BU/BGA Summer Literacy Institute fosters enriching learning experiences for SED & high school students

BU/BGA Summer Literacy Institute students on their scavenger hunt of BU.
BU/BGA Summer Literacy Institute students on their scavenger hunt of BU.

For aspiring educators of any kind, that first day in front of a classroom full of students can be nerve-wracking. Faculty in SED’s MAT in English Education program have developed an innovative, collaborative program that eases their students into teaching through a partnership with the Boston Green Academy (BGA).

For two weeks every summer, high school students from BGA are invited to attend a Literacy Institute facilitated by SED MAT students who are enrolled in Dr. Christina Dobbs’ EN 630 Educating for Equity and Literacy in the Humanities course. The Institute’s benefits are two-, three-, even four-fold, Dr. Dobbs said.

“This program was started five years ago when we were trying to figure out more steps between our classrooms at SED and student teaching,” Dr. Dobbs said. “We wanted to create some experiences with our students in a teaching environment that were scaffolded and stress-free.”

The EN 630 course is one of the very first classes that MAT English Education students take at SED, before completing their pre-practicum and practicum the following semesters.

At the same time, Dr. Dobbs added, she and her fellow English Education faculty sought more spaces for teaching and talking about equity and diversity.

“Teaching English is littered with diversity questions, like what books are worth reading, how do we grade students’ grammar, who do we have in our curriculum,” Dr. Dobbs said. “The Institute creates a space for our students to connect ideas on equity and diversity to actual classroom practices.”

Every summer, the curriculum is based on a specific topic and the students read and discuss materials that correspond with that theme. This year, the focus was on taking risks.

“We always chose a book where the characters are diverse in a variety of ways, and are doing everyday things,” Dr. Dobbs said.

This year, the group read Everything, Everything, a YA novel by Nicola Yoon about a girl who must decide whether or not to risk her allergies to the outside world for young love.

Students in Dr. Dobbs’ class would start each morning by facilitating an ice-breaker for the group, and they were each responsible for teaching a lesson throughout the Institute based on the theme for that summer.

They worked together to talk about decide what went well each day, and then adapt for the next.

BU/BGA Summer Literacy Institute students on their scavenger hunt of BU.
BU/BGA Summer Literacy Institute students on their scavenger hunt of BU.

The partnership is mutually-beneficial, too, for the rising 9th and 10th grade BGA students who attend. The summer institute fills a need that was identified by BGA literacy teacher Marisa Olivo who was seeking enriching experiences for her students grounded in literacy.

“My primary goals for the students who participate in the program are to see reading literature as a way to examine our own lives and the lives of those around us,” Ms. Olivo said. She added that the lessons that she and the MAT students facilitate enable her students to practice analyzing and thinking about literature.

The Institute also creates an opportunity for the BGA students to visit a college campus, and to “envision themselves attending an elite university,” Ms. Olivo said. “It gives the students a chance to see that a place like BU isn’t all that far out of their reach.”

The students participate in a scavenger hunt around campus, and learn about different college majors such as psychology and media studies. Each lesson connected back to the theme of risk.

“When I taught about cinema studies we also watched the movie that just came out based on Everything, Everything,” Dr. Dobbs said.

She added that for her MAT students, watching Ms. Olivo teach is an added treat.

“Marisa is an incredible teacher, and my students get to ask her questions about her teaching practices,” Dr. Dobbs said. “Our faculty, our students, the BGA students—everybody learns from everybody else in a variety of ways. And we always have a really good time.”

Lisa Randall