Jim Burke creates the missing Common Core manual

The Common Core Companion: The Standards Decoded, Grades 6-8 
What They Say, What They Mean, How to Teach Them 
By Jim Burke
(Sage/Corwin, 2013 – Learn more)

anne-anderson-2014Reviewed by Anne Anderson

Has this ever happened to you? After attending hours of professional development, seeing some impressive PowerPoint presentations, and reading numerous books and articles, you think you have a handle on the Common Core State Standards.  And, you probably did, until you attempted to use the “official document.”  You may find yourself flipping pages and becoming frustrated and unsure of what you know.  Relax, help is here!

CC Companion standards decoded andersonJim Burke designed The Common Core Companion: The Standards Decoded Grades 6-8  for teachers to use. What makes this book so valuable to teachers?  The layout!  Burke and Corwin Press made excellent use of the two-page spread throughout the book, which allows teachers a “big picture” view of the standards. This spiral-bound book will benefit teachers and administrators in planning, teaching, and assessing common core lessons.

The book is divided into four parts to match the Common Core State Standards document: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language.  Each section begins with the anchor standards direct from the CCSS document.  Across from that, on the facing page, is a “translation” of the standards into everyday language.

It only gets better!  Think about one of the ten Reading Standards and picture it at the top of the left-hand page. Beneath that, a teacher can view what students must learn at each grade level (6, 7, 8) for literary text, informational text, History/Social Studies, and Science/ Technical Subjects to meet this standard.  Yes, indeed!  Horizontal and vertical views all in one spot!  Planning definitely becomes easier for teams, as teachers look across to the right-hand page titled “What the Student Does.” Here is the plain English version of those grade-specific standards.  Teachers will find suggested comprehension questions for each standard designed to move students to a deeper understanding of text.  What a benefit to those teachers who may be unsure what literacy instruction is.

Let’s look at the next two-page spread.  “What the Teacher Does” appears on the left and contains techniques and teaching strategies that are applicable to the standard, grades 6 – 8. These classroom-tested, research-based tips and techniques are easy to implement.  Specific strategies are even included to help English Language Learners.  On the right-hand page is a place to record your thoughts and insights under “Preparing to Teach” the standard.

As you turn the page, you will see “Academic Vocabulary: Key Words and Phrases.” Here Burke explains in detail those words or phrases from the CCSS that might be confusing. Take a look at these examples pulled from the book:

  • introduced, illustrated, and elaborated (Reading Standard 3)
  • visual form/visually (Reading Standard 7)
  • narration of historical events, scientific procedures or experiments, or technical processes (Writing Standard 2)
  • shorter time frames (Writing Standard 10)
  • interactive elements (Speaking and Listening Standard 5)
  • range of strategies (Language Standard 4)

His explanations are sure to benefit teachers and administrators – even parents – who seek to make sense of and implement the Common Core Standards.  Again, readers have a page for notes and planning.

I might have titled this book The Common Core Companion Workbook: The Standards Decoded.  Each teacher needs a personal copy in order to make notes and to record understandings, ideas, activities, and strategies linked to the standards. Nevertheless, the book lives up to its real title by explaining what the standards say, what they mean, and how to teach them.

Anne Anderson finally got out of the 8th grade after 24 years and 9 weeks. She spent the next 9 years sharing her expertise in literacy and writing with K-12 teachers and administrators throughout the district. She credits National Writing Project and Poetry Alive! as turning points in her growth as a teacher. She now shares her expertise nationwide as an Educational Consultant and through her website and her bi-monthly newsletter, Spotlight on Success.


MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

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