Jessica Essary, Ph.D., co-program director and associate professor of the Inclusive Education program at Cazenovia College, has had a summary of field work published in a new book, Handbook of Research on Supporting Social and Emotional Development Through Literacy Education.

The IGI Global publication features Dr. Essary’s work with Cazenovia College students in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021 in the chapter, “Supporting Literacy and Social Connectedness in a Pandemic Through the Autobiographical R/W/L/S” Method.” The chapter describes the positive impact that autobiographical writing exercises had on fourth graders with technically diagnosed disabilities during isolation from their typical elementary school environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the chapter, Dr. Essary describes the design process, field implementation tactics, and outcomes evaluation of a program undertaken by second- and third-year Cazenovia College teacher candidates in the Inclusive Elementary Education and Inclusive Early Childhood Education teacher preparation degree programs. It focuses on how the introduction of autobiographical writing, as a tactic to offset the negative effects of pandemic isolation, helped preserve and increase the writing ability within a group of fourth-grade students, even as the writing exercises had to be delivered virtually. The project involved several College students in the Fall 2020 course, “Teaching Diverse Learners,” who designed and implemented Autobiographical R/W/L/S presentations (commonly called “All About Me” writing) in virtual delivery formats. The work also shows how the Cazenovia College students continued using core tactics from their course, “Assessment and Intervention” over an extended period and how they worked with the students’ fourth-grade teacher and Dr. Essary to assess the effectiveness of the writing exercise impact on the youngsters.

According to Dr. Essary, the concept of Autobiographical R/W/L/S was employed to address the fourth-graders’ stress in that environment by adopting a key principle of psychological first aid in times of emergency: increasing social connectedness. Psychological first aid emerged from the field of crisis management, where lack of social support was seen to predict the development of long-term problems for disaster-affected persons, Dr. Essary notes. Today, the World Health Organization contends that social connectedness is an important factor in helping to alleviate stress, she writes.

Dr. Essary says the objective of the chapter is to introduce the field-tested Autobiographical R/W/L/S writing intervention as an emerging use of digital communication technology for enhancing child literacy and well-being and sharing practical suggestions for the development of an educational program to support teachers seeking to use this intervention in the classroom.

Co-authors of the chapter are Jenna DeRosa of Starpoint Elementary School, and Dizery Salim, a U.S.-based independent researcher.