October 17, 2003
Lily Wong Fillmore, a well-known and respected scholar and author of numerous publications on issues related to the education of language minority students in American schools recently shared her knowledge with area educators and other interested individuals gathered in the Fox Auditorium at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.
The session entitled "What teachers need to know about language", was designed for educators, future educators, parents and interested community members.
Fillmore incorporated into her presentation some of the research material she used in her recent publications "What Teachers Need to Know About Language"; "Language in Education"; and "The Loss of Family Languages: Should Educators Be Concerned?"
In her introduction, she stressed how strong monolingual tendencies in our society mean bilingualism can never be taken for granted. In recent years, opposition to bilingual education has resulted in abandonment of programs in places like California, Arizona and Massachusetts.
In her presentation, she touched on the No Child Left Behind legislation and how it will affect bilingual and dual immersion programs. As Fillmore noted "There is nothing in the legislation that prohibits bilingual programs, but there is nothing that supports them either. It does, however, add new pressures that will endanger bilingualism."
Fillmore discussed issues that parents, teachers, and school administrators who support bilingualism and the programs that develop it should be concerned with. She suggested steps they might take to protect the bilingual heritage of the St. John Valley Region, and how to keep federal policies from swamping the programs.
She also spoke about the pressures that school administrators will undergo when they are expected to show "adequate yearly progress", rising test scores, on the annual testing when all students, including children in dual immersion programs, must be included in the assessments. Administrators will have to deal with the support and then sanctions for their schools if they don't make progress.
Fillmore concluded her presentation by summing up the roles of the parents and administrators. "Parents should keep faith in bilingualism, and must develop the language of the home as fully as possible by reading to children, engaging them in talk about experiences and interests. If the language of the home is a minority language, be on the look out for a tendency to shift to English, which is a danger of language loss."
"Given the pressures coming from Washington, administrators will find it tough to keep believing in enrichment programs like dual immersion, especially when test scores are not as high as they could be. It's crucial to believe in enrichment and not in remediation as the means to raise test scores."
Fillmore stated that teachers can't do the job they have to do without the support of parents and school administrators, so it is crucial that they understand what it takes to educate children in two languages, how long it takes for children to master both languages, and why the process is not helped by over-emphasizing test performance.
A professor in the University of California-Berkley's graduate school of education, Fillmore is considered a champion of children for whom English is a second language. Her professional specializations are second language learning and teaching, the education of language minority students, and the socialization of children for learning across cultures.
Over the past 30 years, she has conducted studies of second language learners in school settings. Her most recent study is of the language resources of Alaskan Native children in several Yup'ik villages along the Yukon River.
Fillmore is currently engaged in studies of the academic language demands of high stakes tests such as California's High School Exit Examination and the SAT-9, and considerations of what kind of instructional support is needed by English language learners and speakers of English dialects to deal successfully with such tests and other uses of academic language.
In the past, she has been involved in the revitalization of indigenous languages in the Southwest, and has been working with leaders in several pueblos in New Mexico in support of language programs for the teaching of heritage languages to the children in those communities.
Fillmore is the recent recipient of an award from the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports in recognition of her work promoting the learning and use of Spanish by Spanish speaking children in the United States.
The expert on language education was invited to speak at UMFK by assistant professor of education Gil Albert, himself a well-known local expert in the field. Albert has attended several workshops throughout the country at which Fillmore was a presenter.