August 2020 Secondary ELAOK Newsletter

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English Language Arts

August 2020

In this issue:

Back to School

As we return to another school year, districts across the state are developing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am sure many of you feel a great deal of uncertainty and are, perhaps, overwhelmed. Some ELA teachers will be working virtually, some will be asked to teach in-person and online, and some will be returning to their buildings to work almost as normal.

Give yourself and others grace as you prepare to return to school. Remember, you already know a lot about teaching, regardless of the delivery method, platform, or schedule. Those delivery facets are not what will make the difference for your students—you will!

Engage OK in the Cloud session


On July 16, Deb Wade and I presented the session “Providing Feedback on the Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts” to about 200 teachers for EngageOK in the Cloud.

If you missed the session or would like to revisit it, a recorded version is now on YouTube. During the ninety-minute webinar, we explain the revision process for the OAS for ELA, share the results of the statewide survey on the standards, and share five ideas for a revised appendix.

Once you watch the video, you can leave your standards revision suggestions on this JamBoard. It will be available until August 31.

Free Writing Webinars

The WRITE Center continues its series of free webinars for English teachers next month, this time focusing on more culturally responsive and sustaining lenses. You can register today. After completing each webinar, you will be able to receive a PD certificate.

3 presenters

About More Than Words: Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Remote Writing Instruction

September 14, 5:30-7:00 p.m.

  • In this workshop, Dr. David E. Kirkland will engage participants in a conversation on what it means to teach writing in the time of global pandemic, social unrest, and economic uncertainty. In so doing, he will offer guidelines and resources to promote culturally responsive-sustaining teaching practices in technology-enhanced settings. As educators continue to respond to the systematic educational inequities highlighted and exacerbated by this moment, the expertise, scholarship, and advocacy of Dr. Kirkland will help support instructional changes and crucial conversations about how we can best serve our diverse populations during and beyond COVID and our reimagining of schools.

When Life Gives You Watermelons: Writing Communities, Race, and Transformative Justice

September 21, 5:30-7:00 p.m.

  • In this session participants will engage in the Transformative Justice English/Language Arts design principles which seek to leverage restorative justice theory and practice in writing communities.  Dr. Maisha Winn will provide a brief overview of restorative justice; introduce the Transformative Justice English/Language Arts design principles; and demonstrate how the 5 pedagogical stances-- including History Matters, Race Matters, Justice Matters, Language Matters, and Futures Matter—can serve as tools for paradigm shifting toward justice in learning communities.  And, finally, participants will build their own toolkits for using the 5 pedagogical stances in their own work.

Words as Balm: Civic Writing and Healing in Precarious Times

September 28, 5:30-7:00 p.m.

  • In this session, Antero Garcia will guide participants through ways to center youth civic voice in classrooms and explore how such writing can help address the complex emotions of teachers and students today. 

    Recognizing the complicated political contexts many teachers work within, this workshop will discuss how to guide authentic voice in ways that attend to localized contexts. Additionally, they will explore the multimodal possibilities of exploring civic texts and digital student production.

Return to Learn

return to learn

Planning for and starting the 2020-21 school year will be far different than the start of any school year in the past. 

The Oklahoma State Department of Education has published a framework for Oklahoma school districts as they plan for the 2020-21 school year. Return to Learn Oklahoma: A Framework for Reopening Schools includes a host of considerations for how districts can plan for a variety of contingencies that may impact the upcoming school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instructional Support and Guidance begins on page 29 of the document, starting with general guidance and moving into specific ELA guidance on page 34. 

New, more in-depth guidance is coming soon for ELA, with sections on standards & pacing, effective instructional routines, classroom assessment, connections & integration with other disciplines, social & emotional well-being, equity & inclusion, and safety considerations. I will host a virtual meeting on Wednesday, August 12, from 3:30-4:30 p.m. to debut this document. I sent information about how to join the Zoom on August 3.

Online Teaching vs. Face-to-Face


On her Cult of Pedagogy website, Jennifer Gonzalez recently published an interview with Melanie Kitchen called “9 Ways Online Teaching Should be Different from Face-to-Face.” The following nine points are covered more in depth in the article and interview.

1. The first weeks of school should be devoted to community building and digital competency

2. Communication with parents needs to be more thorough, streamlined, and predictable.

3. Community and connection need to be a priority for teachers, too.

4. Teacher collaboration is even more important.

5. “Face-to-face” time should be used for active learning.

6. Content needs to be simplified and slowed down. 

7. Instructions should be easy to find, explicit, and multimodal.

8. Traditional grading practices should take a backseat to feedback.

9. Summative assessment should focus on creation.

What Stays the Same

Not everything in online teaching is different. Some aspects of good teaching should definitely stay the same.

  • Clear and consistent communication
  • Creating explicit and consistent rituals and routines
  • Using research-based instructional strategies
  • Determining whether to use digital or non-digital tools for an assignment 
  • A focus on authentic learning, where authentic products are created and students have voice and choice in assignments

When Teaching Black Students

black boy

For the Fall 2019 issue of Teaching Tolerance, Coshandra Dillard wrote an article “Black Minds Matter,” which concludes with the following advice.

When teaching Black students, consider these reminders:

Know your own story. Teacher educator Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz uses the phrase “Archeology of the Self” to describe how teachers should dig deep, peel back layers of themselves and think about how issues of race, class, religion and sexual identity live within. Recognize that what is beneath these layers will affect relationships with your students. And if these issues go unexamined, they may even cause harm. Teaching requires more than academic study. Re-evaluate why you teach and be willing to think beyond pedagogy to holistically serve black students. Practice critical humility and avoid speaking for black students and their communities.

Decolonize your curriculum. Make historical literacy a priority. Representation matters, but historically, Eurocentric narratives and perspectives have been elevated in curricula. Instead, learn and teach full histories that accurately reflect a real, diverse world.

Be mindful. Recognize that some communities, particularly those that have been historically marginalized, need to heal. This certainly includes many of your black students’ communities. Allow black children to just be, and reject anti-black attitudes.

Be a first responder. School and district leaders play an important role here: You can ensure that your staff become mental health literate and get trained in “mental health first aid.” This knowledge is critical so your staff knows what resources to refer to when the need arises. Learn how one school district accomplished this in our Spring 2019 feature “Demystifying the Mind.”

See all of your students. Use an intersectional approach and recognize that students may have identities that don’t conform to the dominant culture at your school. For example, be aware of the vulnerability and risk of harm that black LGBTQ youth face inside and outside the classroom.

IllumiNative & Joy Harjo

IllumiNative logo

Created and led by Native peoples, IllumiNative is a new nonprofit initiative designed to increase the visibility of – and challenge the negative narrative about – Native Nations and peoples in American society.

In light of the disruption of education due to COVID-19, IllumiNative is partnering with the National Indian Education Association and Amplifier to create and disseminate engaging digital education tools, lesson plans, and resources about Native American art, culture, history, and contemporary life for more than 1 million students and families learning at-home. Resources are available for free and downloadable. [See all lesson plans.]

One of the Grades 6-8 lessons is Celebrate Joy Harjo: The First Native American Poet Laureate. Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek) is the first Native American chosen to be the US Poet Laureate. This activity explains what a poet laureate does and introduces Joy Harjo and one of her poems “Remember.” Young people can also explore Joy Harjo’s passion for poetry as a way to remember her ancestors and celebrate the future of her Native people. This activity also features several ways to write poetry and includes an inspirational poem performance by the US Youth Poet Laureate. [Get the lesson plan.]

Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo is an Oklahoman who lives in Tulsa, so it is exciting that she is our current U.S. Poet Laureate.

Harjo is also featured in Lesson 1 of IllumiNative's 55-page distance learning unit on Native American Changemakers. [Get the lesson plan.]

Joy Harjo tracy K Smith

In early July, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden talked with her U.S. Poets Laureate appointees, Tracy K. Smith (2017-2019) and Joy Harjo (2019-current), about poetry in times of crisis as well as its enduring power to promote social justice in this thirty minute video entitled “Race in America: Joy Harjo & Tracy K. Smith.” [Link to video]

Ismail Kadare Lesson Plans

Ismail Kadare

The Oklahoma State Department of Education is pleased to announce a partnership with OU’s World Literature Today (WLT) organization.

Together we will bring the 100% online Neustadt Lit Fest (October 19-21, 2020) to all interested middle school and high school classrooms. The highlight of the festival will be awarding the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature, known as the “American Nobel,” to Albanian writer Ismail Kadare—and there’s much more.

WLT is also offering a free Lit Fest curriculum about Kadare aligned to ELA standards, which can be downloaded here. Explore and register at

Sequoyah 2021 Masterlists


With this award, Oklahoma honors the Native American leader Sequoyah for his unique achievement in creating the Cherokee syllabary. Sequoyah chose eighty-five symbols to represent all spoken sounds of the Cherokee language. In so doing, he created a way to preserve his people's language and culture.

The Sequoyah Committees are pleased to announce the winners of the Sequoyah Book Awards for 2020:

  • Children’s: Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood
  • Intermediate: Front Desk by Kelly Yang
  • High School: Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

The 2021 masterlists have been released! There is one for middle school and one for high schoolPromotional materials are available such as annotated masterlists, smorgasbords (annotations, book talks, related books), and bookmarks.

Each masterlist is created to appeal to children in a variety of situations, interests, and reading levels.  The books on the masterlists are not intended to be an automatic recommendation of the books.  Since selection policies vary, one should apply the specific guidelines to each title and purchase those titles that meet individual selection policies.  The masterlists are not to be taken as recommendations that children be encouraged or required to read every title on a particular list. Teachers and other group leaders should carefully read and consider a title before reading a masterlist title to a class or group, or  assigning a title as required reading.  It is not the intention of the committees that every student must read every book on each masterlist.

2021 Middle School Titles

  1. Orange for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide
  2. This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy
  3. New Kid by Jerry Craft
  4. Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly
  5. Never Caught: The Story of Ona Judge, George and Martha Washington's Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away by Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Kathleen Van Cleve
  6. Focused by Alyson Gerber
  7. Allies by Alan Gratz
  8. Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson by Katherine Johnson
  9. It's the End of the World as I Know it by Matthew Landis
  10. A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee
  11. Pay Attention Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt
  12. Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange
  13. A Time Traveler's Theory of Relativity by Nicole Valentine
  14. Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
  15. Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

2021 High School Titles

  1. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
  2. The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett
  3. Last Bus to Everland by Sophie Cameron
  4. Superman: Dawnbreaker by Matt de la Peña
  5. Sorry for Your Loss by Jessie Ann Foley
  6. The How and the Why by Cynthia Hand
  7. Spin by Lamar Giles
  8. Refraction by Naomi Hughes
  9. A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
  10. Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer
  11. Warrior of the Wild by Tricia Levenseller
  12. Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
  13. Birthday by Meredith Russo
  14. Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater
  15. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

2020-21 Student Contest Calendar


The New York Times Learning Network has announced its 2020-21 Student Contest Calendar. Almost all of their usual annual contests are back this year, but here is what’s new for 2020-21:

  • To recognize just how tumultuous this year has been — and how disproportionately young people have been impacted —they are running a special challenge this fall to invite teenagers to document and respond to the earthshaking events they are living through.

  • By popular demand, they’re bringing back their 2016 Civil Conversation Challenge, updated for Election 2020. The challenge encourages teenagers to think deeply about the divisive issues of our day and then have meaningful discussions across those divisions.

  • Finally, they have updated their eligibility requirements. For most contests, they now allow middle school as well as high school students to participate.

Submission Window

Sept. 10-Nov. 12, 2020
Sept. 22-Oct. 30, 2020
Oct. 13-Nov. 17, 2020
Nov. 10-Dec. 15, 2020
Dec. 8, 2020-Jan. 26, 2021
Jan. 19-March 2, 2021
Feb. 23-April 13, 2021

Editorial Contest

April 8-May 18, 2021
June 10-Aug. 19, 2021

As a reminder, you can find close to forty writing contests, organized by participant (grade/age), type (state/national/international), genre, & deadline, on the OSDE ELA Writing Contests page. If you know of any writing contests I can add to the chart, please email me.

Norman Student Recognized for Personal Memoir in National Contest

Penguin Random House and We Need Diverse Books, a national grassroots organization that advocates for diversity in children’s literature, are thrilled to announce the 2020 Creative Writing Awards winners. More than 900 students entered the competition, which was open to graduating seniors from public high schools nationwide.

The most geographically varied applicant pool to-date, students from nearly 700 high schools representing 48 states and territories of the U.S. submitted their works to the competition.

More than 60 honorable mentions were awarded to outstanding entries. These honorees will receive a “Creativity Kit,” which includes writing resources and books.

One Oklahoma student received honorable mention in this nationwide contest—Emily Nguyen from Norman North High School for her personal memoir “America Didn’t Belong to Me.”

Oklahoma Teacher Poems

digital tree

During Carol Jago’s webinar “Writing Poetry to Read Poetry in Online Spaces,” participants were invited to write a poem that reflects the current changes they are experiencing with social distancing. Using Quincy Troupe’s poem, “Flying Kites” as a mentor text, the WRITE Center community of learners wrote their own poems. Pens to Pixels: A Collection of Poetry is a digital magazine the WRITE Center created using to share the experiences and changes of our nation’s educators.

The poems are organized by poet’s state of residence, and there were three Oklahoma teachers who contributed to the project. I’m featuring them below.

Michelle poem

Kaylee poem

nancy poem

Oklahoma Excel Launches New Learning Tracks

OK Excel

Oklahoma Excel has just launched two amazing learning experiences for ELA teachers in Oklahoma. Oklahoma Excel is a professional learning opportunity for districts and teachers across Oklahoma. These professional development opportunities are focused on clarity and feedback in the ELA classroom.

The Facilitated Track is designed for large or small groups in which a facilitator leads teachers through the slides and professional learning experience. The facilitator is provided with complete slide decks, handouts, resources, and a detailed facilitator guide.

The Self-Study Track is designed for individual teachers to work on the new OK EDGE virtual platform. Materials and resources are online and teachers are able to complete this work at their own pace.

For more information please visit or reach out to the Oklahoma Excel ELA Instructional Specialist at

Monthly Features

Writing Prompt

Recently on Twitter, I encountered a new kind of poem by Layli Long Soldier called “Obligations 2.” Take a moment and read it below. [Link to poem.]


What was your experience like? Did you read every line in full? Or did you pick one phrase per line? There are a number of ways to read this poem; it’s kind of a like a choose your own adventure! Except in this case, it is choose your own poem.

One version of the poem would be, “As we / embrace / the present / we begin / to accept / the grief / we wield / as ash / across our faces.” (Did you notice how on line six the grief is repeated four times? You can’t avoid it.)

After reading a couple different versions of this poem, try writing your own version: nine lines, with a certain number of phrases per line (1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1). Your topic can be anything, but if you want an idea, you could try this: the start of the school year.

If you write one of these choose-your-own-adventure poems, email it to me and I might feature it in next month’s newsletter.

Reading Quote

reading quote

Image by Bibliotheek Bornem from Pixabay

Don't Miss Out!

The July 2020 newsletter had some great information that is still timely and relevant, including the ELA virtual summer academy recap, anti-bias resources, a new writing contest for seniors, and an advice column by Vanessa Perez about becoming an anti-bias ELA teacher. Check it out today if you didn’t get to it last month!