What does being immersed really mean?

Julie Vallaincourt – Literacy Specialist – Earlier this year, I had a discussion with a colleague about the French Immersion (FI) program. Our discussion centered around how the FI program is about so much more than just learning the French language. It’s about creating an environment where students are “immersed” in French. It’s about creating an “immersive learning experience.”

This made me think of other “immersive learning” where students learn and then apply their learning in an authentic context. Building Futures, The Farm and the Academies (video link below) came to my mind. As an educator with Rocky View Schools (RVS), I am proud that these learning opportunities are being made available to our students. It left me wondering how all classroom teachers can offer immersive learning to learners.

Before reflecting on “how” we can provide this type of learning experience, I had to pause and reflect on the purpose: “why” should be we be offering immersive learning opportunities to students?

The first thing that came to my mind were my math skills. When I was in school, I did well in the subject. I worked hard and memorized all the formulas that I had to learn. But if you gave me a math problem to solve today, I would totally freeze. I have math anxiety. I did not learn math skills in an environment that was authentic and required me to use my skills to solve real problems. It was purely content, one unit after another, one worksheet after another.

I meet a lot of people who tell me that though they took French classes all through school, they don’t remember much and don’t feel confident in their French skills. Many of these people had straight A’s in their French class, yet don’t feel confident enough to use the skills.

I believe this is the result of skills being learned in isolation of application, without opportunity to use, apply or transfer these skills. This is why “immersive learning” is important for our learners – so they can apply their knowledge. John Hattie (2016) describes three phases of learning: foundation, deep and transfer learning. We need to offer opportunities for our students to get to the “transfer” phase.

So, as classroom teachers, how can we offer “immersive learning” to students? I’ve been excited to learn more about Releah Lent’s Disciplinary Literacy (2016). Through Disciplinary Literacy, students can become immersed in their content area. Lent provides tools for content area teachers to support their students to read, write, and inquire like mathematicians, scientists ands historians. It’s not just learning about math, science and social studies - it’s accessing the content the way mathematicians, scientists and historians do. In my opinion, this will help with transfer of learning. In a way, it’s a way to create that ’immersive learning.’ Had I learned math this way, I am pretty sure that I wouldn’t break out in sweat so much when faced with mathematical problem solving these days.

If you are interested in creating authentic learning environments where students are immersed in French, Math, Science, etc. then Disciplinary Literacy is one option to follow. Immersive learning will hopefully give your learners the confidence to apply their skills in any context.

The Academies


*** The graphic representing Releah Lent's work was created by Lauren Merryfield from Springbank High School.

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Hattie, J. A. (2016). Visible learning for literacy: Implementing the practices that work best to accelerate student learning: Grades K-12. Thousand Oaks (California): Corwin.

Lent, R. C. (2016). This is disciplinary literacy: Reading, writing, thinking, and doing ... content area by content area. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.