth of information, in addition to internal validity (Patton, 2002; Vogt, 2007). The qualitative data from the parent interviews were coded as beliefs, experience, or involvement and then analysed for emerging themes, congruency, and divergence. Two researchers independently coded 25% of the transcripts with 82% agreement, and after discussion 100% agreement, indicating high inter-rater reliability.

We designed and used the survey for parents as a concise and succinct tool to allow us to quickly assess the parental involvement, beliefs, and experience and avoid a long list of dull, repetitive, oral questions. The survey also provided external validity, testing the information sought, and triangulation of methods, data, and analysis (Patton, 2002; Vogt, 2007). Survey findings were analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics (SPSS). Interviews with school teachers and school leaders allowed us to understand their perspectives on a) the acquisition of a minority language in an English majority context; b) the role and importance of family and parental involvement, and c) current status of francisation efforts.



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