Elementary ELA Newsletter December 2020

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ELAOK: Elementary

December 2020

In this issue:

My 2020 Words of the Year

Dictionary for a Better World

The Oxford English Dictionary couldn't decide on one word that truly reflected all that occurred in 2020, so this year there are multiple words earning the "Word of the Year" title. That got me thinking about which word I would choose for my 2020 Word of the Year when it comes to education in Oklahoma.  I allowed myself the same privilege as the people at Oxford, and I chose three words for my list:  Hope, Kindness, and Service.

In my July newsletter, I talked about the book Dictionary for a Better World by Irene Latham and Charles Waters.  One of the features in the book is a quote about each word.  Here are the three quotes for my words of the year:

HOPE:  "No matter how much sadness there is in life, there are equal amounts of maybe-things'll-get-better-someday-soon."  -Pam Muñoz Ryan, Echo

KINDNESS:  "But remember, boy, that a kind act can sometimes be as powerful as a sword."   -Rick Riordan, The Battle of the Labyrinth

SERVICE:  "The heart that gives, gathers."   -Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching

Teachers are experts at the "maybe-things'll-get-better-someday-soon" mentality.  They are on the front line, wielding their kindness like swords.  And giving hearts are one of the inherent traits of our educators.  

I have tried to add some things to this month's newsletter that focus on my words of the year.  Hopefully they prove inspiring, useful, or both as you wrap up 2020 and look forward to 2021.

OKC National Memorial & Museum 20th Annual Student Essay Contest

OKC National Memorial Museum

The 20th Annual Student Essay Contest encourages students to reflect on how engaging in civil conversations have made a difference in their lives.

Students in grades 5-12 may participate and are eligible to win a cash prize and have the opportunity to be recognized at a ceremony in March 2021.

Over 550 essays from 34 states were submitted in this last year’s essay contest. Winning essays came from students in Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Illinois.

The prompt for 5th grade is below.  More details, including a student registration form, are available on the museum website.

ESSAY PROMPT - GRADES 5 AND 6 (Suggested word count:  350 words)

Prizes:  1st Place $100, 2nd Place $75, 3rd Place $50

The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum is leading an initiative titled Better Conversations in which community members meet together to discuss their opinions in response to challenging and important questions.  These conversations are based on the belief that listening to others is important because it can lead to understanding and growth.

Describe someone you know who is a good listener.  What makes that person a good listener?  Then describe a time when they helped you by listening to you.  How did talking to them help you grow, learn, or change?

Oklahoma Writing Project's Write to Win Contest

Oklahoma Writing Project

Write to Win, the annual writing contest of the Oklahoma Writing Project, is seeking entries from both teachers and students.  Genres include: Descriptive Paragraph, Personal Narrative, Poem, Short Story, Essay, Writing Across the Curriculum, Flash Fiction, and Sentence.

Limit 15 student entries per teacher. NO ENTRY FEE. No student may enter more than two pieces total, and only one per genre. Teacher may enter two pieces, only one per genre. In addition, teachers may enter up to 5 student sentences (limit one per student) and one teacher sentence.

All entries must be attached to an email sent from a teacher’s school email address and each entry must be a separate email.  Winners in each division will be honored by having their writing published in the 2021 OKWP Anthology of Winning Writing and on the OKWP Website. Winners and their teachers will receive free anthologies of winning writing.

Students and teachers will compete against others in their own divisions and genres.  Divisions are determined by grade rather than by school level: Primary (pre-K through 2nd); Intermediate, (grades 3-5); Middle School (grades 6-8); High School, (grades 9-12), and Teacher.

Click on the Write to Win link for more information.

Boosting School-Wide Community through Virtual Read Alouds: Spotlight on Northridge Elementary School

Emily Spradlin and Jordann Hardin

When her district made the decision to return to distance learning right before Thanksgiving, Emily Spradlin, a second grade teacher at Northridge Elementary in Putnam City, made a decision of her own:  take her read aloud time beyond her classroom and invite other students and teachers from her school to join in.  Spradlin (pictured right in photo) explained, "I wanted to do it as a way to see all my kids I'd had in the past...when we went virtual I thought it was the perfect time.  I let all the teachers know what day and time and I sent them a google meets link for them to send to their class."  

She enlisted the help of Jordann Hardin (pictured left in photo), a third grade teacher, to monitor the chat and assist with any issues that might arise.  The first open read aloud was an instant success, with 30 students participating.  Spradlin said, "I had so much fun getting to see past students who I haven't seen much and kids got to see each other, too.  It was hilarious to see their reactions to the books and their comments in the chat." 

Spradlin and Hardin decided to do it again the very next day.  This time, 35 teachers and students participated as the two teachers took turns reading different books about Thanksgiving.  Hardin said that Fallan Wolff, the assistant principal for Northridge, also joined the call and "she loved watching the kids' reaction to our reading", but it wasn't just the kids who enjoyed themselves.  Hardin shared, "It honestly was the best part of my week."

Spradlin has already decided that if distance learning continues, so will the open read alouds.  Hardin agrees and adds, "As we keep doing this, we hope to have more and more kids and teachers join us."  Hardin also speaks to the importance of creating buy-in with other teachers in the school for this kind of community-building experience.  She says, "If we're talking it up in our class, then the kids will want to come...almost all the teachers I talked to about it after the first time, came the second time."  

A huge thank you to Emily Spradlin and Jordann Hardin for sharing this great idea!

Mrs. Spradlins Online Reading Room

Mrs. Spradlin's Online Reading Room

A Kindness Calendar for December

Kindness calendar

The website actionforhappiness.org has a free kindness calendar for the month of December.  With a theme of "Do-Good December," there are numerous activities that students can do or that teachers can use as writing prompts.  The site explains the need for the calendar in this way:

"2020 has been a difficult year in so many ways. We have suffered with uncertainty, anxiety, isolation and challenges with our financial situation, health or relationships. One thing that can hold us together and help us get through is kindness. Although we can't change our situation, we can choose to respond to others (and ourselves) with kindness. And when we're kind, everything goes better. We help others, we help ourselves and we encourage others to be kinder too."

Access the kindness calendar here.  

Monthly Features

Writing Prompt of the Month - Using the Senses

A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

The following quote is taken from the book A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words by Phillip Sexton, and it speaks to the importance of using all of our senses when we write:

"A good writer uses all of his senses to describe physical things.  The way they smell, feel, sound, and so on.  Even the best writers, however, tend to anchor their descriptions with visual details, adding smells, sounds, and textures as warranted."  He adds, "Like the muscles of your body, all of them need to be exercised.  Make a conscious effort to do this.  Try to rely on smell, hearing, touch, and taste more often.  Doing so will improve your descriptions immeasurably."

Writing Prompt:  Try to take Sexton's advice to heart.  Think about a favorite winter activity or moment and describe it using all your senses except for sight.  

Reading Quote of the Month

Jan Brett

Children's author and illustrator Jan Brett is celebrating her birthday on December 1. Her beautifully illustrated books like The Mitten and The Hat are loved by children and adults alike.  Brett had this to say about children as readers:

 "A book is something that young readers can experience on their own time. They decide when to turn the page. They'll put their arm right on the page so you can't turn it because they're not ready to go to the next page yet. They just want to look at it again, or they want to read the book over and over."

For more information on Jan Brett and her books, go to her website, janbrett.com.