A Practical & Essential CCSS Companion

The Common Core Companion: The Standards Decoded  
What They Say, What They Mean, How to Teach Them (Grades 3-5)  
By Leslie Blauman with Jim Burke
Corwin Literacy, 2014 – Learn more)

Linda Biondi 120Reviewed by Linda Biondi

Professional literature for educators falls into several categories. Books that inspire and motivate you. Books that challenge your thinking. Books that reaffirm your thinking. Books that you read with Post Its and a highlighter in hand. Curriculum books. Workbooks.

The brand new book, The Common Core Companion: The Standards Decoded by Leslie Blauman (with Jim Burke) fits into all of those categories.

cc companion 14 biondi lgIf you are looking for ideas that will help you implement the Common Core Standards, this book should be on the top of your list. Other books in the series, Grades K-2 and Grades 6-8, were written by Jim Burke. Mr. Burke sought out Leslie Blauman, a literacy coordinator and demonstration teacher at the Public Education & Business Coalition with 30 years of classroom experience, to author the grades 3-5 level. Hands down, he made a great choice.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to “decode” is to extract meaning from spoken or written symbols. The Common Core Companion by Blauman and Burke does precisely that. The authors help to make sense of the language and expectations of the ELA Standards.

The Standards are an overwhelming yet important contributing factor of our teaching. They not only raise the bar on standards for English and Math, but due to their consistency from state to state, they help students who are in a mobile society. These standards are helping prepare our students for careers in the 21st century. That is a big commitment and task for educators.

You may be wondering what this book is all about. What makes it different or unique from other books about the Common Core? How will it help you to become a more proficient teacher but also help you as you scale the mountain called the Common Core State Standards.

At a glance:

  • Each section begins with a restatement of the “official” standards as they appear in the CCSS document.
  • On the facing page is a user-friendly translation of each standard and each section of the standard is decoded in professional, easy to comprehend language.
  • The next page shows how the standards change across grade levels. You are able to see at a glance what your students should have learned in the previous year, at the current grade level, and what they will be learning the following year.
  • The fourth page of each standard is broken into grades 3, 4, and 5 with sections that give the gist of what is required from the student to help them master the skills and understanding embedded in the standard.
  • Next is the page termed “What the Teacher Does” which provides specific teaching techniques to meet each standard.
  • After that is a working page for the teacher to use which includes space for differentiation, texts to use, and connection to other standards.
  • A fantastic quick reference glossary of key words and phrases for each standard comes next, with each definition consistent with how it is used in the given standard.
  • Finally, there is space for you to jot down your ideas for planning.

Beyond ELA

Although the ELA Standards are addressed, this book is NOT just for ELA teachers. “The Standards insist that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language be a shared responsibility within the school. The K-5 standards include expectations for reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language applicable to a range of subjects, including but not limited to ELA.” (CCSS , English Language Arts Standards » Introduction) The explanation that follows on the second page of each standard assists all subject area teachers to carry out the teaching responsibility.

Plenty of space to insert your notes

What else do I like about this book? Shakespeare said, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” I adore the fact that it is a working document and that is what teaching is about. There are ample opportunities to jot on the pages, making notes on what works and what you might want to modify. The boxes on each page are large enough so that you can use Post Its in the sections. This gives you a chance to update your thoughts and strategies.

A superlative companion website

Let me continue to count the ways. The companion website left me speechless (and I am not often speechless). It is complete with accessible reproducibles, graphic organizers, wall charts and photos to enhance your practice. The photos are a bonus item, showing students applying the standards but also with anchor charts and examples of student writing.

Simply put, this sturdy spiral-bound treasure clarifies what each standard means and how to put the standards in practice in all academic subjects. When you picture a treasure chest, usually gems and gold come to mind. As I looked through this book, I felt as if I was on a special treasure hunt, discovering teaching gems from the inside cover to the last page.

As a 30-plus year veteran teacher, I was excited to review this book. It is one of the most practical Common Core “workbooks” that I have found. I have already recommended it to colleagues, college professors and administrators as the “go-to book” for CCSS decoding.

Read Anne Anderson’s review of  The Common Core Companion: The Standards Decoded  (Grades 6-8).

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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