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, 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, a 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 bring us daily 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 each semester writhes around in the good struggle. 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.
It contains a durable, quickly accessible list of every single literacy anchor standard — on a single page
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.)
It's easy to tell how the standards change across grade levels
It explains what each standard looks like — in terms of what students are doing — in each discipline
It then shares what a teacher can do to teach the skills in each standard
Finally, each anchor standard includes academic vocabulary definitions
In short, it's helpful
So, yes. I would recommend buying it on Amazon.
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 this 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.