Summer ESL Academy (SESLA) Testimonials

While the ESL Endorsement program usually takes place in face-to-face courses and fieldwork, due to the pandemic, Spring/Summer 2020 ESL endorsement interns took online endorsement courses and taught in an online version of the Summer ESL Academy (SESLA), a long-time collaboration between Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) and the School of Education.  SESLA is designed for 4th—8th grade students who are learning English and provides a culturally responsive, academically-rich opportunity for interactive learning. Below, ELMAC alumnus Tori Jovanovski, a current AAPS teacher and Teacher Leader in SESLA, reflects on the program and several 2020 interns who taught online reflect on their experiences.

Portrait of 2020 SESLA Teacher Lead Tori Jovanovski
Tori Jovanovski

Tori Jovanovski—2015 ELMAC Alumnus, AAPS Elementary Teacher, and SESLA Teacher Leader

How did students engage with the SESLA program?
Students participated in SESLA by logging into a Google Meet with their teacher and 2-7 classmates for one 45-minute time slot each day. Each session had a Morning Meeting, a teaching focus relating to a particular youth activist, and opportunities for students to apply their learning through writing, discussion, or art. At the elementary level there were also a few extension activities (e.g. interviewing someone in their family or community about their experiences making their voice heard, playing a math game with someone at home) meant to take place outside of class.

What did you learn about transitioning to a virtual classroom?
As teachers we learned that using a virtual classroom can be more engaging and meaningful than we had thought, but that it relies heavily on relationships with students and their families, since there was so much done on the part of families to make sure their children joined us each day. While preparing for SESLA, we grouped students with teachers from their home schools to help them feel grounded in a community they knew. Communication with families was key throughout the program, whether to share materials pickup/dropoff times or announcements: Teachers used the texting app TalkingPoints to provide translations, and teacher leaders contacted families with reminders and tech help as class was starting. Classes built on their experiences from their home schools to form communities that students were excited to be a part of during the program—several families shared with us how much their child had enjoyed logging on each day!

How did you develop and implement the curriculum?
We had planned to do a climate change-focused curriculum, but the events of this spring led us to change course. I knew that students from my own AAPS class had expressed feeling worried, disconnected, and frustrated while away from school during the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, when the murder of George Floyd brought racist police killings of Black Americans back to the forefront of our national conversation, I decided to aim for an affirming and empowering experience for our Black students and for our students of color more broadly. We began with young activists from the Black Lives Matter movement, and went on to highlight other youth of color and tactics they use to protest injustice. By studying specific forms of direct action and engaging with protest art, I hoped that students might find ways to channel their passion and make their own voices heard. When they created final projects that incorporated all of the activists we had studied (plus some we had not had time to study), it was clear that the activists' stories had resonated with our students!

More concretely, to develop the unit I found different kinds of "texts" for students to learn from—a wide range from podcasts to petitions to music videos and beyond. I wrote the materials directly into daily Google Slides presentations that teachers modified as much as they wanted, then shared with students in their sessions. Students' final projects took a variety of forms, and we compiled the work onto Padlet pages so that students could read classmates' ideas and share with those around them.
Portrait of 2020 SESLA participant Katherine Hamilton
Katherine Hamilton

Katherine Hamilton—Master's 2020

Why did you decide to obtain an endorsement in ESL?
For better chance at getting hired & because I think ESL is important for all teachers to know how to teach.

What were the challenges of moving to a virtual classroom?
Numerous! With SESLA the curriculum was completely set up for us, though, so we were able to focus on the implementation of the lessons and curriculum (versus designing them).

How did SESLA students respond to the BLM- and activism-centered curriculum?
They enjoyed it. I think it was helpful for them to have a space to learn more about the things they are hearing about online/through social media. They asked really great questions and seemed to be really interested in the material.

What was the most important thing you learned through this experience that you are taking with you into your own classroom?
Explicit teaching and instruction is key to creating a learning space online. Any vague instruction can lead to confusion and inaction. Making sure that I give really clear directions and have a clear sense of what direction the class is taking is important to being able to facilitate everything else. Also, relationship building is key, especially online!
Portrait of 2020 SESLA participant Conor Callam
Conor Callam

Conor Callam—Master's 2020

Why did you decide to obtain an endorsement in ESL?
Although I will not be teaching in and ESL position next year, I wanted to obtain an ESL endorsement to improve my teaching practice and continue to learn how to teach equitably for all students in my classroom.

What were the challenges of moving to a virtual classroom?
The challenge that I was most concerned about was fostering a student led classroom environment, where students organically interact and have discussions with each other.

How did SESLA students respond to the BLM- and activism-centered curriculum?
The students responded fantastically to the BLM and activism-centered curriculum. I could tell that they were enthusiastic about learning about current events and the relationship to activism during the 1960's civil rights movement. The engagement was high and students were excited to apply what they learned and make their voices heard.

What was the most important thing you learned through this experience that you are taking with you into your own classroom?
The most important thing that I learned through the SESLA experience is that it is possible to foster a cohesive classroom community, even when teaching online.
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Celeste Havercamp—Master's 2020

Why did you decide to obtain an endorsement in ESL?
I think the skills I learned about through this endorsement are relevant and practical for any and all teachers.

What were the challenges of moving to a virtual classroom?
It's obviously harder to establish relationships with the students, but with the daily games and the routine to it all creating relationships went surprisingly well. I did log in daily with the first two groups though, so there was consistency in that.

How did SESLA students respond to the BLM- and activism-centered curriculum?
They were interested in it. I loved how many of the activists we learned about were children and it was really neat to see who the students picked to study and create presentations on at the end of SESLA.

What was the most important thing you learned through this experience that you are taking with you into your own classroom?
I liked how the curriculum brought up current issues honestly and directly but also focused on what students can do, i.e. using their voices. This was empowering [for the students] while not glazing over difficult topics.
Portrait of 2020 SESLA participant Chelsea Froning
Chelsea Froning

Chelsea Froning—Master's 2020

Why did you decide to obtain an endorsement in ESL?
To be able to more effectively serve ELL populations in schools

What were the challenges of moving to a virtual classroom?
Accountability, engagement, group work

How did SESLA students respond to the BLM- and activism-centered curriculum?
So well! It was great to see students connecting our lessons to things they were seeing in their daily life.

What was the most important thing you learned through this experience that you are taking with you into your own classroom?
Wait time and materials prep time are crucial!