Author Archives: Debbie Clark

About Debbie Clark

Working hard to be a great teacher, a great mom, and the best ever Grams to my grandson.

Teaching a Multi-age Class… Help!


It looks like next fall (which is August in Florida), I will be teaching a 4/5 split class.  I’ve done it before and found it a lot of fun, actually, but because of how our numbers fall, it will probably be mostly fifth graders with four or five fourth graders thrown in for good measure.

I’m looking for suggestions on how to make this setup the most beneficial for my students without actually losing my mind.  I’m looking into the Daily Five for managing Reading Workshop and perhaps a form of it for Math.  We are using Go Math, which I have not worked with because I’ve been team teaching and doing all of the Reading for the past two years.  My colleagues tell me they have a truly difficult time getting through all the content in an hour, so I’m a little concerned about having to do two distinct math lessons each day.  Naturally the fourth grade and fifth grade math curriculum road maps are completely different, which adds to the fun.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has taught an intermediate level split or from anyone who has any creative suggestions!  If nothing else, this situation should provide me with plenty of opportunities for a Professional Development Plan next year!


Effectively Not Highly Effective


I have done a horrendous job of staying current with this blog.  It was the second part-time job that pretty much did me in.  Both part-time jobs are over for the year (thank you, Lord!) and blogging has moved back up several notches on the priority list.  And I’m going to hit it hard.


Right after I turn in my Professional Development Plan paperwork.  We’ve had PDPs for years, however, they were not scrutinized, rubricized, and tied to our pay.  Ah, what I’d give for the good old days.  Since our plans traditionally had to be tied to improving test scores, I never actually set any goals that really lit me on fire.  Usually there was some new program we had to do, so we all just made our plans to implement whatever new, shiny plan or program we were handed.

Last fall was really no different.  We’re all about differentiating this year, and as a Title I school in my district, we are required to utilize a software program called Successmaker.

The catch this year is that our PDPs are being much, much more closely scrutinized, as they count towards our new Value-Added Model of teacher evaluation.  The first major change was that we had to have a minimum of two goals to even be considered for the “highly effective” ranking.  No biggie – probably a good idea.

Of course, things have not gone all that smoothly.  The book study cadre on differentiated instruction that should have been completed some time ago so we could implement what we learned.  Well with furlough days, we didn’t get to meet for the final time until last week.  PDPs are due this week.  See a problem?  A colleague was supposed to go to district SMARTboard training as part of her PDP.  There was none offered in the district this year.  Huh.

Now, it seems, we ALL missed the print included on p. 22 of the 70 plus page Evaluation System document given to us the week before school started, or was it the week after?  I don’t remember.  It says that we have to document our results and share those results with a “wider school community”.  How do you interpret that?  Seems the principals aren’t getting much guidance on this, so some teachers are being told they can share at a faculty meeting, some are being told they can share with another team, and some are being told they must share their results at a parent meeting.  We started hearing about this a week or two ago, we have less than five full weeks of school left, and our finished PDPs are due on Wednesday, I believe.  This Wednesday.


I’m not feeling highly effective right now, if you know what I mean.  But as soon as I finish my paperwork outlining the fact that I am apparently, NOT highly effective this year, I’ll be right back to whip this blog into shape.  Then we’ll see who’s highly effective.  Yeah.



Stamina and Sanity and Paperback Books


I had such high hopes for today’s blog post.  Monday, a new week, a new organization project.

But my migraine had other ideas.  The two doses of migraine medication I tried didn’t make me any more productive, mentally or physically.

And breaking up a fist fight between two of my students made me a tad irritable.  Why did that child have to go and talk about his momma anyway?  Geesh.

So I’ll leave you with the mental picture (because I obviously wasn’t strolling around my room snapping photos today) of my book reorganization extravaganza!  I inherited my classroom last year from a fantastic teacher who was on a leave of absence and has since retired.  Many trade books, individuals and sets, were left behind.  I piled books upon books in my storage room, jumbling levels and genres, and … oh my.

Since my students are starting literature circles this week, I started pulling all those books out of the storage room and piling them on counters, tables, and shelves so I could see what I’ve got.  Quite a bit, actually.  I’m now working to put class sets and half sets neatly and logically back on my storage room shelves.  Book sets of 4 – 8 will be sent down to our reading coach so others can use them for lit. circles.  I also found several pairs of books, which will be handy for buddy reading – something I haven’t done because I didn’t realize I actually had the books to make it possible!

And last but not least, I am finally sorting the remainder of my books by genre.  That will be a nice addition to my leveled books.  This overhaul has also demonstrated glaringly that I have very little nonfiction in my classroom.  With the Common Core Standards calling for 50% nonfiction in fifth grade, I’d better see if I can scrounge up some funds to purchase more books.  I suppose I can pull out some of my Scholastic points I’ve been hoarding, and utilize those as well.

Sounds like I have a lot to do tomorrow.  If anyone takes a swing at anyone else, my head may explode.  At least that would distract them, right?

Classroom Book Clubs – Yes!


My students have not been exposed to much reading for pleasure in their lives.  They tend not to own books of their own, and haven’t been to our local library.  Aside from the school library, the majority of my kiddos have not been given many opportunities to choose books for themselves.

But they are jazzed this week!  We are starting book clubs, and we worked together to determine the structure and guidelines for their clubs.  It was quickly determined that they wanted to read humorous books and fantasy, they did NOT want to write summaries – I learned that is what they did last year when they were assigned chapters to read so they were not crazy about summarizing, and they also were adamant that  slackers be kicked out of the clubs instead of being dead weight.

Together we made some decisions about how the clubs would run.  Groups will meet two to three days a week and all reading will be done outside of class.  In lieu of writing summaries, students will be writing a variety of reading responses, which may include timelines of events, character webs, and the like.  The blog “Teaching in Room 6” has a great post about reading responses  – check it out!  Stephanie Moorman is the author of the blog and she provides a link from the her post to her TPT store and the downloads for the reading response sheets.  I plan to use some of them with my students.

Those who repeatedly come unprepared or who don’t participate will form their own book club with yours truly. I am hoping I don’t have to lead a book club, since I won’t be able to move from group to group observing and asking questions if I’m riding herd on a group of reluctant readers.  I don’t think it’ll happen, but I need a backup just in case.


Friday I’ll pull out the rather large selection of books and give each group time to decide which book they’d like to read.  They were pretty excited to learn that I wouldn’t choose the book for them, and that the entire class didn’t have to read the same book.  I spent a fair amount of time raiding our reading coach’s shelves to provide appropriate levels of books and a variety at each level.  I’m anxious to see if my students remain enthusiastic once they realize how much fun it is to share discussions about good books with others!

My Teacher Bag


I have never, ever had a bag for carting work back and forth from home.  That I actually liked.  I’ve used a canvas beach bag, which I loved until I washed it and it went limp.  I have had various bags that were gifts from well-meaning parents who had absolutely no idea how much paperwork I carried back and forth.  And I’ve had bags I bought and thought would be great, but were okay at best.

This year I rarely carried a bag home because I tutor until late afternoon four days a week.  By six p.m. the thought of taking work home – well, the thought doesn’t even cross my mind.  However, inspired by The Clutter-Free Classroom Week 7 Challenge, I bought myself a new bag.

Here it is, along with the nifty accordion folders I bought.

It says professional, it says take me seriously, however, it doesn’t say fun.  Anywhere.

And it cost about the same as the awesome looking Thirty-One bags so many teacher bloggers rave about.  It doesn’t have a ton of room inside either.  However, for the remainder of this school year, it will do.  But I do see a Thirty-One bag in my future.  Yes, I do.

The thing I’m enjoying most about my new bag is that I have my papers corralled into three folders, which were cute and I loved the colors.

To Grade - you'll notice this one is stuffed to the gills even though I just had a week off. Ugh.

To Record - You'll notice this one is also stuffed full. I was on vacation, all right?

Logically, since I haven't done any grading or recording, the "To Return" file is flat as a pancake.

This bag does offer some pockets for pens and the like, but I think I’d rather have a pencil pouch or box for my colored grading markers, stickers, and stamps.  What I’d really like is enough space to carry my wallet and keys along with my cell phone and cut out carrying the purse to work altogether.  Oh, and my migraine medicine.  Must have that.

Text Complexity: A Complex Issue


Our school district has adopted the Common Core Standards and plans implementation of CCS for kindergarten and first grades in the 2012 – 2013 school year. Unfortunately, we have received no information from our school district on what the common core standards are, how they effect teaching and what is expected of our teachers. I just stumbled upon this website and wanted to share it with anyone who might need some information.


The March 2012 Educational Leadershippublication popped through my mail chute and I was thrilled to read its title:  READING ~The Core Skill~.  As an English teacher and reading specialist, I have always believed that reading is the essence, the core, of all learning, in all grades, in all disciplines.   This issue of Educational Leadership features numerous articles discussing aspects of reading research and practice for 21st Century teachers and learners.  As I pondered the ideas presented by literacy experts such as Tim Shanahan, Nancy Fry, and Richard Allington, one major question came to mind:

How can Professional Learning Teams, busy with the day-to-day schedule of planning, teaching, grading, and team meetings, effectively merge the Common Core’s emphasis on text complexity with skill instruction that equips students to comprehend and analyze these complex texts?

Let’s examine what the Common Core writes about text complexity.  According to…

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Time is Flying!


Somehow this week of Spring Break has ended and I am still not prepared for Monday morning.  I guess that means I truly vacationed.  Which is lovely now.  Tomorrow morning is another story.

I am continuing to organize my computer files, and today that means my bookmarks.  I actually worked on this several weeks ago, but recently while on my personal laptop, I realized I had bookmarked scads of links for school.  No wonder I could never find them at work!  So today my mission is to open both computers side by side, sort through bookmarks on my personal laptop and save the useful ones to my work laptop.

Then I’ll explore my photos and files on my own laptop and transfer school related files and folders to my work laptop.  Having ALL my work related files on my work laptop will hopefully make my life a little easier, or at least a little more logical.

Which may or may not free me up to get my schoolwork done before 8:30 tomorrow morning!