Jim Burke’s Companion to the Literacy Standards

Your Literacy Standards Companion: What They Mean and How to Teach Them, Grades 6 – 8
By Jim Burke
(Corwin, 2017 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Erin Corrigan-Smith

Please let me preface this by stating that I have been a teacher for almost four years, yet I was alternatively certified to become an educator. Being able to understand the Common Core (or my local county) standards has been something of a struggle. I may read a standard and understand what it means to model the standard for my students, but finding anything of value to help me unpack the full meaning of the standards has been a bit frustrating.

There are ample opportunities for professional development, but they involve weeks of study and time spent outside of the classroom. My desire to read Your Literacy Standards Companion was based around my hope of finding a single text that would explain the heart of the standard in an approachable way.

Thankfully, I was not disappointed. Actually, this text has more information than I need, and this is a good thing.

A layout made for ease of use

Jim Burke’s book is laid out in a logical manner; from the moment you open the text, you understand how to use it. On the inside cover is a map showing which information provided by Burke is best for each state (standards based, Common Core, or neither). There is an “At A Glance” guide as well, illustrating how to use the format of the book, and how to find the information you would need quickly.

There is a dedicated academic vocabulary glossary included as well, to help the novice teacher, and to explain what the text says, though the verbiage may differ by school/region. Peppered throughout each section are blank work pages where you may record your “Preparing to Teach” ideas and “Planning to Teach” for the final teaching plan.

A cross-reference to track down your state’s standards

The standards are laid out to follow the general Common Core plan (fiction, nonfiction, writing, etc.) If you are unsure of your standards, there is a cross-referencing index located immediately behind the standards which includes page numbers and where to go for more information.


[Editor’s note: Your Literacy Standards Companion is a revision of Burke’s The Common Core Companion with indexes cross-referencing the multitude of state standards now active in the United States. It’s also available for other grade levels.]


Behind this index is the list of “anchor standards” which groups the standards into manageable and like parts, but also breaks the standards into understandable pieces. The text first lays out the standards as they are grouped in Common Core, and then Burke discusses what each section means—not just what the standard says. To get to the bottom of what the standard is asking, Burke defines, explains, and gives real-world examples of how to implement teaching strategies to accomplish the deeper intent of the standards.

Taking the ideas to class

Included with each standard is a page dedicated to “What the Student Does”—how teachers can implement the new understanding of the standard and quickly and easily check for mastery. There is a list of “Gist” quick check questions to ask students which could be given as exit tickets or formative classroom assessments before moving on to the next task.

Alternatively, there is a section for “What the Teacher Does” which gives direct teaching and assessment strategies for implementation. There are sentence starters, assessment suggestions, and examples for how to model the techniques previously discussed.

Although this spiral-bound text is large and may feel somewhat unwieldy, it is full to the brim with useful information and should not be discounted because of its size. This book is a definite must-have for teachers who, like me, are looking for ways to unpack their standards and discover the deeper meaning – or for those who are not adequately prepared during professional development to implement teaching techniques that teach to mastery.

Erin Corrigan-Smith is a middle school ELA teacher in a suburb of Atlanta. She has a B.A. and M.A. in English, and her focus of study is children’s literature. During the school year, she is faculty advisor to the cooking club and drama club. In her downtime, she enjoys going to her family’s cabin in the North Georgia mountains with her husband and dog to read and relax.

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