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To say the Common Core State Standards have caused a nationwide freak-out would be a bit of an understatement. So much attention has been given to who wrote them, how they were implemented, how the federal government got states to cooperate, and whether the standards should exist at all.
Regardless of how the debate will ultimately end, classroom teachers have a pressing issue to deal with right now: the practical challenge of implementing these standards, which are required in most U.S. states. Although Common Core-aligned materials have cropped up everywhere, many teachers still wonder whether they’re doing it right, whether their methods are the most effective for developing these skills in their students.
Your Common Core Eagle Scout
One of these teachers is Dave Stuart.
In May of 2012, he started the blog Teaching the Core, where he methodically sifted through each of the Common Core anchor standards for literacy, carefully considering the meaning and intent of each one, and discussing methods for teaching them. Along the way, he grew a community of over 9,000 subscribers, all looking for ways to develop their skills in this area, all finding encouragement from Stuart’s contagious positive attitude, his sense of humor, and his humility as someone who is learning right along with everyone else. Author Jim Burke compared Dave to “an Eagle Scout with all the badges who has prepared for this opportunity to help educators not only survive but thrive.”
Last September, Stuart synthesized all the thinking and discussion that evolved from his site into one book, A Non-Freaked Out Guide to Teaching the Common Core. The book’s mission is simple: Help teachers feel more competent with teaching the standards. While Stuart does not ignore the controversy surrounding the CCSS, he makes it clear that this book isn’t going to tackle that aspect. “For every person out there who is eager to start a protest movement,” he writes in the introduction, “there are those of us who simply want the information needed to do good work.”
A Non-Freaked Out Guide begins with an overview of the Common Core, digging into its “central, burning question” and briefly looking at its organization. Then, one by one, Stuart studies all ten anchor standards for reading, the ten for writing, the six for speaking and listening, and the six for language.
The book focuses not on testing, but on teaching: the in-class experiences, activities, and conversations that need to happen to develop these skills in our students. For most of the standards, Stuart simply talks about his own classroom approach. Reading the book feels a lot like talking to another teacher, getting a peek inside his classroom to see how he does things. And sometimes that’s all you need: A couple of new ideas, a thumbs-up on some of what you’re already doing, and the realization that adding new methods to your repertoire won’t be that hard after all.
For each standard, Stuart also adds an extra piece, something that pulls the reader away from the how-to for a moment: Why Is This Important? He thinks out loud about how each skill — if developed — can ultimately benefit our students, not just in college or careers, but as human beings connecting with other human beings, figuring out who we are, and contributing our unique talents to the world.
Who Needs this Book
This book will be helpful to people in a variety of situations:
- New teachers — especially in middle and high schools — who have no idea how to get started with Common Core implementation and want a reassuring friend to hold their hand.
- Experienced teachers who feel a bit shaky in their own CCSS implementation, and want to broaden the conversation outside their individual circles.
- Other experienced teachers who feel pretty comfortable with Common Core, but are curious about how other teachers interpret them.
- Administrators who wonder if their mandates for CCSS implementation have been on-target.
- Schools who would like to add more CCSS-related resources to their professional libraries.
What this Book is Not
A Non-Freaked Out Guide does not address the Common Core math standards — it only covers the anchor standards for English language arts. Also, because Stuart is a high school teacher and speaks from his own and his colleagues’ experience, the concepts will be less applicable for primary teachers. But for everyone else — I’d say grades 4 and up — this will serve as a useful guide.
The book also does not delve into grade-specific standards. For that level of detail, Stuart recommends Jim Burke’s Common Core Companion series, which has separate volumes for Grades K-2, Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8, and Grades 9-12.
Although I feel the book would have benefited from a more easily-accessible list of strategies at the end of each standard’s discussion (maybe in the second edition?), those strategies are all over Stuart’s blog — like this one on 3 Ways to Start Implementing the Common Core Today. If you ultimately don’t end up buying the book, it’s still definitely worth your time to get to know Dave Stuart.
Who is Dave Stuart?
Dave Stuart, Jr., is a Michigan-based teacher of high school English and History. Now that he has finished exploring all 32 anchor standards, his blog, Teaching the Core, now focuses on encouraging teachers to improve their practice passionately, but sanely. His brand-new e-book, Never Finished, just released yesterday.
He’s my new favorite person in education. Check out this short video and you’ll see what I mean: