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Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action

reviewed by Emily Amie Witty - December 21, 2014

coverTitle: Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action
Author(s): Sarah Tantillo
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 1118839056, Pages: 288, Year: 2014
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Author Sarah Tantillo uses the metaphor of food and recipes in Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action, a text aimed at teachers of students in grades K-12. Divided into four parts and arranged according to sections of a menu—Basic Ingredients, Appetizers, Entrées, and Dessertsthe book takes the reader through twelve chapters and an appendix, and includes a CD with printable, teacher-friendly resources. The text also includes a comprehensive index with instructions on using the Literacy Cookbook website, from her earlier publication of the same name. Each chapter concludes with a Doggie Bag section containing questions to extend the thinking and learning of the chapter.

The author underscores the importance of colleagues working together, irrespective of the content they teach. She advocates for interdisciplinary teaching with colleagues—including the school librarian—working interdependently. In addition, she discusses the important role that the administration can play in supporting or undermining cooperation among the teaching staff. The author’s emphasis on collaboration is the strength of the text.

The organization of Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action leaves the reader wondering about the focus of the book. The title leads the reader to believe the book will emphasize teaching literacy according to the new standards set forth by the Common Core, with skills, strategies, and materials that are immediately relevant and applicable in the K-12 literacy classroom. Instead, the book attempts to include many aspects that are hallmarks of highly-effective instruction, including use of teaching objectives and teaching frameworks, graphic organizers, as well as document-based questions. The text offers the novice educator a smorgasbord of ideas and strategies that can be implemented in the classroom, with minimal focus on the Common Core literacy standards. It is only on page 162 in the final chapter, Chapter Twelve, that the author devotes an entire section to translating the ELA Common Core Standards for actual use.

One would have expected the entire text to be organized according to the domains of the ELA Common Core State Standards, with chapters devoted to grade level reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language standards. While the text attempts to meet the needs of literacy teachers of students in grades K-12 in one book, it simply does not meet this goal.

The tone of the text is friendly, with an almost informal quality, as the author shares anecdotes from her years of experience in various schools, working with students in different grades. Some of the author’s explanations might be misunderstood as she attempts to maintain a casual tone in her work. In Chapter Two, the author discusses the strategy of “Speed Dating with a Book,” having a “Weekend Date with a Book,” or writing a “Breakup Letter to a Book” (pp. 24-28). While some teachers might find this to be a good strategy, the metaphor of dating or breaking up with a book seems to be both an inappropriate and irrelevant analogy for students in early grades; it might be objectionable in some educational settings. In Chapter Five, the author explains the importance of informing students about the educational objectives of each lesson. To highlight this importance, she writes,

If you walked into your classroom and told all of your students to stand up, follow you, and get on a bus without telling them where you were going or how long it would take to arrive, they might look at you a little funny. Because that’s called kidnapping. But the truth is that many teachers do this every day: they walk in and tell their students to do things without explaining what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. Then they wonder why their students are resistant. … [Y]ou are also sending this implicit message: “You are my hostage. You must do whatever I say. Trust me.” That last part is the kicker. Why should anyone trust a kidnapper? (pp. 76-77)

The author’s use of the comparison of being kidnapped because the teacher did not disclose the lesson objectives to the students might be seen as, at best, hyperbolic.

Furthermore, instead of including Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (Krathwohl, 2002), which includes creating as the highest cognitive activity, the author includes the outdated version of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which instead ends with evaluation (p. 62). In addition, on page 111, the author erroneously suggests that students looking for an answer in a text should use the reading strategy of skimming. As Maxwell (1972) explains, “Skimming is defined as getting the main idea or gist of a selection quickly and scanning as a high speed search for the answer to a specific question or the location of a specific fact” (p. 48).

The author seemingly misleads the readers when she writes, “I like this text [The Lightning Thief] because it is captivating and the vocabulary is not too challenging, so students don’t get stuck asking literal comprehension questions (“What does this mean?”) and can instead focus on inference questions” (p. 117). In her effort to put forth her strategies like the Question-Inference-Evidence and Explanation Organizer Model, she neglects the importance of students monitoring their comprehension and understanding that which they don’t know—for example, identifying a difficult vocabulary word (Willingham, 2006). She completely neglects the reading strategy of clarifying, one of the four reading strategies in reciprocal teaching (Oczkus, 2003).

Some of the charts and resources on the CD might be of benefit to educators in the field. However, the text does not offer a deep deconstruction and unpacking of the ELA Common Core Standards for grades K-12, nor does it offer clear and accurate strategies for meeting these standards.


Krathwohl, D.R. (2002). A revision of Bloom's taxonomy: An overview. College of Education, The Ohio State University, 41(4). Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1477405

Maxwell, M. J. (1972). Skimming and scanning improvement: The needs, assumptions and knowledge base. Journal of Literacy Research, 5(1). Retrieved from http://jlr.sagepub.com/content/5/1/47.full.pdf

Oczkus, L.D. (2003). Reciprocal teaching at work: Strategies for improving reading comprehension. Delaware. International Reading Association.

Willingham, D.T. (2006). The usefulness of brief instruction in reading comprehension strategies. American Educator. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/pdfs/americaneducator/winter0607/CogSci.pdf

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 21, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17791, Date Accessed: 12/4/2021 6:23:36 AM

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About the Author
  • Emily Witty
    The Jewish Education Project
    E-mail Author
    EMILY AMIE WITTY, Ed.D., serves as the Director of Instructional Improvement in the Division of Yeshivot and Day Schools at The Jewish Education Project. In this capacity, she gives workshops on a variety of topics, including implementing the Common Core Standards, differentiated instruction in the elementary classroom, strategies for teaching English Language Learners and using a Balanced Literacy methodology.
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