Room 313

adventures in teaching creative writing

Archive for the tag “Oklahoma”

Oklahoma’s English Standards Ready for Classrooms

The newspaper I grew up reading is hostile to my profession of teaching. In an editorial today about the new state standards, The Daily Oklahoman urges lawmakers to reject them for revision based on inexpert opinion and little research.

Let me be up front and say that I served on the committee that wrote the English standards. I have taught for eleven years in seventh through twelfth grades. I have my master’s degree in English, and I’m a past president of the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English. As an Oklahoma Writing Project teacher consultant, I’ve presented numerous workshops to teachers around the state.

Now, as to The Oklahoman’s critique of the standards:

Jenni White, a critic of public education, admits that has not read the new English standards. She has no authority on this issue. Her organization, ROPE, feels public education is not worth restoring. White’s children do not attend a public school. She has no horse in this race. Why listen to her?

Tara Huddleston, a teacher worried about the standards’ lack of substance, is not clear in what needs to be improved. What is so vague about the English standards?

As to the lack of exemplars which Huddleston claims are needed, they are not standards. Standards are clear learning targets. Exemplars are student samples that demonstrate levels of mastery of the standards. Oklahoma has not yet implemented the new English standards, so how can we have authentic student samples of work based on standards that have not yet been passed, let alone implemented? The Common Core State Standards included exemplars, but our state kicked out Common Core. Teacher can locate exemplars because they are professionals. If it is deemed important enough, I’m sure the State Department of Education could eventually release a supplemental document of exemplars, but the standards themselves should still be passed.

Dr. Stotsky, a critic of Oklahoma’s English standards who wanted to be paid to write our standards for us, is from Arkansas. Why are we listening to an out-of-state expert when there are already plenty of organizations and individuals supporting the new Oklahoma standards? The Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English and the Oklahoma Writing Projects are just two of dozens of organizations that support the new standards.

There are eight main English language arts standards with a reading and writing strand within each standard. The eighth standard is independent reading and writing, a lofty idea that I admit is not testable. But what is worthy and important is not always testable. Developing students into lifelong readers and writers can only create a better Oklahoma.

The exact language of the reading strand of standard 8 is “Students will select appropriate (emphasis added) texts for specific purposes and read independently for extended periods of time.” This language is the same for grades 5-12. Dr. Stotsky claims there is “nothing to suggest an increasing level of reading difficulty” in this standard, but isn’t an “appropriate” text (book) different for a fifth grader than a senior in high school?

Additionally, on page 12 of the final draft of the standards, it is explicitly stated that English language arts are recursive and thus will be repeatedly taught, grade after grade, with the idea that “the skills are repeated with an implied expectation that they are attributed to increasingly more complex (emphasis added) texts.” Therefore, reading material will become more challenging as students progress through school, according to Oklahoma’s new standards.

Even so, if one of my on-level sophomore students wants to read a book written at a fifth grade reading level (Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, a book that I did not read until I was a senior in high school), I am not going to discourage this young man. Sometimes readers need a challenge, but sometimes they just want to get lost in a story, a fine step in becoming a lifelong reader.

The Oklahoma English language arts standards are ready for the classroom. Our legislature should pass them, plain and simple.


PRESLM 2013 Results: Pie-Charted

One of the most challenging and rewarding times of the school year as a creative writing teacher is overseeing the production of our annual student anthology of art, writing, and photography. After a few years of undertaking this project, I decided to submit our ninth volume of The Red Line to NCTE’s 2013 PRESLM contest.  We were delighted to receive a Superior ranking. On top of this, we were nominated for the highest award, which is only given to a handful of magazines. As you can see on the PRESLM website, 373 magazines were submitted and only 26 of them received the highest award, one of which was Eyrie from Edison Preparatory in Tulsa. Huzzah, you guys!

I wanted more data than this, though, and it crossed my mind in the flurry of the spring semester to sit down and tabulate the results. I never got around to this until today. After finishing my binge-watching of Scandal, I felt the need to do something a little productive, so I clicked on each state’s results on the PRESLM page and started making tally marks. My results are not completely accurate because I only got 372 entries, not the 373 that NCTE had. I’ve got to be pretty close, though.

  • State participation: 42
  • Highest Award: 26
  • Nominated for Highest Award: 106
  • Superior: 43
  • Excellent: 153
  • Above Average: 41
  • Average / Unranked: 3

PRESLM 2013 chart

In order to be nominated for the highest award, magazines must receive a superior ranking. In essence, 175 magazines achieved a superior ranking. The pie chart could be reworked to reflect this.

PRESLM 2013 chart 2

If you would like to submit your school’s literary magazine, the deadline for the 2014 PRESLM contest is July 2. You have time! We at Deer Creek High School have already submitted our tenth volume of The Red Line. If you’d like to preview or purchase a copy, check out our magazine on It sells for $27, but our students only had to pay $10 because we sold ads and held a few fundraisers. I could save all that for another post.

Favorite Books: 2012-2013

At the start of this school year, I challenged my students to read 20 books a year, 10 books per semester. To wrap up this school year, I asked my students to choose at least one favorite book of the entire school year, not just this semester. Some students just gave me one title, but quite a few gave me multiple titles, which made me happy. A few students had to rack their brains to land on a title, but others knew immediately which book was their favorite.

I put all the titles into a PowerPoint. I initially had students add their own slides, but some of my sophomores could not handle such a responsibility. One student, instead of getting the image of his favorite book, opened my My Photos folder and inserted a picture of me that I had on hand for a bulletin board. I was working on other things in the classroom, and students were supposed to just go up one at a time and add their slides. Anyway, I quickly retook the reigns and was able to power through all my students and their titles in about two class days at the start of class. Of course, some students were absent, so I had to wait for their return and for their titles. I didn’t want to leave anyone out. Then I found this helpful video on how to convert a PowerPoint 2007 into a video.

Basically, I had to save all the slides of my PowerPoint as JPEGs and then import them into Windows MovieMaker. I did all this on my school’s computer because my laptop is way old and needs replaced. Besides, I had already created the PowerPoint during class time. It only made sense to finish the video at school. I typed up a script for the introduction to the video and recorded it using Sound Recorder, found in the Accessories > Entertainment folders. It took me a while to realize I needed to zoom in on all my slides to make the audio last the perfect length. Anyway, here’s the result, which I will share with my current and future students:

Note: My school computer could not link up to YouTube, so I had to save the MovieMaker file to my flash drive, move it to my laptop, and upload it to YouTube from my laptop.

OCTE Fall Conference

I first learned about the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English (OCTE) when I received the Geraldine Burns award from them when I was a junior in college. Oklahoma Baptist University selected me for this award because of my promise as a future English teacher. After I left college and began teaching, I joined NCTE (the National Council of Teachers of English), but I delayed my OCTE membership. After a year or so, I learned of their presence from a student writing contest. Flash forward to my eighth year of teaching, and I’m now serving on OCTE’s executive board. We’re planning our 2013 fall conference, and I’d love to have a great turnout of Oklahoma English teachers, current and future alike. Here are all the details you need:


Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English

Fall 2013 Conference: NATIVE LEARNERS

Saturday, September 28, 2013

featuring Sonia Gensler

Oklahoma author of The Dark Between & The Revenant


The theme of the conference is Native Learners, focusing on two strands: (1) Native American literature as a source of innovative lessons & (2) the relationship between student teachers and mentor teachers.

  • Do you teach any Native American literature?
  • What tribal prose and poetry enlivens your classroom?
  • What was your student teaching experience like?
  • What advice would you offer future student teachers?
  • How could mentor teachers improve their craft?

These questions and more will guide our breakout sessions. Of course, if you wish to propose a session outside our theme, feel free. Use this Google form to submit your proposal. Presenters will receive one-year free membership in OCTE.


The fall conference, sponsored by the Department of English at Southern Nazarene University, will be held on the SNU campus at the Herrick Building & Auditorium on the corner of NW 39th Expressway and N. Asbury Ave. in Bethany, on Saturday, September 28, from 9:00am—2:00pm with a break for lunch at area restaurants.


A detailed schedule with breakout session descriptions will be emailed to registrants the second week of September. The complete schedule will also be posted on the OCTE website.

8:30-8:55         Registration
9:00-9:25         Opening Session: Oklahoma author Sonia Gensler
9:30-10:15       Breakout Session 1
10:20-11:05     Breakout Session 2
11:10-11:55     Breakout Session 3
12:00-12:55     Lunch at area restaurants
1:00-2:00         Closing Session


Registration is exclusively online on this Google form. Please register by Thursday, September 26, 2013. Contact Laura Bolf-Beliveau, OCTE treasurer, with any registration questions at Registration fee includes morning coffee, tea, and snacks and all breakout sessions. Lunch is on your own. Some restaurants are within walking distance.


We are unable to accommodate registration at the door, so please register early. Those who are not members of OCTE are required to purchase a year’s membership to attend the conference; however, first-year teachers and college students get free OCTE membership. No reimbursement can be offered for cancellations.

Free    SNU College Student
$20      College Student
$20      First-Year Teacher
$20      Presenter
$20      OCTE Member
$45      Non-OCTE Member (includes a 12-month OCTE membership)


The Herrick Building & Auditorium is located at #1 on the SNU campus map. Free parking is available on the street and one block west of the building in the Bethany First Church of the Nazarene parking lot.



Use this handy Google Map to navigate to some favorite area restaurants.

  • Ann’s Chicken Fry House
  • Arby’s
  • Bella Italia
  • Birrieria Diaz
  • Boom-a-rang Diner
  • Braum’s
  • Carl’s Jr.
  • Chelino’s Mexican Restaurant
  • City Bites
  • Flatire Burgers
  • Lai Thai
  • Los Amigos
  • Papa Angelo’s Pizzeria
  • Sonic
  • Swadley’s Bar-B-Q
  • Thai Sweet Basil Express



Twitter: @oklacte


The Red Line: Our Student Anthology’s Journey

This is my fourth year to teach creative writing and my first year to have a Creative Writing 2 class. Some of the seniors I currently have in CW2, I had as freshman in CW1. When I began teaching CW, I inherited the task of sponsoring our high school’s student anthology of poetry, prose, art, and photography, humorously titled The Red Line after Microsoft Word’s grammatical error signal.

My first year as adviser, I worked alongside some great students who produced a book much like ones from the past. The Red Line 6 was the size of computer paper (8.5 x 11), and we had it printed and bound at FedEx Office. The end result had some fine content, but I was not very pleased with the tape binding of our book. It seemed like something that could have been done 10 or 15 years ago. I wanted something better because the work our students produce is so good.


I was pleased to learn about  in a session at the National Writing Project’s Annual Meeting in Orlando the next school year. With Lulu, we still created the document, but we used their template, which automatically numbered pages for us. We went went for a much smaller book size for the 2011 issue of The Red Line (volume 7) and to save money we included the best art on the cover, but we kept everything in the book black and white–including all the other artwork and photographs.

red line 7 cover

Last year I attended a workshop on high school literary magazines with Paul Stevenson at the Nimrod conference at Tulsa University. Paul has been at the helm of Eyrie, the student journal of creative expression of Edison Preparatory School in Tulsa, for quite some time now. Their work is remarkable and gets high honors in the PRESLM contest sponsored by NCTE. Paul shared some good pointers and even gave me a copy of Eyrie to show as a model to my students. It was decided we would do a full-color book, even though it would be more expensive. The end result was quite nice, and The Red Line 8 cover looked amazing thanks to the desktop publishing skills of one of my seniors. I uploaded a digital version of RL8 using FlipSnack if you’d like to give it a read. The downside of this book was its cost, and we just told published and interested students to buy their own book from the Lulu website. That procedure definitely needed some improving.

red line 8 cover

This year we continued our full-color book tradition but decided to sell ads to offset costs. My editor Katie and I called area businesses. To be honest, neither one of us was expecting to get any sponsors. To our surprise, we got some affirmatives over the phone as well as some potential interest. Plus, we had some connections with a fellow CW student and our photography teacher’s wife’s business. Our sales pitch was rather last-minute, so we’ll definitely need to begin that process earlier next year. In the end, we sold $440 in ads and got a $50 donation from our school’s principals. I took down orders from students, and ordered the copies of The Red Line 9 with a school credit card. Now instead of having to pay $22 for their books (the price on the Lulu website), students will only have to pay $10, a much more affordable price for a 60-page full-color book. Here’s a preview of The Red Line 9 if you’re interested.

red line 9 cover

What about you? Do you sponsor a student anthology of writing? What advice or questions do you have?

Tweaking the Reading Routine

In room 149 we are one month into the second semester. I’ve been tweaking how we begin class since I read Penny Kittle’s Book Love. The ten minutes of sustained silent reading was non-negotiable, but I wanted to give more book talks, so I started each class with a book talk or two. It was a little jarring at first because students were used to reading as soon as the bell rang. Now I was talking about books before they got to read. Some of my more voracious readers ignored me and got even more reading time in. These are the same students who try to read during a lesson or activity. I feel bad telling them to put their books away, but that’s the way it has to be.

I quickly realized that I couldn’t keep up giving daily book talks, so I decided students would give book talks on Wednesdays. Some hours are more willing to talk than others, so I sometimes have to call on specific students. My seventh hour has the most willing students. They actually come to the front of the room to talk rather than talk from their desks like my other hours.

All year long we have used the first few minutes on Fridays to update our reading checkup charts. Students record the book they’re currently reading, their page progress (e.g., 134/358), and their total number of books read. Here’s one of my blog posts that goes more in depth on how we do that, which includes some student samples.

Most recently I started showing book trailers from YouTube to start Monday classes. Yesterday I showed book trailers for Stupid Fast and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. By my second English class, both books had been checked out. Here’s my current playlist of book trailers I’m collecting on YouTube. My plan is for this list to grow throughout the school year.

To recap, here’s our weekly schedule at a glance:
Mondays: book trailers
Tuesdays: I give book talks
Wednesdays: 3-4 students give book talks
Thursdays: I give book talks
Fridays: Students update their reading charts

Recently students have volunteered to help me add up the weekly total of books from the checkup charts. I sometimes let them help me, especially if quite a few students need to have a book chat with me on that day. But seeing each student’s progress helps me motivate the ones who have not read much in the past week.

With our new media center opening, some old book shelves became available, and I nabbed one. I gave a smaller bookshelf away to one of my colleagues to make room for it. Here’s how my classroom library looks now:


In January I explained to students the quote bulletin board I had left empty the entire fall semester. To kick things off, I put up the famous quote from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Only one student brought quotes for the board, but she brought a lot. Here’s the board:


This semester I’m having students read a book that’s been nominated for our state’s Sequoyah award. Instead of limiting their choices to only the winners of the Sequoyah award, I’m letting them choose any titled that’s been nominated over the past four years. I posted all the titles they could choose from, and I arranged for our librarian to come give book talks on some Sequoyah titles to all my classes. She has the Sequoyah titles labeled with different colored stickers, so that’s why the list is color-coded.


Along with the number of books read per hour, I’m also calculating the average books per student, or bps. I had some students move away between semesters, and I also gained some students, so that’s why my student numbers changed. I should probably reprint them, but it’s not a priority.



I also chart the overall book progress on this semester chart.


I’m also keeping a running list of all the texts we have shared together as a class, an idea I think I got from Donalyn Miller.


These routines work for my students and me. Feel free to borrow and tweak them for use in your own classroom.

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