Cooking with the Common Core

Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action
By Sarah Tantillo with illustrations by Sandy Gingras
(Jossey-Bass, 2014 – Learn more)

Linda-Biondi-120Reviewed by Linda Biondi 

Are you wondering how your classroom instruction will change with the adoption of the Common Core Standards? Do you wonder how your lesson planning is going to change (or will it)? Do you wonder how you are going to make your lessons “healthy and appetizing” to your students at the same time?

ST-RecipesForAction-cvrThanks to Sarah Tantillo and her new book, Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action, you will feel more at ease as you continue to implement the best practices in education. She has taken her 2012 book, The Literacy Cookbook: A Practical Guide to Effective Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Instruction, to the next level, adding flavor-enhancing Common Core ingredients to the mix.

With more than 30 years of teaching and consulting, Tantillo has shared what she feels are the best strategies to strengthen teaching practices and curriculum development. This book is grounded in research, practical applications and current educational practices. And if that weren’t sufficient, these strategies are adaptable to be used across all grade levels and subject areas. How remarkable is that!

As you read the book, you realize that Sarah Tantillo is a lifelong scholar and teacher. Her references, cited in the “End Notes” section of each chapter, are a quick link to current educational practices and research by authors such as Robert J. Marzano, Lucy Calkins, Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe and Jeff Anderson, to name a few.

From standards to classroom practice

If you are an educator reading this review, you already know how the standards emerged, what they cover, and how they are organized. But the question arises about how you translate the new standards into practice.

Tantillo recognizes the pressures and challenges that educators are facing. Her book is written to be used by educators as a guide, especially in conjunction with peer collaboration.

Transforming curriculum and instruction to meet these standards is a heavy lift. It won’t happen unless we all bend our knees, count in unison, and lift.”

The design of the book “whets your appetite” for teaching. Each section is divided into a “menu” from appetizers to dessert. Part One provides the basic ingredients of a successful literacy program such as school-wide approaches to curriculum planning, unit planning, lesson planning and ways to bridge the gap for students who are not on grade level.

Part Two moves into the appetizer section of the book with entries like “First Bites of the Common Core and Close Reading.” Section Three offers the Entrées that help the reader unpack the ELA Standards, including Argument Versus Evidence, and Open Ended Response Writing. Of course, a meal wouldn’t be complete without dessert, so there’s with a sweet appendix and a helpful index.

In addition, readers can also download a variety of accompanying handouts on the enclosed CD and become connected through the Tantillo’s The Literacy Cookbook blog.

Actually using the CCSS

It is important for educators to be able to understand the significance of the CCSS and “unpack” the standards in order to teach them. Honestly, sometimes I feel as if I am in a constant state of “unpacking.” Tantillo’s section on “How to Translate the ELA Common Core Standards for Actual Use” is a real kitchen helper.

She guides teachers and administrators as they sort through the English Language Arts standards, focus on the key components, and design objectives and activities to meet them. Dare I say this section is like the whipped cream on top of an ice cream sundae?

One of the resources she has created is the “Unpacking the Standards Organizer,” a simple but effective thinking tool. (See example below) As we “unpack” a standard using this organizer, we are revealing the answer to a key question: What does this standard say about what a student must know and be able to do and what does mastery looks like?

Standards-organizer-example S T for biondi rev

I feel as if I have come away with a much better understanding of the Standards after reading this section and appreciate the examples that Tantillo provides for quick reference. Educators will not only find “unpacking” nonthreatening and easy to implement, but will also come away feeling empowered to continue the work on their own.

This book is a solid resource for educators who are in the midst of implanting the Common Core standards in their districts. With its straightforward language, easy to implement plans and resources, and step-by-step guide, Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action by Sarah Tantillo deserves a five star rating.

Linda Biondi is a fourth grade teacher at Pond Road Middle School in Robbinsville, NJ, and a long-time Morning Meeting practitioner. She’s also the recipient of several educational grants, a Teacher Consultant with the National Writing Project and a participant on the NJ Department of Education Teacher Advisory Panel. She recently shared her thoughts about the Common Core at the NJ SDE website.



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