April 2019 Secondary ELAOK Newsletter

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English Language Arts

April 2019

In this issue:

National Poetry Month

poetry poster

April is National Poetry Month! When I was in the classroom, I did my best to share poetry with my students throughout the school year. I did not want to confine poetry to just one month. However, April provides a wonderful opportunity for added emphasis on the genre of poetry. I also know that some teachers aren't the biggest fans of teaching poetry, so they might approach this month with a little dread or denial. Regardless of how you feel about poetry and teaching poetry, there are a wealth of resources to celebrate this written form. I have featured some of them since I started as the Director of Secondary English Language Arts in July 2018, so here they are again, all in one place:

national poetry month

30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month

  1. Request a free copy of the National Poetry Month poster until mid-April; posters can be purchased for $5.00 each in our Poets shop thereafter (while supplies list).
  2. Sign up for Poem-a-Day and read a poem each morning.
  3. Sign up for Teach This Poem, a weekly series for teachers.
  4. Memorize a poem.
  5. Create an anthology of your favorite poems on Poets.org.
  6. Encourage a young person to participate in the Dear Poet project.
  7. Buy a book of poetry from your local bookstore.
  8. Review these concrete examples of how poetry matters in the United States today.
  9. Learn more about poets and poetry events in your state.
  10. Ask your governor or mayor for a proclamation in support of National Poetry Month.
  11. Attend a poetry reading at a local university, bookstore, cafe, or library.
  12. Read a poem at an open mic. It’s a great way to meet other writers in your area and find out about your local poetry writing community.
  13. Start a poetry reading group.
  14. Write an exquisite corpse poem with friends.
  15. Chalk a poem on the sidewalk.
  16. Deepen your daily experience by reading Edward Hirsch’s essay “How to Read a Poem.”
  17. Ask the United States Post Office to issue more stamps celebrating poets.
  18. Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day today! The idea is simple: select a poem you love, carry it with you, then share it with coworkers, family, and friends. 
  19. Read about different poetic forms.
  20. Read about poems titled “poem.”
  21. Watch a poetry movie
  22. Subscribe to American Poets magazine or a small press poetry journal.
  23. Watch Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s P.O.P (Poets on Poetry) videos.
  24. Watch or read Carolyn Forche’s talk “Not Persuasion, But Transport: The Poetry of Witness.”
  25. Recreate a poet’s favorite food or drink by following his or her recipe
  26. Read or listen to Mark Doty’s talk “Tide of Voices: Why Poetry Matters Now.”
  27. Read Allen Ginsberg’s classic essay about Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”
  28. Sign up for a poetry class or workshop.
  29. Get ready for Mother’s Day by making a card featuring a line of poetry.
  30. Read the first chapter of Muriel Rukeyer’s inspiring book The Life of Poetry.

[Source: poets.org]

ELA Textbook Adoption

stack of textbooks

Each year, instructional materials for a different content area are reviewed and considered for adoption. Publishers are required to submit bids which identify every student title, teacher edition, free item, and supplementary item that will be made available. Publishers are also required to provide samples of new materials for review by the Oklahoma State Textbook Committee. 

The Oklahoma State Textbook Committee is comprised of parents, teachers, and community members who have been appointed by the Governor. The committee reviews all instructional materials in light of the state content standards.

This is an adoption year for grammar / spelling / writing for all grades. This Excel spreadsheet features the approved textbook titles for grammar / spelling / writing as well as instructional technology. The spreadsheet includes ISBN, price, grade level, title, course, and more. The adoption cycle for Language Arts (Dictionary, ESL, Gram/Lang/Comp, Handwriting, Journalism, Remedial Reading, Speech, Spelling, and Writing) starts on July 1, 2019.

If your school is just now able to purchase reading / literature textbooks, here is the current list of approved titles.

To contact a sales rep from a particular publisher, use this webpage. Sales reps may be able to come to your school district and/or provide sample materials for you to review.

You'll notice on this adoption cycle chart that ELA is currently split between Language Arts and Reading & Literature. This will change in the future when ELA is combined for elementary grades one year and for secondary grades the following year.

Upcoming ELA Cycles:

  • 2021–Elementary ELA-Basal Reading/Grammar
    • Reading, Dictionary, Remedial Reading, English as a Second Language, Grammar, Language Composition, Spelling, and Handwriting
  • 2022—Secondary ELA/Grammar
    • Reading, Literature, AP Literature, American Literature, English Literature I-III, and Debate
    • Dictionary, Journalism, Speech, Remedial Reading, English as a Second Language, Grammar, Language, Composition, and AP Grammar, Language, and Composition Grammar, Language

School districts must use at least 80% of allocated textbooks funds on approved titles.

The OSDE employee who can answer further questions about textbook adoption is Timmie Spangler, the Director of Instructional Materials.

[Source: Oklahoma State Textbook Committee]

ELA Program of Excellence

logo with white medal and blue background

The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) is committed to using the power of all stakeholders to meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs. The OSDE believes that the work of schools, communities, and the agency should serve the whole child, ensuring all Oklahoma children are safe, healthy, challenged, engaged, and supported. To that end, Well-Rounded Education and Safe and Healthy Schools rubrics were developed. 

The Well-Rounded Education rubrics are connected to academic disciplines and are designed to communicate the academic experiences that should be provided to all children. While still in draft form, the rubrics address critical issues related to instruction, professional development, equity, meeting the needs of diverse learners, and other aspects of school programs. We believe that the rubrics describe programs that ensure each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.

I encourage you to read the Well-Rounded Education rubric for English Language Arts. It was crafted around our state's literacy plan, IMPACT, which is an acronym for the plan's six pillars:

  • Instruction & Curriculum
  • Multi-Tiered System of Supports
  • Professional Learning
  • Assessment System
  • Collaborative Leadership
  • Teaming with Families and Communities

The rubric is still in draft form, so we would love to have your feedback. In your reflection on what needs to be changed in the ELA rubric, think about the four basics of revision: add, delete, move, and replace. 

Summer PD

Check out these summer professional development opportunities! Engage OK on the Road is free to attend. The Literacy Readiness training is free, but space is limited. The Summer Poetry Teachers Institute in Chicago has free tuition and lodging; you just have to arrange travel to get there. Read on for more information!

Engage logo purple

Engage OK on the Road

The Oklahoma State Department of Education will take its professional development conference on the road again this summer with EngageOK 2019. I will be presenting workshops related to secondary ELA, including teaching the six traits of writing through mentor texts and helping struggling secondary readers. Of course, there will be lots of other presenters and topics as well. We hope to see you on the road!

Save the date!

  • July 15: Woodward
  • July 16: Lawton
  • July 17: Durant
  • July 18: Bixby
  • July 23: Moore

SREB logo

Oklahoma Literacy Readiness Training

Literacy Ready & Ready for High School Literacy
June 3-5, 2019, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.


Literacy Ready & Ready for High School Literacy
Yukon Public Schools
801 Garth Brooks Boulevard
Yukon, OK 73099

Registration:                     Click Here to Register 
Questions?                         Ready@SREB.org

About the Training
This training will provide an overview and introduction to each of the SREB literacy readiness courses, Literacy Ready and Ready for High School Literacy.  The participants will be engaged in experiential learning regarding best practices for literacy classes and the disciplinary literacy approach.

Literacy Ready
This course is designed for high school seniors who aren’t prepared for college level coursework.  The course emphasizes disciplinary literacy, with units in ELA, History, and Science. Students are engaged in classroom activities to develop critical-thinking and communication skills.  For more information, visit www.sreb.org/literacy-ready

Ready for High School Literacy
This course can be used in 8th or 9th grade to prepare students for high school coursework.  The course emphasizes disciplinary literacy, with units in ELA, History, and Science. Students are engaged in classroom activities to develop critical-thinking and communication skills.  For more information, visit www.sreb.org/ready-high-school-literacy.

logo for PF with pegasus

Summer Poetry Teachers Institute

In July 2019, the Poetry Foundation will be hosting its fourth annual Summer Poetry Teachers Institute in Chicago. The five-day event will include seminars and workshops with some of today’s most compelling poets. Also, participants will study and discuss poetry with renowned poetry practitioners and expert teachers to develop lesson plans to bring back to their classrooms. Teachers will receive 30 Continuing Professional Development Units (CPDUs) for completing the Institute, and tuition will be paid by the Poetry Foundation. They will also provide lodging for you in a dorm room. Basically, you just cover your airfare.

The Institute invites teachers across K-12 grade levels and community college instructors to apply. Moreover, the Institute seeks a range of participants: new and experienced teachers, those who enjoy teaching poetry, and those who have shied away from it. You can apply online via this Google Form. The deadline for applying is April 14.

I attended in summer 2015 and had a fabulous learning experience. The Poetry Foundation (where the workshop is held) has the third largest poetry library in America!

Crash Course


Crash Course is an educational YouTube channel created by YA author John Green and his brother Hank. The channel, which has now surpassed over one billion views, features videos on various academic disciplines.

From courses like Literature and Mythology to Media Literacy and Navigating Digital Information, Crash Course addresses a variety of ELA curriculum topics. Some of the titles included in the Literature course include:

  •  Romeo & Juliet
  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Odyssey
  • Oedipus Rex
  • Hamlet
  • Frankenstein
  • Jane Eyre
  • Things Fall Apart
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • 1984
  • Macbeth
  • Pride & Prejudice


Wonderopolis logo

Wonderopolis is a website filled with informational texts for middle school students. The website can be searched by subject areas, including language arts. The 134 short ELA articles can be further divided into three subcategories: literature (37), writing (23), and languages (74).

A few example articles include:

Besides ELA, Wonderopolis also has articles about math, science, social studies, technology, and arts & culture. This website could be a great place for Oklahoma middle school students to explore Standard 6: Research.

Spooky Stories

Spooky stories aren't just for Halloween anymore, or so says the tagline of the website Spooky Middle Grade. They are a group of middle grade (3rd--7th grades) authors working to prove that spooky stories serve an important role all year round. You can connect with them by:

One of the authors on the Spooky Middle Grade team is Oklahoma City-based writer Kim Ventrella. The Oklahoma Gazette recently featured an article on her and her newest book, Bone Hollow.

Bone Hollow

Reading 101

Reading Rockets

Reading Rockets is a free literacy website mainly used by elementary teachers, but they have some excellent resources that may help secondary ELA teachers as well. Secondary ELA teachers who are teaching struggling readers may find some helpful strategies and tips on the Reading Rockets website. 

Reading 101 is a self-paced professional development course for K-3 teachers, developed by Reading Rockets. The program provides teachers with an in-depth knowledge of reading and writing so they are prepared to guide their students into becoming skilled and enthusiastic readers and writers. Reading 101 was produced in collaboration with the Center for Effective Reading Instruction and The International Dyslexia Association. I completed the Vocabulary and Spelling courses in the past month and learned quite a lot.

Graphic Novels

Anya's Ghost cover

Two books I recently read were graphic novel adaptations: the YA classic Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson & the perennial favorite To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I was struck by both graphic novels. The artists captured the mood and tone so well in their illustrations, and they also made smart decisions on what to include from the original source.

Of course, there are graphic novels that are completely original, not based on a previous book. When I was in the classroom, Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol was quite popular. (It has one of the best reveals / twists ever of any book I've ever read.)

In this article from Education Week, a media specialist makes an excellent case for using graphic novels in the secondary ELA classroom. A few highlights:

  • "Students could also be challenged to create and defend their own graphic panel of a particular scene from a text-based work."
  • "[G]raphic novels are an excellent resource for struggling readers and English-language learners. By providing students with the graphic novel version of a scene or chapter from a text-based novel prior to reading, students will have a general understanding of plot beforehand, and can focus on details. Alternatively, providing the graphic chapter after reading the text-based novel also supports comprehension."

Epic Reads has a list of 29 must-read YA graphic novels in case you would like to expand your classroom library, recommend some titles to students, or read one yourself.

Speak excerpt

In this two-page spread from the graphic novel Speak, Melinda has a flashback to a party the summer before her freshman year of high school. Notice how the panels in the flashback sequence are at odd angles, suggesting the wildness of the party. The bottom panel on the left page resumes in the present. All of the panels on the right page are at ninety degrees, suggesting the relative calm of the school year in comparison to the party.

Featured ELA Teacher

OK Foundation for Excellence

The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence has announced the winners of its 2019 Oklahoma Medal for Excellence awards honoring five outstanding educators in Oklahoma’s public schools.

Michelle Churchwell, winner of the Medal for Excellence in Secondary Teaching, teaches English literature and composition and is the IKE Ignition Program adviser at her alma mater, Eisenhower High School in Lawton.  Like her teaching mentors before her, Churchwell strives to instill a lifelong love for learning and service.

“My goal is for students to develop a love of literature and come to see it as the mirror it is for their lives, for our shared human experience,” Churchwell said. “I also want them to feel confident in their use of language as a powerful tool to tell their truth … to understand the critical literacy skills we practice in the classroom are crucial to active engagement in our democracy.”

Michelle Churchwell

Instead of assigning reading homework, Churchwell reads aloud literature to model phrasing, aid comprehension and encourage class discussion. “I love reading, and by reading with my students and enjoying the experience together, I am their mentor for developing what I hope is their lifelong love of reading.” In her composition classes, Churchwell focuses on rhetoric and persuasion, requiring students to seek out credible sources that don’t agree with their own stance on issues. She insists that their arguments are based on fact and reason versus emotion or partisanship.

In one of Churchwell’s favorite assignments, she reads students the children’s book “Something Beautiful” and shares items from her own life that have deep emotional significance, such as the Paddington Bear her father gave her as a child. In return, students pour their hearts out in their “Something Beautiful” essays, eager to share their own stories. Churchwell is surprised, humbled, and honored by their vulnerability.

Churchwell is passionate about the importance of social-emotional learning for student success. She is advisor to several initiatives, including IKE Ignition, a program that matches freshmen with upperclassman mentors. The program engages students in community service projects and has raised more than $100,000 and donated more than 700 service hours to fight hunger in the community. Churchwell is also the advisor for Youth and Government, a program that prepares students as engaged citizens.

Student and IKE Mentor Samantha Cook credits Churchwell with teaching her to love reading and writing and for helping students use their voices to address social injustices, both locally and globally. “Mrs. Churchwell creates well-rounded students prepared to be productive citizens.”

[Source: Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence]

Teacher Awards

NCTE presents several awards each year to recognize outstanding teachers of English language arts and literacy at all levels and to support teachers’ efforts to enhance their knowledge and teaching skills. Select from the links below to learn more about each award. Just click the the title of the award you want to learn more about.

Donald H. Graves Writing Award

Recognizes teachers in grades K-6 who, through the teaching of writing, demonstrate an understanding of student improvement in writing.
Deadline: May 1

High School Teacher of Excellence Award

This award is given to high school teachers who are nominated by their state affiliates. All state, provincial, regional, and local affiliates can participate.
Deadline: June 1

Media Literacy Award

This award showcases NCTE members who have developed innovative approaches for integrating media analysis and composition into their instruction.
Deadline: June 30

Outstanding Middle Level Educator Award

This award recognizes exceptional English language arts teachers of grades 6-8 who have demonstrated excellence in teaching English language arts and inspired a spirit of inquiry and a love of learning in their students.
Deadline: May 1

Richard W. Halle Award

Honors a junior high/middle level educator who has worked to promote understanding of the developmental needs and characteristics of young adolescents, especially in the English language arts.

NCTE and Penguin Random House Teacher Award for Lifelong Readers & Maya Angelou Teacher Award for Poetry

  • Are you a teacher who fosters a passion and love of reading in students?
  • Are you taking risks in presenting books and literature or poetry to students in a unique way?
  • Are you committed to reluctant readers and visionary in your methods of reaching them?
  • Have you created a distinctive program that supports and promotes a community of readers beyond the classroom?

If this sounds like you, or a teacher you know, consider applying for or nominating someone for the NCTE and Penguin Random House Teacher Award for Lifelong Readers or the Maya Angelou Teacher Award for Poetry.
Deadline: May 31

Creative Writing Scholarship

CW contest

Penguin Random House is passionate about encouraging the next generation of readers and authors and promoting diverse voices and stories. For 25 years, Penguin Random House has supported this mission through the Creative Writing Awards, which in 2019 is entering into an innovative new partnership with national advocacy organization We Need Diverse Books. Through this program, Penguin Random House will award college scholarships of up to $10,000 each to five U.S. high school seniors, nationwide.

Applicants to the Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards Program in Partnership with We Need Diverse Books must:

  • Be current high school seniors at a public high school in one of the United States of America, including the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, age 21 years and under, graduating in spring 2019.
  • Be planning to enroll in full-time undergraduate study at an accredited two-year or four-year college, university, or vocational-technical school for the entire upcoming academic year starting in fall 2019.
  • Submit one original literary composition in English in one of the following genres:
    • poetry
    • spoken word poem
    • fiction/drama
    • personal essay/memoir

Only the first 600 applications will be accepted. The deadline to apply is April 15, 2019.


  • $10,000 Maya Angelou Award for Spoken-Word Poetry
  • $10,000 Poetry
  • $10,000 Fiction/Drama
  • $10,000 Personal Essay/Memoir
  • Fifty Honorable Mention recipients will receive a "Creativity Kit" gift from Penguin Random House.

This is the first year the contest has been expanded nationwide. Last year only New York City area students were eligible to compete. Check out the 2018 winners.

To learn more details including how to apply, read the contest webpage.

Tulsa LitFest

Lit Fest

April 11-14, 2019

This year’s Tulsa LitFest builds on the successes of their first year with a few additions that further their goal of hosting the most thought-provoking and inclusive literary event in the region.

Along with a varied and dynamic roster of established authors gathering together over the weekend, new and local talent will express themselves through flash prose, slam poetry, and writing workshops in multiple genres.

New this year are a reading with K-12 students in OSU’s Writers in the Schools program, a storytime, and family zinemaking. The Tulsa LitFest small press fair is a great opportunity to pick up indie books you may not find elsewhere and to network with editors who can offer insight into the publishing process.

Tulsa LitFest has taken care to create events that foster dialogue between local and national literary talent and hope that this year you’ll become a new fan of authors you weren’t already familiar with from both far away and just up the road.

OLA Annual Conference

OLA spring conference

The Oklahoma Literacy Association's annual conference is this Saturday, April 6! See you there. I'll be presenting on student writing contests.

Monthly Features

Writing Prompt

three geese in the air

My newest post on the Go Poems blog has been published. It's about the structure of Mary Oliver's free verse poem "Wild Geese." I include some teaching tips, followed by an invitation to borrow a craft move from the poem and try it out in a piece of writing.

Reading Quote

Ah, how good it is to be around people who are reading