May 2020 Secondary ELA Newsletter

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English Language Arts

May 2020

In this issue:

Virtual Summer Academy


With the pandemic disrupting much of our lives, the State Department of Education is pleased to announce the English Language Arts summer academy in June will still proceed. Instead of taking place in person, it will now take place virtually. This means up to 600 Oklahoma English teachers will be able to attend!

The summer academy will take place from June 9-11, with teachers getting to choose morning or afternoon sessions. The topic is how to improve feedback on student writing. The featured speaker is Maja Wilson, author of two books: Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment (2006) and Reimagining Writing Assessment: From Scales to Stories (2017).

Register for the virtual summer academy by May 31 on this online application. If you already registered for the in-person summer academy, you do need to register again for the virtual summer academy.

Classroom Library Grants

old man

James Patterson, bestselling author, announced in April that he is giving $2.5 million to help teachers build their classroom libraries.

Over a six-year partnership with Scholastic Book Clubs, Patterson has gifted $8.5 million to school and classroom libraries. The just-announced donation brings that total to $11 million.

The Patterson Partnership will award 5,000 teachers with $500 in individual grants matched by 500 Bonus Points from Scholastic Book Clubs to acquire books and other materials needed to enhance their classroom libraries.  Grant applications are now being accepted through July 31, 2020, and winners will be announced in September. The grant program is open to all teachers in Pre-K through grade 12 in U.S. schools.

To learn more about the program, and to apply for a grant, visit

Write. Right. Rite.

Jason Reynolds

National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Jason Reynolds, has created “Write. Right. Rite.,” a “GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story” video series.

According to Reynolds, “Write. Right. Rite.” is all about learning the ritual of “authentic”—not to be confused with “correct” or “exact”—expression. Throughout the series, he will share his passion for storytelling while discussing topics like creativity, connection, and imagination.

At the end of each video, Reynolds will share a prompt that encourages young people to work toward a specific idea. The activities are fun-filled and some are more challenging than others, but Reynolds always makes sure to include brainstorming “get-you-going” questions.

OKCTE Young Writers

The Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English (OKCTE) recently announced the student winners in their 2020 Young Writers contest.

With over twenty-five winners in six different categories, it is undeniable that Oklahoma youth have something impressive to say. The winners, ranging from grades 6-12, submitted works for short story, personal narrative, comic, poetry, descriptive paragraph, and expository essay.

Read the anthology today!

Become a member of OKCTE for only $25. Your one-year membership entitles you to the OKCTE Fall Conference, Spring Workshop and Awards Ceremony, and an annual subscription to the Oklahoma English Journal.

OKCTE Young Writers

Grey Matter

Grey Matter

One way I have been passing my time during social distancing and working from home is watching the series of thirty YouTube videos of acclaimed English teachers Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher talking about the craft of teaching during this pandemic. [See their YouTube playlist here.]

On their Day 13 video, Penny talks about the Poetic Justice program that takes place here in Oklahoma at Mabel Bassett prison in McLoud. In fact, that was the last place Penny visited before she herself went into social distancing back in New Hampshire.

You might recall that the founder of Poetic Justice was an Oklahoma English teacher, Ellen Stackable, who I featured in a past newsletter when she was named a 2018 Top 10 hero by CNN. Penny and Kelly interview Ellen about Poetic Justice in their Day 20 video.

During the Day 13 video, Penny also referenced a documentary about Poetic Justice, Grey Matter, that had been made recently, so I searched for--and found it--online. The director, Megan Hickey, had this to say about about her film:

"Grey Matter explores an advanced writing cohort inside Mabel Bassett -- Oklahoma's largest maximum security prison for women. Oklahoma incarcerates more women than anywhere else in the world; we incarcerate at double the national average and this number is only expected to rise with the current legislation. It's time to give a voice and hope to the voiceless."

Grey Matter is available to watch for free online. Watch the 24-minute documentary here.

Reading During Quarantine

reader with book

"As someone who has always found comfort and escape in books—benefits I could use right now—being unable to read has me feeling unmoored. Occasionally, I need to get out of my head and books have always helped. But not now," write Donalyn Miller in her column for School Library Journal.

In "Reading Joy in the Time of Coronavirus," Miller a.k.a. The Book Whisperer, provides some strategies for how to read (or not) during quarantine.

Oklahoma Excel

At the beginning of this school year, the Oklahoma State Department of Education launched Oklahoma Excel, a year-long professional learning opportunity for teachers from across the state. Oklahoma Excel harnesses the power of networked improvement - teachers implementing evidence-based instructional strategies and learning from each other - to increase learning outcomes for students. The 2019-2020 ELA Networked Improvement Community (NIC) includes 25 total teachers from seven districts across Oklahoma. The focus for this year has been on clarity and feedback in writing instruction, through the use of daily learning goals, criteria for success, and various quick and actionable feedback strategies. Teachers in Oklahoma Excel participate in multiple professional learning days throughout the year and receive instructional coaching from Instructional Specialists at OSDE. 

During the 2020-2021 school year, Oklahoma Excel will continue to focus on providing high-quality feedback to students on their writing, and will look to increase the variety of feedback students are receiving. Our network will include districts who participated in year one, as well as new districts that are interested in joining! If you have a team of three to five teachers in any grade, K-12, who are interested in joining Oklahoma Excel next year, or if you have further questions, please reach out to Oklahoma Excel’s ELA Instructional Specialist, Sam Eiseman at or the Director of Oklahoma Excel, Dawn Irons at

ACT Curriculum Review Worksheets

Since I started in this position as Director of Secondary ELA in July 2018, a common request I receive in person and through email and see on the #ELAOK Facebook page is, "Is there an official OSDE crosswalk for OAS for ELA and the ACT?" The answer is no. However, school districts can examine the standards for themselves with some handy worksheets from the ACT.

The curriculum review worksheets are linked to the College and Career Readiness Standards and are designed to open discussions with teachers and leaders to examine the vertical alignment of their curriculum. The worksheets are organized by score range and ask questions for each standard, such as "Is it included in my curriculum?" and "At what grade level are students expected to demonstrate proficiency?" 

Curriculum review worksheets are available for the major content areas of the ACT test and are linked below. Select each subject area to view the worksheet in a new window.

Monthly Features

Writing Prompt

Jessica Salfia, an English teacher and writer in West Virginia, posted a poem on Twitter on Saturday, April 11, comprised of the first lines of emails she has been receiving while quarantining. Read her poem below, and then find some new source material to construct a found poem of your own. If you would like to learn more about found poetry, read the entry at

woman with birds
quarantine emails poem

Reading Quote

Tula poem