July 2020 Secondary ELAOK Newsletter

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English Language Arts

July 2020

In this issue:

Professional Development Opportunities

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers still have opportunities to learn virtually this summer. I heard from the teachers who attended the ELA Virtual Summer Academy in June that they could not have attended an in-person workshop. They had little ones at home to care for, or they lived too far away from Oklahoma City. Virtual learning for teachers is a silver lining of this current stage of life. I am sharing three opportunities for you for professional development.

  1. The first one is a series of webinars sponsored by the WRITE Center out of California. They offered webinars last summer as well, and they were excellent.
  2. The next opportunity is with me! EngageOK on the Road has been transformed into EngageOK in the Cloud. Deb Wade, the Director of Elementary ELA, and I will be sharing the process of how the Oklahoma Academic Standards for ELA are being revised this year. You will also have an opportunity to share what you think needs to be changed.
  3. Finally, the Poetry Foundation's teacher institute, which has traditionally been held in-person in Chicago has moved online, and it's free! I attended the institute a couple summers ago and learned so much. We had a crop of about six Oklahoma teachers attend last summer, and they also had a fabulous time.

Read on to find out more about these opportunities.

WRITE Center Webinars

WRITE Center NWP logo

The WRITE Center is sponsoring four free webinars in July, featuring some dynamite presenters. In their Summer 2020 Learning Series: Interactive Webinars to Support Teachers' Hybrid & Remote Literacy Instruction, the WRITE Center will assist teachers in thinking about instruction for the fall. You can register for one or all three of the remaining webinars.

4 teachers


July 1: ​Designing Purposeful and Engaging Arcs of Writing Instruction in an Era of Remote Learning (Dr. Troy Hicks)

  • During this session, Dr. Troy Hicks will consider ways in which teachers can create arcs of instruction that utilize effective teaching practices across physical and virtual spaces. This session focuses on three questions:
    1. What principles of teaching writing still hold true across face-to-face, online, or hybrid spaces?
    2. What patterns of writing, response, and revision can still be accomplished over an arc of instruction lasting from a few days to a few weeks?
    3. Which technology tools can help us maintain relationships and build community with our writers, as well as expand their opportunities for writing into multimodal forms?
  • Handout (Google Doc)

July 8:​ Narrative Writing: Now More Than Ever (Kelly Gallagher)

  • Don Graves told students: “You have stories to tell that only you can tell.” This has never been more true than in the midst of a global pandemic. In this workshop, Kelly Gallagher will argue that narrative writing should be taught to all students in all grade levels. He will share techniques proven to help young writers find and write their stories.
  • Leonard Pitts commentary
  • Impromptu Surgery

July 15: Writing Poetry to Read Poetry in Online Spaces (Carol Jago)

  • William Wordsworth defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, recollected in tranquility.” But so much depends upon students asking great questions of a poem -- questions that lead to deep inquiry and richer learning. 
    In this session, Carol Jago will demonstrate techniques to help students understand the poet’s craft and develop intellectual stamina and fluency, skills they need more than ever for online and offline learning. She will demonstrate ways to inspire students to write their own poems, and in writing, better understand the tools poets use for expression.
  • Handout (PDF)

July 22: Designing Academic Writing Assignments for All Students, All Environments, All Classrooms (Jim Burke)

  • Design thinking offers us all a useful model for solving a range of instructional problems, especially when it comes to teaching academic writing. Participants in this workshop will learn how to apply the key principles from Jim Burke’s framework for designing academic writing assignments whether teaching in-person, online, or some combination of the two. In this session, Jim will share insights from his own experience teaching classes online throughout the quarantine.

You can register for one or all three of the remaining webinars.

EngageOK in the Cloud


The Oklahoma State Department of Education’s annual summer education conference, EngageOK on the Road, has been transformed into EngageOK in the Cloud!  

Mark your calendars for July 14-17 to join us for free online professional development, which will include topics such as meeting the needs of at-risk students, grading for equity, teaching the Tulsa Race Massacre, and using the OKMath Framework to increase student engagement. Other topics include dyslexia frameworks, the new Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science, literacy in early childhood, and trauma-informed instruction.

Deb Wade, the Director of Elementary English Language Arts, and I will be presenting a session together: "Providing Feedback on the Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts."

  • Session Description: The Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) are under review this year. Learn about the revision process, provide feedback on the current standards, and have your questions about the standards answered by the Elementary & Secondary ELA Directors at OSDE.
  • Thursday, July 16, 1:00–2:30 p.m.
  • For this meeting, please have  copy of the Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts already downloaded to your computer. Also, when you enter the Zoom meeting, we ask that your rename yourself to identify your grade band as either middle school (MS) or high school (HS). For example, Sam Farrand who teaches at a high school would become HS Sam Farrand.

Register at www.engage.ok.gov now to claim your spot. Registering allows you to network with each other within the Whova app, connect with speakers, and receive communication from us before, during, and after the event. 

Virtual Summer Poetry Teachers Institute


Tue, July 14, 2020 @ 10:00 AM — Thu, July 16, 2020 @ 12:30 PM

Get inspired this summer! This July, the Poetry Foundation will host its fifth annual Summer Poetry Teachers Institute online July 14-16. This free, two-and-a-half -day event will include tailored seminars, hands-on workshops, and small break-out sessions all delivered through Zoom. You’ll join a learning community of educators from across the country, and possibly the world, to study and discuss poetry with renowned practitioners and expert teachers. Together, you’ll develop lesson plans to bring back to your classroom.


The program will be entirely online with seminars and workshops targeted toward K-8th or 9th-Community College teachers. Pending availability, attendees can choose between two tiers, Haiku and Sonnet. Both tiers include seminars and workshops, while the Sonnet tier also includes facilitated breakout sessions. The Sonnet tier is limited to 90 participants.

Seminars will be pre-recorded followed by a live Q&A session, and workshops will be pre-recorded with concurrent live moderated Q&A. Breakout sessions will occur in live Zoom rooms, organized according to grade- specific discussions.


Teachers of all grades, K-12 and community college instructors are encouraged to apply. International registrants are welcome to join at the scheduled session times (sessions are in Central Daylight Time/CDT and in English). We welcome new and experienced teachers: both those who enjoy teaching poetry and those who have struggled with it. We also welcome back previous attendees. We ask that all registrants are available and commit to participate in all sessions offered in their tier. 

Registration closes tomorrow on July 3, 2020 @ 11:55 p.m.

Event website

Registration webpage (Use the code POETRY to register.)

ELA Virtual Summer Academy Recap

Maja PowerPoint

Almost 200 English teachers from all grade bands around the state joined up in Zoom in June to attend the ELA Virtual Summer Academy, which was focused on improving feedback on writing instruction. Deb Wade and I led the first day, and our guest speaker, Maja Wilson, led days two and three.

During our Day 1 session, we discussed the pros and cons of numerical grades, letter grades, margin comments, rubric scores, teacher conferences, and peer responses as forms of feedback for student writing. We practiced using the Grade 8 writing rubric to score a student exemplar essay. We also watched a portion of Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher's YouTube video about conferring with student writers. We also used the jigsaw method to read the article “The Feedback Fallacy.” This article includes a chart that shows two opposing methods to giving feedback in all aspects of life.

Angie Jernigan, a middle school English teacher for Putnam City Schools, wrote, “Specifically regarding the student feedback, Instead of....Try, from ‘The Feedback Fallacy’ is my paradigm shift. Print the chart and laminate; I will use this chart to retrain my brain in regards to giving feedback in likely EVERY area of life! Exceptional!” A portion of the chart is provided below, and you can see the full chart in “The Feedback Fallacy” article.


During Days 2 and 3, Dr. Maja Wilson shared ways to be more intentional when responding to student writers. The focus, according to her, should be more on the writer, rather than the writing itself. She shared that responding to writers requires:

  • care for a writer's personhood
  • the intention to understand
  • a commitment to be an ally of the writer's intentions
  • listening to the writer's story over time
  • acknowledgement of your own subjectivity
  • reflection on the limits of your own perspective
  • attention to how *others* interpret what you say and do

Many teachers said these values of care, intention, and allyship resonated with them. Here are what some middle school and high school English teachers said in their feedback about this workshop:

  • “I will be thoughtful and more mindful of seeing students as writers rather than simply assessing a piece of writing.” ~Gena Beeson, Deer Creek Public Schools

  • “I will be far more focused on the writer rather than the writing.” ~Denise Dean, Seminole Public Schools

  • “I will look more for intention on the student's part and find ways to give more choice and encouragement. I have been wanting to do this but have lacked ideas on implementation. This workshop gave me more encouragement and methods for continuing to be more aware of the student's personhood.” ~Jennifer Cunningham, Bluejacket Public Schools

  • “I will consider my own subjectivity and limits of my perspective when responding to student writers.” ~Nicole Rihn, Oakdale Public School

  • “I will consider writer’s intention and my own values as paramount in the feedback process.” ~Amber McMath, Owasso Public Schools

Noelle Bryan of Ada Public Schools had this to say about the ELA Virtual Summer Academy: “Maja’s work and research validated my gut instincts about writing: students need less evaluation of their work and more conversation surrounding their work. As a Senior English teacher, I don't prepare kids for a test; I prepare them for life. So choice and honoring their intentions is vital to my work. Open-ended questions and conferences will be more prominent in my classroom after attending this workshop. Also, I think students should get the final say on how well their pieces honor their intentions. My students don't need their writing to be graded; they need their writing to be discussed and appreciated.

If you did not have a chance to attend the virtual summer academy, we plan to create a modified online version that you can take at your own pace. We will announce when it is ready on the #ELAOK Facebook page and also here in a future newsletter.

Anti-Bias Resources

As America reckons with its history of slavery and systemic racism this summer through protests and advocacy, secondary English teachers may be thinking about how their classroom practices could change in the upcoming school year. One thing to keep in mind is that our Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts are guided in part by the principle of purpose, which states:

“All learners must hear the voices of their own heritage in the literature they encounter. They must be given the opportunity to speak with the voices they choose for themselves in the writing they create. The language arts classroom is a place that is inclusive of race, ethnicity, culture, and all perspectives that reflect the richness of human experience.”

With all of this in mind, I have gathered some resources for you to read and consider as you continue the good work of creating a classroom where all students feel welcomed and can find success.



Black author Ernest Gaines said, “Question everything. Every stripe, every star, every word spoken. Everything. Sometimes the literature we have always taught needs to be interrogated, and there is a movement that does just that.

Disrupt Texts is “a crowd-sourced, grass roots effort by teachers for teachers to challenge the traditional canon in order to create a more inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum that students deserve. It is part of their mission to aid and develop teachers committed to anti-racist/anti-bias teaching pedagogy and practices.

“Each week, you can join the #DisruptTexts slow chat on Twitter as teachers from across the country and world come together to apply a critical lens on a central text. They discuss how to disrupt traditional pedagogies by suggesting alternative titles and approaches through thoughtful pairings, counter-narratives, and inclusive, diverse texts sets.

“The #DisruptTexts chat and website are facilitated by Tricia EbarviaLorena GermanDr. Kim Parker, and Julia Torres.” All four of these educators are women of color.

One title that Disrupt Texts addressed was To Kill a Mockingbird. After the Twitter slow chat concluded, Lorrena German shared her thoughts on this American classic:

“Depending on the classroom, it may be a terrible idea to teach To Kill a Mockingbird. In my current context, I do teach it. I do so because I have a predominantly white group of students who have often already heard of it, some who have read it, and many whose parents have idolized it. ... The unit I teach asks students to dig deep into Lee’s book in a way that unveils some of our own biases and presents us with a mirror. While students may enjoy moments of the book or certain characters, this isn’t a text they necessarily end up loving when it’s all over.”

You can read German’s full column here. After you read it, think about these questions:

  • Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird? What biases did you notice when you read it?
  • Do you currently teach To Kill a Mockingbird as a required whole-class novel? Why or why not?
  • How might you disrupt your teaching of To Kill a Mockingbird in this coming school year?

Kinds of Racism


In a short blog post, teacher and author Cornelius Minor explains some important terms for teachers who want to be more thoughtful in how they approach race. He explains the difference between internalized and interpersonal racism. He also explains two different kinds of systemic racism: institutional and structural. He concludes by advocating to disrupt the status quo by considering questions related to safety, choice, voice, growth, and flexibility. Give his full post a read.

What Anti-racist Teachers Do Differently

Pirette McKamey is the first Black principal of Mission High School in San Francisco, and has taught high-school English and history for twenty-six years. From 2005 to 2016, she co-founded and co-led the anti-racist teaching committee at Mission High. In this short article, she explains that anti-racist teachers view the success of Black students as central to the success of their own teaching.

black student books apple

NCTE Resources

In November 2019, the Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English created a set of resources to be shared with attendees at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention. Consider reading the following two posters.

  • What Anti-Racist Language Teachers Do: Anti-racist language teachers consciously work to create safe learning environments for all students. This poster provides a description of what these teachers do. Download the PDF.
  • Qualities of Anti-Racist ELA Curricula: Anti-racist curricula must celebrate and sustain diversity as part of educational justice in a changing world. This poster describes the qualities of such curricula. Download the PDF.

After reading the two posters, consider the following questions:

  • Do you allow students to include a language other than English in the writing they produce for your class?
  • Does your classroom library or school library include books written in a language other than English for students who need them?
  • How do you pursue equity in your classroom?
  • Does your curriculum include texts written by and about people from various cultural backgrounds?
  • How do you incorporate pop culture into your lessons?
  • How do you allow students choice in what they read?

Tulsa Race Massacre Books

With school closures this spring because of the pandemic, there is a chance that high school freshmen (and freshwomen) may not have learned about the Tulsa Race Massacre from 1921 in their Oklahoma history classes. This event happened ninety-nine years ago, and was recently featured in the HBO television series Watchmen. For many Americans, this was their first time learning about this historic event.

In my Oklahoma history course in rural southeastern Oklahoma in the 1990s, I don't recall ever learning about the Tulsa Race Massacre. We had one semester to learn as much as we could about Oklahoma history, and my teacher covered a lot of material. There is a chance he did teach it, and I forgot in the passing decades.

The Oklahoma Academic Standards for social studies include the Tulsa Race Riot for both Oklahoma history and U. S. history. Here is the standard from the Oklahoma history course:

Oklahoma Academic Standard 5. The student will examine the Oklahoma’s political, social, cultural, and economic transformation during the early decades following statehood.

Objective 5.2  Examine multiple points of view regarding the evolution of race relations in Oklahoma, including:

  • D.  emergence of “Black Wall Street” in the Greenwood District
  • E.  causes of the Tulsa Race Riot and its continued social and economic impact.
  • F.  the role labels play in understanding historic events, for example “riot” versus “massacre."

Moreover, the Tulsa Race Riot has been in Oklahoma standards for over twenty-five years.

Oklahoma English teachers can support students’ learning about the Tulsa Race Massacre through a variety of fiction and nonfiction books. 

8 books


  • Fire in Beulah by Rilla Askew
  • If We Must Die: A Novel of Tulsa's 1921 Greenwood Riot by Pat Carr
  • Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
  • Tulsa Burning by Anna Myers


  • Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Scott Ellsworth
  • Black Wall Street by Hannibal Johnson
  • Tulsa 1921: Reporting a Massacre by Randy Krehbiel
  • The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan

Social Justice Poetry Lesson

I once wrote a lesson for the K20 Center about how to use poetry to learn about social justice. The lesson uses poems by two Black poets Ross Gay ("A Small Needful Fact") and Clint Smith ("Playground Elegy"). Both of these poems might be useful in your classrooms this upcoming school year in a unit that addresses summer 2020. Read the two poems below, or check out the full lesson.



Neustadt International Prize for Literature


The Neustadt International Prize for Literature, one of the most prestigious global literary awards, has entered its 50-year anniversary at the University of Oklahoma. Often referred to as “the American Nobel,” the biennial award endowed by the Neustadt family and orchestrated by OU’s literary magazine, World Literature Today, will be offering opportunities for readers everywhere to be a part of the cultural impact that the prize has brought to Oklahoma, the United States, and the world.

With the establishment of the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature by sisters Nancy Barcelo, Susan Neustadt Schwartz and Kathy Neustadt in 2003, the prize’s educational approach has also expanded from higher education to K-12 programming.

In the prize’s 50th year, WLT will continue the tradition. Educators can immediately begin taking advantage of curricula on the Neustadt website’s free online Education Network. The archive of teaching curricula focuses on the works of recent Neustadt and NSK Prize winning authors. Educators are free to download these materials to use in their classrooms. The following lesson plans are currently available:

  • Naomi Shihab Nye (Grades 9-12)
  • Mia Couto (Grades 9-12)
  • Meshack Asare (Grades 5-8)
  • Dubravka Ugrešić (Grades 9-12)
  • Marilyn Nelson (Grades 6-12)
  • Edwidge Danticat (Grades 6-12)
  • Margarita Engle (Grades 6-9)

Readers can connect for weekly literary inspiration and stay informed about forthcoming literary events by following the Neustadt Prizes on Facebook and Twitter.


I, Too, Am the Dream Contest

students reading

The first-ever I, Too, Am the Dream Contest seeks to engage high school seniors in describing dynamic stories that have propelled themselves and others to pursue and achieve their own American Dream. It empowers students to reimagine an inclusive and evolving vision of opportunity and access and to drive a bold national conversation about how to advance and grow the American Dream, now and into the future.

Submit an essay, poem, spoken word, or short story of 1,000 words or fewer using the following prompt:

The story of the American Dream is one of aspiration, potential, hope, and dynamic tensions – opportunity and injustice, achievement and inequity, and triumph and challenge. Some have argued that the Dream is more of a myth than a reality. Many, who challenge the conventional understanding of the American Dream, cultivate a more inclusive and expansive vision of the Dream. They embrace the invitation to be ambassadors for advancing the American Dream, securing the Dream for future generations. Drawing on your own personal experience and/or the experiences of others, describe your vision for a reimagined American Dream and how you envision advancing it for yourself and others.


  • A $5,000 cash award.

  • A mentor to provide consultation, guidance and counsel for their senior year and beyond.

  • Professional coaching to create a video of their submission.

  • An invitation to Washington, DC for the opening of the Center for Advancing the American Dream for them and their families.


  • The opportunity to serve on panels and meet with education leaders to discuss their submission about advancing the American Dream.

  • The opportunity to have their submissions featured on the Center’s website and publications, and in its Visitor Center when open.


Learn all the contest and get the link to submit at the contest webpage.

Monthly Features

Writing Prompt

Natasha Trethewey

Former U. S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey said, “When I write notes in my journal, I’m just trying to scribble down as much as possible. Later on, I decide whether to follow some of those first impressions or whether to abandon them.”

If you don’t already, keep a journal for a couple days, up to a week at most. Jot down or sketch whatever you like. When your journal time is over, look back at what you have written and/or drawn. Pick something to explore more in depth through more writing in whatever mode you choose.

Reading Quote

Coates quote

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

Advice Column

I asked Vanessa Perez to write the column this month. Vanessa Perez is the Educational Technology Integration Specialist for Lawton Public Schools, leading the district’s technology teacher trainers and library media specialists. A former middle school teacher and high school library media specialist, Perez is a member of the NCTE LGBTQ Advisory Committee and chair of the NCTE Secondary Section Nominating Committee.

What steps can I take to become more anti-racist in my ELA classroom?

The latest New York Times Bestsellers list demonstrates that America is processing its current racial reckoning through reading, yet the answer is more complex than buying a book. Consider the language “anti-bias” and “abolitionist” rather than anti-racist. Study intersectionality; you can’t be anti-racist while homophobic, transphobic, or ableist. The first step to an anti-racist ELA classroom is to begin with yourself and identity work. No reading list or syllabus is useful until you have examined your own identity. Everyone has implicit bias; what are yours? What freedoms do you have? What freedoms are you missing? What power do you have? What privilege? School is a system; where is your place in the system?

Bookstores are sold out of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi; however, his work was built on a strong foundation of scholarship before him. Read his books along with other sources. Google critical race theory. Google decolonization. Google colorism. Google all the new words that come with this work; don’t just ask the darkest person you know. Listen to Black people. Listen to Indigineous people. Listen to People of the Global Majority. Listen to people from the margins. Don’t just listen to stories of oppression and trauma, but listen to what they need. Stand up (or kneel) with them when it’s uncomfortable, not just in post-meeting emails or texts. 

Decolonize the books you read and respect the freedom of your students to choose their own reading. Question the canon. Is the written word prized over audiobooks, graphic novels, and other multimodal compositions? What works are being read in your classroom? Representation is important, yet also consider whose voice is silenced and whose is amplified? Teach your students to be critical thinkers - even when they turn that lens on you.

Beyond books, look at your walls. Is this an inclusive space? Can your students see themselves on your walls? Can your students be themselves in your classroom? Are your policies and procedures rooted in white supremacy and assimilation? It always seems to be appearance-policing that makes the news with students denied graduation ceremonies, prom, athletic participation, and other events due to hair length and styles, but there are more policies to examine. Their intent may be benign, yet impact matters more than intent.

Keep going. Your classroom is only one space in the building. What are you doing to make systemic change? For example, don’t just demand professional development on equity or culturally responsive teaching; demand that your administrators pay for professional development from professionals of color rather than lean on free labor from the marginalized people in your building. Understand that a teacher may have the lived experience of oppression without understanding how to teach people about it or wanting to bear the emotional cost of teaching it.

Anti-bias, abolitionist teaching is a journey that doesn’t end; you will have to take these steps again and again. But as you unlearn and relearn, remember that the default is a racist, biased classroom and Black Lives Matter.

Have a question? Send it to askelaok@gmail.com or post it in the #ELAOK Facebook group.