Jim Burke’s English Standards

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 03, 2009 1 min read
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Jim Burke, a high school English teacher in Virginia and prolific writer about what he does in the classroom, doesn’t mention the common core standards that are the talk of educators across the nation in his post today about what schools need to do to teach “academic literacy.” But he posts something that he calls the “Academic Essentials Matrix,” which conveys what he feels students need to know and be able to do in English to prepare for college and the workplace. He’s throwing it out for what it is worth, saying it represents “all that I have come to consider essential to academic success; the ‘academic essentials,’ represent those skills, abilities, and qualities students need—and I had to learn the hard way when I finally went to college (while working at a printing factory at first!)—if they are to succeed in high school and, eventually, college and the workplace where these same skills, as we have seen, are equally necessary.”

It’s a simple chart that gets a whole lot of specific ideas across, such as that students must be able to generate “questions, hypotheses, claims, connections, ideas, alternatives, and categories.” And they must be able to write an “explanation, narrative, commentary, argument, summary, and critique.”

I couldn’t help comparing Burke’s matrix, as basic as it is, with the common national standards for English that were leaked to the public last month.

With its simple chart format, Burke’s version is much easier to digest. Of course, it’s a very stripped-down version and people might say it leaves a lot open to ambiguity.

What do you think? Has the committee that drafted the English standards for the nation done a much better job than the lone English teacher from Virginia in including what students really need to know and be able to do?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.