Dave Stuart Jr. has a bit of advice for his colleagues when it comes to teaching the Common Core: Don’t freak out.
The Cedar Springs High School English and history teacher knows whereof he speaks. Stuart has read the entire Common Core State Standards for literacy and lived to tell about it. In fact, he has written a book about it, and insists teaching the new set of national learning standards is not as bad as educators might fear.
“(T)here is too much freaking out happening around the CCSS, and I hope to help you avoid drifting into anxiety,” Stuart writes in “A Non-Freaked Out Guide to Teaching the Common Core,” published recently by Jossey-Bass.
In a slim, user-friendly volume, Stuart counsels calm in the face of the controversy and divisiveness swirling around the Common Core. Comparing their adoption to an “epic journey,” Stuart writes the standards are no evil antagonist but “simply a set of literacy skills that seek to describe what it means to be ready to succeed in college and in most careers.”
The Common Core has been adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia. However, Oklahoma and Indiana have dropped the standards and four other states have acted to review and possibly replace them, according to a recent report by the Education Commission of the States.
Stuart hopes his book, and his blog from which it evolved, “Teaching the Core,” will help clarify the standards and dispel misinformation. It does not address the Common Core standards for math, only those for literacy.
“The book is a starting point for understanding the thrust of the standards,” said Stuart, an eight-year teaching veteran. “It’s not the end of the journey, though.”
Blogging Begets a Book
Stuart’s journey to writing the book began in the spring of 2012. As he heard more about the Common Core State Standards, he found nothing was being written to help teachers make sense of them in the classroom – and that many people, like him, hadn’t even read them. Thus began “Teaching the Core,” in which he read through the literacy standards section by section and then wrote about them.
“I wrote my tail off through the standards that summer,” said Stuart, who had long dreamed of writing a book by age 30. “I just kept plugging away.”
Later that school year he compiled the blogs into an e-book and sold it for $1 or a greater contribution. By summer 2013 he heard from interested publishers, eventually signing a contract with Jossey-Bass. The following March he turned in the book manuscript on the eve of his 30th birthday.
Meanwhile, the blog now has more than 8,000 subscribers, and Stuart gives teacher workshops on the Common Core throughout the country.
While he doesn’t consider “ANon-Freaked Out Guide” the best book on the Common Core, he says it “adds a little to the conversation that’s unique” by primarily addressing the concerns of teachers and other school staff.
“I see a lot of anxiety amongst educators: ‘How are we going to be assessed? Are these things going to change everything? Are they pointless?’ ” Stuart said. “That’s diminishing. But now I think you see a ton of anxiety in the general public. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. There’s a strong political thread.
“So my audience are people who just want to know, ‘what do these darn things say, and should I be OK with that or not? What is the document, what is it aiming at, and what does it mean for me as an educator?’”
Anchors to Guide the Ship
Stuart’s book boils those questions down to a few basic ideas. The foremost is that the standards have a clear aim: to provide students with the literacy skills they need for college and career by the time they graduate. The Common Core delineates those skills in 32 “anchor standards” for reading, writing, language, and speaking and listening.
At every grade level, the standards guide teachers toward the graduation destination of college and career readiness, Stuart says. He illustrates them as literal anchors on a rope pulling a boat from kindergarten to the “bright shore” of “post-secondary life.” Contrary to criticism that the government is taking over classroom lessons, it’s up to teachers to navigate the boat’s course, Stuart says.
“No one’s taking over anything,” Stuart said. “They’re just saying, ‘Hey, in America, this is what K-12 should produce.’“
Stuart focuses only on the broad anchor standards, not the hundreds of skills contained within them or the tests to measure them. He hopes this will help teachers acquire a working knowledge to aid in preparing their lessons and “bring sanity back to the Common Core conversation.”
He says he likes the “clarity and purpose” of the standards, and the flexibility they give districts and teachers on what texts to use. But he said there are far too many skills listed within the standards for all students to master each year.
“The Common Core is a step in the right direction. They are vastly more boiled down than previous standards. But we still need to cut further.”