Making Arguments Stronger: How to Get Students to Consider All Sides of an Issue

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Patricia A. Dunn

Whether students compose arguments for tests or for real-world genres such as online petitions, public service announcements, complaints to manufacturers, letters to editors, etc., their writing would be more persuasive if they acknowledged and understood opposing views. As more and more people today shield themselves from positions with which they disagree (by limiting their news channels and social media feeds), how can students learn to open the minds of those who don’t already agree with them? The first canon of ancient rhetoric—invention (exploring an issue thoroughly)—can help.

What is Invention, and Why Do We Need It for Writing?

Ancient rhetoricians designed invention strategies to help speakers understand and consider many sides to an issue, not simply to address the concerns of opponents but to possibly negotiate a mutually agreeable solution to a problem. We know invention today mostly through “pre-writing” exercises that help students think…

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Forming Habits of Mind in Young Writers through Research and Inquiry

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

by Ann D. David and Megan Janak

Writing in Room 103

  • How big is a blue whale really? Is it bigger than our room?
  • Who would win in head to head race, a tiger or a cheetah?
  • Are naked mole rats really naked?

First graders inquire, and as their teacher, I work to draw upon their desire to know more about their interests using writing inside Room 103. So as we embarked upon a research and inquiry-based unit of study, my writers were enthusiastic to become experts in new areas and not in the least bit hesitant or concerned about the work they were to face because of their existing workshop knowledge and experience. We had been living a writing cycle in our collective writerly life.

Since the first day of school, my first graders have seen themselves as part of a community of writers who read, write, and think…

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Tasking Time and Taking Time


by Oona Abrams

It’s 3:00 p.m. on the last Monday of September, not usually a time when I’m on my A game, but today is an exception. I am reviewing submission criteria on various education websites, step one on the agenda for my Genius Hour professional development project. For the past few years, my supervisor has asked my colleagues and me to take time intentionally after school to work on our PDP goals. She allows us one hour of our department time each month to do this.


My goal this year is to collaborate with my friend Sarah Mulhern Gross to write professional articles about our experiences facilitating teacher-led professional learning. Sarah’s school is “down the shore,” as we say here in New Jersey, and I teach and live in the northern part of the state. We can’t meet in person, so we talk on Voxer and work together virtually in Google Docs. At 4:00, after drafting a list of viable submission opportunities, I leave school. My discussion with Sarah on Voxer takes me halfway home. After that, I spend the remaining 30 minutes of my commute listening to Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. I’m on disc 6 of 15, but this is the road I travel every day. The book will be finished by this time next week.


UnknownBy 5:00, I arrive home, check in with my kids, text my husband a reminder that he’s in charge of soccer carpool this evening, and start preparing dinner. Out come my pots, pans, cutting boards, and utensils. In go my bluetooth earphones. On goes the audiobook I have downloaded onto my phone: When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds. This is how I read most YA novels (and audiobooks are not cheating!). Audiobooks fill the edge time in my day, time spent on the household minutiae that poet Robert Hayden referred to as “love’s austere and lonely offices”: laundry, cleaning, and cooking. When I finish listening to Reynolds’s novel, I decide to recommend it to my colleague Christina, since it would be a great fit for her ninth grade students. The time listening to the book hasn’t been wasted.

Time is the precious commodity that all stewards of learning must protect. Small pockets, well spent, can make an incredible impact. Daily rituals, such as quick writes in the writer’s notebook, or ten minutes spent reading, can yield a fruitful harvest after just a few weeks of implementation. By the same token, each minute spent falling down the Snapchat rabbit hole or getting sucked into the Twittersphere (guilty!) can diminish our initiatives and best productive intentions. When time gets lost or wasted in school, there’s a palpable tension. For so many literacy leaders, professional time is often populated by top-down, standardized tasks that are far from inspiring or culture building. In the short term, this type of work is frustrating; in the long term, it will affect students’ learning.


I’m often asked by teachers who don’t offer reading and writing rituals in their classes how I “find the time” to address all the required curriculum if instructional time is “sacrificed” by silent sustained reading and digital writing workshop. My response? The time is invested, not wasted. When it’s time for my students to select a book they want to read or to write an assignment, they will have more clarity about how to proceed and more confidence approaching the task.


Support and practice: these factors must be in place for literacy leaders. For our time to be invested and not wasted, we must be, dare I say, ruthless in safeguarding the practices that best serve our young readers and writers.


Join the conversation.


Oona Abrams has been a CEL member since 2005 and NCTE member since 1997. She currently serves on the CEL executive committee, and is the editor of English Leadership Quarterly. Find her on Twitter: @oonziela.



School Writing vs. Authentic Writing

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By this point in the fall, parents, students and teachers have all begun to settle into school routines. The work that is arriving home in students’ backpacks and laptops is probably more involved and extensive than it was in September. As our students begin to write more for school, we should always look carefully at the types of writing they are doing.

Ken Lindblom explores the different genres and audiences students may be asked to consider in their writing tasks. Specifically, there are differences between writing solely for school purposes, and writing for more authentic purposes and readers.

“If we want all students to learn to write to the best of their ability we must design writing assignments that excite their interests: assignments that allow students to select topics that they are interested in and that allow them to write to real audiences that they truly want to speak to.”

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Engaging Writers on the Autism Spectrum

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

Laura Sabella, Ph.D., University of South Florida

A Teacher’s Discovery

Ashley is an 8th grade language arts teacher in a mainstream class. She prides herself on offering myriad fun writing assignments to which most of her students respond enthusiastically, and most students are engaged. However, Ashley struggles to find writing opportunities that engage Ben, a student on the autism spectrum. Ben does not like to write in her class, refusing to even hold a pencil or use a keyboard.  Instead of writing, he wanders the classroom yelling how stupid the writing assignments are or talking about elevators, which distracts the other students and puts Ashley on behavior management alert. All total, Ashley can point to perhaps three or four sentences Ben has produced in writing in her class all year.

And then, in a parent conference, Ashley hears Ben’s mother again mention the elevators about which Ben rambles constantly…

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From Cooking Lessons to the Writing Workshop: Reflections on Teaching and Learning

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Christine M. Dawson

Crrr-unch. Crrr-unch. I watched as Shannon’s knife bit into the onion, chopping through layers in neat, parallel lines. She gripped the onion in one hand, curling her fingers into a claw to keep them away from the blade she maneuvered with her other hand. “Now remember to cut almost all the way to the cutting board, leaving just a little bit to hold the onion together,” she instructed, then turning the half onion and making new cuts, perpendicular to the first round. Turning the onion once more, she deftly demonstrated a final series of cuts, resulting in a pile of neat, uniform pieces on her board.

I was standing in front of Shannon, gathered with a group of friends around her demonstration counter at the beginning of an evening cooking class. We were going to be making butternut squash soup, among other things, and along the…

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I Believe in Literacy (Advocacy)

CEL member Christina McCabe shares her ideas on how to highlight students’ voices in “This I Believe” essays. Follow the links to hear some of her students’ work.


by Christina McCabe

“Ms. McCabe, I have nothing to write about.” “Nothing’s ever happened to me.” “Do I really have to share it with the class?”

I hear these comments every year as we begin what I always tell my students is my favorite unit ever. Every freshman at Chatham High School writes a This I Believe essay, an authentic assignment inspired by the radio program of the same name. We ask our students to think about what they value, what they believe in, and why… where do these beliefs come from? Every year I am blown away by the stories they share — from the funny to the insightful to the inspiring. Students learn that they believe in fairies, in contact lenses, in sunsets, and in making wrong turns. They learn to find their voice, and they realize that they have stories that are worth telling to audiences who want to hear them.  

It is beautiful to see students’ growth throughout this unit. We spend a few days listening to each other share our stories; as students receive positive feedback and are asked questions about what they shared, I see them smile and stand a little taller knowing that people listened and cared. In an effort to extend their audience beyond the classroom, we record their essays and I create a website of podcasts which I share with the school community, parents, and beyond (through Twitter, conferences, etc.). I believe that the stories of our students matter. I believe in using reading and writing to help students find their voice. I believe in the power of words. I believe in literacy.

Statement from the Conference on English Leadership Executive Committee Regarding Its Annual Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, on November 19–20, 2017

August 23, 2017

Each year the members of the Conference on English Leadership eagerly anticipate our Annual Convention. We look forward to the opportunity for literacy leaders to convene in one location so that we can learn, collaborate, and grow together. This year is no different.

Except that it is.

Over a year ago, CEL selected “Literacy Leadership for Access and Opportunity” as our convention theme. Little did we realize how critical these conversations about ensuring access to rich, diverse literacy experiences for our students would be, come November. But they are, and so the reason for our anticipation about the CEL Annual Convention has shifted. While the Convention will remain an opportunity to learn, collaborate, and grow, it will also be a call to action. CEL Convention attendees will engage in critical conversations about equity, race, and diversity issues that will prepare and empower us so we return to our schools ready to guide and support teachers as they create more inclusive, accepting learning environments.unnamed

In a NCTE blog post published on August 15, Jocelyn Chadwick, President of NCTE, stated, “We move forward, toward the controversy, toward any controversy that affects children’s right to lifelong literacy and our teachers’ right and ability to teach them.” CEL moves forward, too. As literacy leaders, we move toward St. Louis with a renewed sense of purpose to unite our communities and to advocate for our students and their teachers. NCTE is in contact with the Missouri chapter of the NAACP and local agencies to create opportunities for members to engage in outreach efforts throughout the Convention. Please look for more details about these opportunities soon.

We hope you will join us for CEL’s Annual Convention in St. Louis on November 19 and 20as we move forward, toward the opportunity to be better and to lead better.

New School Year Resolutions


by Erinn Bentley

Like many other teachers facing the end of summer break, my thoughts turn to the new school year. Every year, I begin fall semester with some “resolutions” –ways to improve my practices or stretch my pedagogical beliefs. This year I have created resolutions based on lessons learned from one of my summer classes. As an English education faculty member, I had the joy of teaching an undergraduate course focused on young adult literature as a part of a study abroad program. For three weeks, my students and I studied the Harry Potter series, Alice in Wonderland, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in England. Our “classroom” became the museums, streets, churches, and courtyards of Oxford and London. In many ways, it was an idyllic experience. There were also a few unexpected twists and turns in our journey: Cancelled trains. Rainy weather. Museum closures. Homesick students. These positive and challenging experiences impacted my perspectives as an educator. While my new insights are not ground breaking, they are small ways I plan to shift my focus.  I am sharing these ideas as reminders for us all – as teachers, administrators, and colleagues – that the new school year can be a good time to reflect on our past experiences and set tangible future goals.

Resolution #1: Allow yourself (and your students) permission to get lost. 

During our travels, we took some wrong turns. Literally. One detour included an unanticipated two-mile walk along the Thames. As the trip’s leader, I was frustrated at having made such a logistical blunder. My students, though, did not seem to mind. They gleefully snapped photos of the sights we encountered and chatted pleasantly. I realized that had we not gotten lost, we would have missed an exquisite view of the Tower Bridge, missed taking selfies at Cleopatra’s Needle, and missed this time of laughter. This experience confirmed what I already knew about myself as a teacher – I like to make a plan and stick to it. Of course, I will change due dates or revise activities when needed, but for the most part, I follow my prescribed plan.


Becoming lost, I discovered that my students did not think I was a failure as an instructor or leader. In fact, by getting lost together, we learned how to trust one another, how to navigate using landmarks, and how to problem-solve. As I begin the new school year, I plan to embrace this resolution by letting go of some control. Rather than feeling uncomfortable if students veer off-course during a discussion or a committee meeting does not go as planned, I will take a deep breath and see where we go. I will admit to my students and colleagues when I have “lost” moments (instead of trying to fake my way through them). I will focus less on the destination (e.g., the “perfect” lesson) and focus more on building relationships with students and colleagues along our journeys.





Resolution #2: View the world as your classroom.

The curriculum in a study abroad setting is obviously different from that in a traditional classroom. Through walking tours, museum visits, live performances, and lunches in pubs, we experienced the places, events, and people that inspired various literary works. As I begin this school year, I am challenging myself to find ways to continue to make the world my classroom. As part of our study of Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe we visited the Imperial War Museum in London to learn about the displacement of families during the Blitz bombings of WWII.


While I cannot take my students on actual field trips across the globe this fall, I can design virtual ones. In the past I have incorporated primary source documents, photographs, artwork, audio files, videos, etc.
into my instruction by utilizing materials from places such as the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the British Museum. 

My resolution this year is to design at least one virtual field trip for each semester, in which students do more than simply examine a single document or artifact. By better integrating digital archives and collections into my classroom, I want my students to become so immersed that learning is a lived experience.

Resolution #3: Embrace the moment.

Traveling in a new place can cause sensory overload! With so much to process, it was easy to get lost in a blur of sights and smells. Throughout our trip, I scheduled time for my students to simply journal about their experiences. Those were some of my happiest moments from the trip. Too often, I am so busy “doing” life that I forget to pause and reflect. Or, perhaps I feel guilty taking time to pause, as there are always many tasks on my to-do list. I tend to mark time based on the academic calendar –measuring weeks based on a semester’s length and dividing hours among meetings, class sessions, and other obligations.  My focus usually is on upcoming events – the next break, the next conference, or the next project deadline.


My third resolution for this school year is to take time to pause and reflect. Learn how to better embrace a moment rather than fill each hour. Take time to journal about my experiences. Take time to have coffee or lunch with a colleague. This year I will set my own pace.

Erinn Bentley is an associate professor of English education at Columbus State University, where she currently teaches and supervises pre-service teachers on-site in local high schools.



Reason, Emotion, Thinking, and Writing in School

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

by Peter Smagorinsky, The University of Georgia

Writers Who Care….The name of this blog suggests an assumption that emotions are foundational to writing, and I’d add, to living life. You’d never know it, however, from the ways in which schools view writing as a form of “cold cognition”: purely analytic reasoning, unadulterated by underlying feelings, which are believed in the context of school to be illogical and inappropriate. The analysis of the most moving of literature must itself be dry as a bone, with students often forbidden from using “I” to express their interpretations, as if their papers are written by an “objective” observer….who doesn’t care at all.

Smagorinsky_Reason,EmotionBut not so fast. This summer I read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Haidt addresses how people with radically different ideologies all claim that reason is on their side, and that any…

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