August 2021 Secondary ELAOK Newsletter

Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.
English Language Arts

August 2021

In this issue:

School Year Beginnings


As I write this reflection, the weather outside is glorious for late July. A few clouds dot the sky, and the 80 degree temperature and light wind seem out of place in Oklahoma. For teachers, though, it has been summer since the end of May, and the arrival of August means school, and students, will be here soon.

The 2020-2021 school year presented many challenges as our state, country, and world dealt with the global pandemic. Some Oklahoma school districts were in-person for the whole school year while others began virtually and eased their way back to in-person. Teachers had to adapt as traditional methods did not always translate to an online space.

Covid-19 has ebbed and flowed through the summer, and this coming school year could present many of the same challenges as last school year. The advantage you now have (unless you are a first-year teacher) is that you have done this before. You figured out ways to educate your students whether they were in the classroom or at home. You challenged students to become better readers, writers, and thinkers. I want to thank you for giving it your all, then and now. If you ever need support or guidance, please reach out to me. My email address is

Standards Implementation

The Oklahoma State Testing Program (OSTP) will continue to be aligned to the 2016 ELA standards during the 2021-22 school year with the new 2021 standards being assessed in 2022-23.

Implementation resources are available on the ELA Standards webpage and include a revised appendix, professional learning videos and slide decks, elementary and secondary crosswalks (2021 vs. 2016), and vertical progressions (PK-5, 3-8, & 6-12).

Your district or school might already have a plan about how and when to teach the new standards. If not, I offer these suggestions and considerations:

  • The 2021 standards are based on the 2016 standards and the revisions represent an improvement in clarity, coherence, and purpose.
  • You can use the secondary crosswalk document to see the differences between the 2021 and 2016 standards.
  • You might identify a handful of the 2021 standards that you want to teach in the 2021-2022 school year in addition to the 2016 standards.
  • You could determine how much time, practice, and/or training you will need to implement the new standards.
  • Since the OSTP will be aligned to the 2021 standards in spring 2023, you will need to teach all of the 2021 standards in the 2022-2023 school year.
  • The 2021 standards have more precise language objectives, which will help students better prepare for the ACT and/or SAT.

Need more information about the standards? Check out my June and July newsletters.

July Training Session

July 20 screenshot

Deb Wade, the Director of Elementary ELA, and I led a Zoom training session on Tuesday, July 20, with over 100 Oklahoma teachers in attendance.

This session was a continuation of our June introduction to the 2021 Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts. In this July session, we studied the vertical progressions and the newly revised Appendix. The vertical progressions present the standards in three different grade bands: PK-5, 3-8, and 6-12.

The recording of the session is now on YouTube, and the slides are also available.

ELA Appendix

appendix cover

The newly revised ELA Appendix debuted last month in conjunction with our July training mentioned above. Some existing resources have been revised. These revised resources include:

  • The 44 Phonemes
  • Text Complexity Bands
  • Reading Ranges
  • Genre Guidance
  • Guiding Research
  • Glossary (also available as a webpage)
  • Standards References

Some new resources were also developed for the Appendix. These new resources include:

  • Recursive Writing Process Graphic
  • Vocabulary Tiers Graphic (pictured below)
  • Multimodal Literacies Overview & Venn Diagrams
  • Suggested Keyboarding Progression
  • Mechanics Progression

Take some time to read and digest the revised and new material in the Appendix. The guidance will assist you in understanding and implementing the standards.

vocab pyramid

Independent Reading Tips

When I taught high school English, I encouraged my students to read books of choice on a regular basis. We began most class days with about ten minutes of silent reading. This was usually just enough time for students to get lost in the book, and then we would move on to the lesson.

Sometimes students wanted to read for a whole class period, but I wanted to provide just enough time to hook students and encourage them to read some more later that day or evening. Moreover, while students read, I conferred with students about the books they had completed.

I developed this approach over the years after reading Kelly Gallagher's Readicide, Penny Kittle's Book Love, and Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer. I also observed Claudia Swisher teaching her Reading for Pleasure class at Norman North High School.

In that same vein of thinking about independent reading, I recently read "How to Provide Less Structure for Independent Reading" from Edutopia. The article has a very clear and compelling claim:

When teachers limit independent reading to a small range of topics, genres, and reading levels, and routinely assign rote accountability tasks like daily reading logs, they inadvertently send a signal that reading isn't meant to be a joyful, inspiring, self-directed, and even revelatory activity.

This article offers the following advice in greater detail:

  • Expand beyond reading levels
  • Make accountability social
  • Consider low-stakes assessments
  • Cultivate open inquiry

How will you encourage your students to read independently this school year?

Sequoyah 2022 Masterlists

sequoyah logo

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 2021:

  • Children’s: Stargazing by Jen Wang
  • Intermediate: Allies by Alan Gratz
  • High School: Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

The 2022 masterlists have been released! There is one for middle school and one for high school. There are fifteen books per masterlist. Promotional materials, including an annotated masterlist, readalikes, bookmarks, and book talks on YouTube are available.

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 and children should not be 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.


The five stages of the writing process are prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. One of the shifts in the 2021 OAS for ELA is that there is now a publishing objective in Standard 2: Writing Process.

Publishing is sharing the writer’s product with the intended audience or readers in general. An authentic audience, one with whom the writer wants to communicate, is necessary for effective writing. Students should be expected to develop some pieces of writing thoroughly enough to be published.

Here are the publishing objectives for grades 6-8 and 9-12:

  • 6-8.2.W.5 Students will routinely and recursively publish final drafts for an authentic audience (e.g., publishing digitally, performing, entering contests).
  • 9-12.2.W.5 Students will routinely and recursively publish final drafts for an authentic audience (e.g., publishing digitally, community and professional audiences, newspapers and magazines, entering contests).

I maintain a webpage of writing contests, organized by name, participant, type, genre, and deadline. During this time of year, I update the deadlines as contests announce new details.

One contest that has four different submission cycles throughout the year is The First Line literary journal. The journal provides the first line to a story, which writers complete in around 300 to 5,000 words. The final prompt of the year is:

Later that evening, they sat alone in their apartment, wondering if they had made the right decision.

The due date is November 1, 2021, so your students would have plenty of time to write a story based on that first line. Whether they decided to submit for publication is up to them!


OSRHE Reading Conference

Teaching Small

14th Annual (Virtual) Reading Conference

Teaching Small for BIG Learning

Friday, September 24, 10:00 a.m.--2:45 p.m.

Don't miss this information-packed conference presented by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (OSRHE).  The keynote speaker will be Jennifer Serravallo, bestselling author of The Reading Strategies Book and the The Writing Strategies Book.  There will also be sessions led by Oklahoma State University's Dr. Sheri Vasinda and Melissa Ahlgrim, the Director of Reading Sufficiency at the Oklahoma State Department of Education.  Go to OSRHE's Reading Conference page for information on each presenter.

Early bird registration ends on August 31, but regular registration continues through September 22.


Keynote Speaker: Jennifer Serravallo

Jennifer Serravallo is a literacy consultant, speaker and the author of several popular titles, including the New York Times bestselling The Reading Strategies Book, The Writing Strategies Book, Understanding Texts and Readers, and The Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences. Complete Comprehension is a revised and reimagined whole-book assessment and teaching resource based on the award-winning Independent Reading Assessment. Her latest book, Connecting with Students Online: Strategies for Remote Teaching and Learning offers concise, doable answers for teaching in this unprecedented pandemic. Serravello was a senior staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and taught in New York City public schools.

OKCTE Fall Conference

The Oklahoma Council Teachers of English will host their annual fall conference Saturday, October 9, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Northeast Campus of Tulsa Community College. This year's conference will focus around the theme "Songs of Community"!

Rose Brock, author of Hope Nation: Young Adult Authors Share Personal Moments of Inspiration and cofounder of the ALA-award-winning North Texas Teen Book Festival,  will be the keynote speaker for the event.

The call for session proposals for the conference is now open. Complete your submission by September 5.

Check the OKCTE website for information and updates on the conference and conference registration. ​

2021 flyer

2021 Neustadt Lit Fest

NSK banner

Since 2003, the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature has been awarded every other year to a living writer or author-illustrator with significant achievement in children’s or young-adult literature. Sponsored by World Literature Today (the University of Oklahoma’s award-winning magazine of international literature), the NSK Prize celebrates literature that contributes to the quality of children’s lives.


The 2021 NSK Laureate is Cynthia Leitich Smith, a New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling YA author of the Tantalize series and Feral trilogy. Her debut picture book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, is widely considered a modern classic. She won the American Indian Youth Literature Award for Young Adult Books for Hearts Unbroken. She is a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation. A collection of secondary ELA lesson plans about the work of Cynthia Leitich Smith is now available.

The 2021 Neustadt Lit Fest will take place online from October 25-27, 2021. This year’s Lit Fest is focused on indigenous young adult literature. On October 26 from 12 noon--2:00 p.m., Cynthia Leitich Smith will discuss her work and writing career with Dr. Heather Shotton (Wichita/Kiowa/Cheyenne). Teachers and students are welcome, and admission is free. The session can be viewed live or watched afterward. The full Lit Fest schedule is available online.

Questions can be directed to Robert Con Davis-Undiano, Presidential Professor of English, at or 405-659-9452.

Reading & Writing Webinars

The WRITE Center is offering a webinar series this fall entitled Centering Students' Identities through Culturally Responsive Reading and Writing Practices. This series offers ways to more fully recognize students' identities, languages, and cultures. Attendees will be offered new tools, enhanced perspectives, and deepened empathy to help their students flourish academically, emotionally, and intellectually.

The webinars will take place in the evenings from 5:30--7:00 p.m. on September 29, October 20, and November 10.

I want to specifically highlight the Friday, September 29 session: #TeachLivingPoets: Complicating the Canon and Empowering Students through Poetry by Melissa Smith (coauthor of Teach Living Poets) and Micah Bournes (Poet & Speaker). Teach Living Poets opens up the flourishing world of contemporary poetry to secondary teachers, giving advice on discovering new poets and reading contemporary poetry, as well as sharing sample lessons, writing prompts, and ways to become an engaged member of a professional learning community.

Learn more about the webinar, including how to register, here.

Monthly Features

Writing Prompt

at home rubric

Source: Luke Neff's Writing Prompts tumblr

Reading Quote

Anna Quindlen reading quote

Upcoming Dates

  • September 5: OKCTE proposals due
  • September 24: OSRHE Reading Conference (OKC)
  • October 9: OKCTE Fall Conference (Tulsa)
  • October 25-27: Neustadt Lit Fest (Norman)
  • September 29: #TeachLivingPoets webinar