Seeing the Spectrum: Teaching Adolescents with Autism in the English Language
Over the past decade, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has entered the public spotlight, thanks largely to the work of high-profile advocacy organizations, the popularity of autism-themed fiction and memoirs, and the ongoing advances in neurocognitive research. In March of 2014, the Center for Disease Control published a stunning report on the prevalence of autism in children today. The study found that 1 in 68 children are affected by autism, a remarkable increase in the rate of diagnosis of the disorder (DDMN, 2014). A year earlier, another key event had shaken the autism community: the newly published Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (APA, 2013) removed the diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, long considered a distinct, milder form of the neurodevelopmental disorder, in favor of the broader term Autism Spectrum Disorder, which now denotes the entire range of the neurodevelopmental disability. Taken together, the higher rate of diagnosis and the more inclusive definition of ASD mean that adolescents with ASD will continue to make up a significant portion of secondary student populations. Some of these students will be labeled as gifted; others will be considered to have special needs. Some will have official diagnoses and individualized education plans; others will go largely undetected and untreated. Regardless of their designation, however, students on the spectrum will be in every classroom in every subject area.
This new awareness of ASD is also evidenced by a wealth of books concerned with accommodating students with autism. In keeping with the broader movement toward inclusive education, these practical guides are intended for classroom teachers of all disciplines. They include works such as Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life (Armstrong, 2012); A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools (Wilkinson, 2010); and Inclusive Programming for High School Students with Autism or Asperger’s (Wagner, 2009). These and similar titles provide general guidelines for teaching students with autism, but they do not focus on the English language arts in particular. My book, in contrast, will explain how English language arts teachers can shape their curriculum and employ methods to reach adolescents on the spectrum.
Manga and the Autistic Mind (2015) In this award-winning 2015 English Journal article, I examine the well-documented connection between Manga, or Japanese comics, and adolescents with ASD, for whom Manga seems to hold a particular appeal. My article explored why this might be the case, while providing real-world strategies for English teachers working with students on the spectrum. It also takes an in-depth look at With The Light, Keiko Tobe’s multivolume Manga about a family raising an autistic son. The article has prompted some interesting responses, including a review by Kelly Searsmith on the official Literacy & NCTE blog, and some commentary on a Google Plus Anime Community. Recently, the BBC reported on the connection between Manga and autism in a short documentary about TokyoToys, a manga shop in Glasgow.
The Professional Readiness Exam (2015-2016)
In the fall of 2015, I began a year-long investigation of a pressing crisis faced by CLAS, the COE, and our university as a whole: the high failure rate among education students taking the Professional Readiness Exam, an entrance level test necessary for enrollment in the COE, student teaching, and provisional certification in Michigan. The goals of my study included gathering of university and state data on the Professional Readiness Exam, developing resources for GVSU education students and professors across the disciplines, and advocating change through local and state organizations. As part of this advocacy effort, I designed Teacher Test Preps, an informative web site on the issue. I also published a detailed, data-supported critique of the PRE (“The Case Against the Professional Readiness Exam“) in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan.
Early Career English Teachers in Action: Learning from Experience, Developing Expertise (Routledge, 2014)
If you are new to teaching English, check out Early Career English Teachers in Action, co-authored with GVSU colleague Lindsay Ellis. Lindsay and I solicited narratives from a dozen recent graduates of the secondary English education program. In their carefully crafted narratives, teachers offer practical strategies, professional insights, and a wealth of tips for surviving the first years in the classroom. The narratives are grouped into thematic chapters with brief introductions of key terms, helpful learning activities, and provocative discussion questions, all intended to foster critical conversation about beginning a career teaching English.In a time when many teachers leave the profession too soon, Early Career English Teachers in Action gives voice to those who have decided to stay. More importantly, this book validates teacher narratives as a powerful way of understanding what happens inside of the classroom—a way that provides more authentic evidence of learning than standardized test scores will ever supply.
Bent Not Broken is an interactive ebook available exclusively at the App Store. This story follows the life of a family trying to survive a brutal war in West Africa. The war took place in in Liberia and Sierra Leone during the 1990s. All wars are cruel, but this one was particularly brutal—fought by warlords and their death squads of child soldiers, the war saw the deliberate targeting of civilians. Murder, rape, torture, and abduction were common tactics used by all factions, and the signature atrocity of the war, amputation, left thousands without hands and legs. Through a rich multimedia presentation that includes personal testimonies, images, maps, found artifacts, video, audio, and animations, Bent not Broken shows how one family survived the war and came to America in 2005. More than just an ebook, this highly interactive and compelling account of human endurance and cultural adaptation will appeal to young adult and adult readers who are willing to enter into the life of a family under the extreme duress of war.
Language Arts Journal of Michigan (2013-2016)
I served as the co-editor of the Language Arts Journal of Michigan, a scholarly journal published bi-annually by the Michigan Council of Teachers of English.