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.