Tuesday / March 5

Jim Burke’s Common Core Companion Series: Here’s Why It’s Awesome

David Stuart Jr.

I respect Jim Burke a lot. Here’s why:

  • He’s a prolific author of helpful books for teachers, and, get this: he still teaches;
  • He’s a co-author on the high school edition of They Say / I Say (I partially explain my obsession with this book here and here);
  • In addition to a sharp mind, I sense that Jim possesses something infinitely more important: a servant’s heart;
  • Even 20+ years into his teaching career, Jim is driven by the desire to improve his craft.

Perhaps the most impressive to me is that third bullet point. Humility is rarely modeled (at least authentically) in the United States, especially by those who have “made it” in a given profession. Jim has achieved great success (25+ books, high awards from NCTE, founder of the largest online community of English teachers in the world, member of various high-profile boards and committees), and yet, when you read his work, you get the impression that he is profoundly aware of the realities all teachers face, the failures we all experience, and the secret insecurities our jobs daily bring us into battle with.

Unlike too many edu-writers, Jim doesn’t just say he doesn’t have all the answers; he believes it. Jim doesn’t just say there are no silver bullets in education; he knows it because he’s a teacher who writhes around in the good struggle each semester. He’s a man at peace with his limits. In these ways, he’s the kind of person I hope teaching will slowly, stubbornly shape me into, despite myself.

Oh, and he created an insanely useful Common Core book series.

During the past few months, I’ve been working pretty hard on a project that I’m excited to announce to you in the months to come, and, during those months, I found myself again and again thanking God for Jim’s Common Core Companion (I use the 9-12 grade version).

Here’s what I find most useful about the series:

It’s a thoughtfully annotated list of the standards in my grade range, and it expects me to write in it.

Let’s take a look at the book itself. Beneath each photo below, I’ll describe what I’m trying to show you in the photo. If you’d like better quality images, I’d encourage you to head over to Amazon and use the “look inside” feature to take a look at some sample pages.

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First of all, notice the intentionally scribable format: large and spiral bound, like a notebook.

It contains a durable, quickly accessible list of every single literacy anchor standardon a single page.

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The inside cover of the book contains every literacy anchor standard–all 32 of them. I find this indispensable when trying to quickly remember a particular standard.

For each anchor standard (e.g., R.CCR.1), it lists all versions on a single page (e.g., for science/technical subjects, for social sciences, etc).

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Each version of a particular anchor standard — in this example, R.CCR.1, is listed in each of its forms (for the 9-12 grade reading standards, that means there’s one for literary texts, one for informational texts, one for science/technical subject texts, and one for history/social studies texts–four total).

It’s easy to tell how the standards change across grade levels.

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On the same page, all grade level versions of the anchors are listed. In the case of the 9-12 grade standards, there are only two versions: one for the 9-10 grade band, and one for the 11-12 grade band. I also liked that, to make it easy to see the difference between the grade-specific standards, language present in the 11-12 standards but not in the 9-10 standards is bolded.

It explains what each standard looks like–in terms of what students are doingin each discipline.

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On the page opposite the standards themselves, Jim includes a description, in his own words, of what students do to show mastery of this standard. He is short, sweet, and to the point, and he does this, again, for each subject’s version of the standards– very helpful for folks in the social sciences, natural sciences, or technical subjects who may be uncomfortable with planning literacy-infused lessons.

It then shares what a teacher can do to teach the skills in each standard.

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After sharing what students do with each standard, there’s a page that describes what the teacher does. I love that there’s room to write on these pages; I can make notes when appropriate and come back to them later on. Notice how Jim’s teacher notes are in succinct, bullet-point format.

Finally, each anchor standard includes academic vocabulary definition.

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Finally, each anchor has a page of academic vocabulary to go along with it—what are the words within the standard that we need to clearly define, both when speaking with one another professionally and when talking to our students?

In short, it’s helpful.

So, yes. I would recommend buying it from Corwin.

Even better, I’d recommend telling your principal about it and having her/him buy it for you (here’s how I’ve written resource requests to my principals). With the end of the year coming, it’s likely that your building has at least some money left over in some budget item, and you need to convince the gatekeeper of said budget item that that money needs to transform into something you can use in the years to come to gain a solid grasp of what these standards entail.

As I’ve written about, like, everywhere on my blog, I think the Common Core can be a net good for students in America, but that’s only if we teachers own the standards and refuse to let them get turned into crap. We need to go big on the biggies, all the while resisting high-stress, minutiae-based, bureaucracy-laced approaches.

The only way this will happen is if we educate ourselves on what these things are. Teaching the Core is, I hope, one avenue toward that end; Jim Burke’s Common Core Companion series is another.

It’s a great one. Thank you, Jim, for this resource.

This article was originally published on Dave Start Jr.’s own blog.

Written by

Dave Stuart Jr. is a husband and father who teaches high schoolers in Cedar Springs, Michigan. His blog on teaching,, is read by over 35,000 people each month. When he’s not teaching or spending time with his family, Dave enjoys traveling around the United States speaking to and for teachers.

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