Monday, August 03, 2015

Summer program for English language learners focused on stories of challenge, triumph

Tags: current students, faculty, khasnabis, reischl

Fourth- to eighth-grade students in the summer English as a Second Language (ESL) program delighted their parents (and their teachers, including a cohort of SOE ELMAC interns) recently with a multimedia celebration of their stories of challenge and triumph.

The event, held at Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor, marked the conclusion of the summer ESL program, part of SOE’s Mitchell-Scarlett Teaching and Learning Collaborative with Ann Arbor Public Schools. The nearly 100 students attending the program came from several area schools, including Allen, Carpenter, Mitchell, and Pattengill elementary schools; and Scarlett and Tappan middle schools. The students received intensive language instruction from ESL-certified teachers and 18 master’s-level interns in the ELMAC program who were adding ESL endorsement to their K-8 teaching certification.

This summer, the program offered students opportunities to tell stories of challenge and triumph from their own lives. They chose to express their stories through three different media—video, spoken-word poetry, and hip-hop. The concept was developed by Cathy Reischl and Debi Khasnabis, co-coordinators of the ESL endorsement program and clinical faculty.

"Our focus is on culturally responsive, project-based teaching," said Reischl. "This differs from traditional approaches that focus on teaching vocabulary and language features that are isolated from meaningful activity." Khasnabis explained, "Through each medium, students learned core English skills, such as repetition, rhyme, alliteration, and rhythm. They also learned interactive skills such as negotiation and compromise and gained experience in a variety of genres, including both narrative and informational texts. These are areas that are required to be taught under the Common Core standards."

The approach was designed to include a range of narrative forms and informational reading and writing. It integrates reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and representing, Reischl said. The approach also was designed to link school activity with students’ homes and communities.

That was evident in the turnout for the final event, held at Neutral Zone, which collaborated with the ESL program for the summer academy. Scores of parents and supporters turned out for the event, where students presented the final projects in poetry, video and hip-hop that they created with artists from Neutral Zone.

Prior to that, in the first week of the summer program, students spoke and wrote about narratives about incidents when they faced challenges and triumphs. They attended performances by three Neutral Zone and Community Television Network artists—Coert Ambrosino (spoken-word poetry), Jamall Bufford (hip-hop), and Alysha Schlundt-Bodien (video). Students then chose which medium they wanted to pursue. In the second week, they made several trips to Neutral Zone to work with the artists to develop their stories. In the final week, as they analyzed the processes they had gone through to create their final product, they developed final performances in their chosen medium. Through it all, ELMAC interns took the lead on most of the teaching activities, guided by mentor teachers from participating schools.

As the final performances wound down, Khasnabis noted, "Every year we say it was the best year yet, and I’m going to say it again. As teachers, we get to follow our passion, and through poetry, video, and hip-hop, the children get to tell their stories in powerful ways. It was magical."

See student work from the summer ESL program by clicking here.


SOE’s ESL program is supported by a grant from the Gilbert R. Whitaker Fund for the Improvement of Teaching, and in 2015 was also supported with a donation from the Molloy Foundation Inc.

The program is a 20-credit, seven-course and fieldwork sequence, which meets state-established standards. Interns who complete all requirements for K-8 Elementary Certification and the ESL endorsement are considered "highly qualified" to teach ESL to students in grades K-8 in Michigan. For more information, visit the website.

Cathy Hindman Reischl is Clinical Professor

Debi Khasnabis is Chair, Elementary Teacher Education; Clinical Associate Professor

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