Looking Back Closely

During March and April, we focused on  practicing close reading. Some people would say that close reading is just a new way of saying ‘careful reading.’ We use close reading when text is difficult, confusing, or when it is important that we don’t miss any details. We might use close reading when we come to a chapter in a novel that is confusing. We might use it on a test, or on a tough math problem.

Of course, we don’t have to use close reading every time we read. We usually don’t need it when reading Facebook status updates or a book that is easy, fast and fun to read. But when we do use close reading, it can sure make a difference.

Here is the close reading routine we used. It only has three steps:

close reading


…for the flow and the big idea.


….What do you need to know?

….What is your purpose for reading?


…. and think again!

 Think about a time or two during the past few weeks when you decided to use close reading and a time when you didn’t. What was the difference? Post your thinking in the comments below.

(Here’s my example: I definitely used close reading when I was buying a ticket home for the summer break. It was very important I didn’t get the dates or cities wrong, or I would miss seeing my family! I also used close reading on a long magazine article about the Indian elections. I was interested, but a little confused, because I don’t know about all the smaller political parties here. I had to read several parts twice to find the answer to questions I had. However, most of the time, I don’t use close reading when I read my daily paper. I can understand most of the stories the first time I read them.)

Notability: a note taking tool

I talked with Mr. Sheridan, our Middle School Tech Coordinator about a lot of different note taking apps. He suggested we try out Notability. I like it for a lot of reasons. Notability lets you take pictures and highlight or write on them; it lets you mark up PDF’s; it lets you organize your notes in folder and back them up on Google Drive or Dropbox.

Perhaps the thing I like best about Notability is that it makes it easy to draw diagrams and webs, almost as if you were using paper and pencil. I’ve been reading a lot about note taking, and one thing I’ve learned is that some research suggests that paper and pencil note taking is actually more effective than note taking by typing. (You can read an article about that here.)

We’ve been experimenting in my different sections of Academic Support. Here are just a few of the interesting examples of what Notability can do. In the comments below, explain what you have learned about Notability this week. Have you learned anything from looking at these examples?

Anna's notes show photos and webs.

Anna’s notes show photos and webs.

Lotso uses the highlighter

Lotso uses the highlighter






Anis uses words, arrows and the highlighter to reflect on her writing.

Anis uses words, arrows and the highlighter to reflect on her writing.

Amy uses photos, words and drawings to reflect.

Amy uses photos, words and drawings to reflect.

Learning Support Plans and Academic Support Conferences

I’m really looking forward to meeting with you during parent conferences. We will have thirty minutes, because we will be going over your student’s Learning Support Plan(LSP). The LSP is not the same as an Individual Education Plan (IEP) in the US, but it is similar in many ways. This fall, in the middle school, we’ve re-formatted the LSP to better meet the needs of our students. We kept a lot of what we thought was working and we borrowed from other places, including the elementary school Learning Plan and US-based IEP forms. We will continue to review our forms and processes as we move forward, but I thought many of you might appreciate an overview of what we are working with now. Here’s what our new LSP looks like:


Download (PDF, 168KB)

Who develops the LSP?
Development of the LSP is a collaborative process. Because of the nature of AES’ middle school program, and the fact we had so many LSP’s to review in such a short time, it was not possible to have all players come together at one time. Instead, this year, I met with the core teachers of all my students, either individually or in small groups, to share information about student strengths and needs, and to discuss the curricular priorities at each grade level. I gathered data from a variety of sources–teacher and parent observations, past report cards and assessments, informal assessments of my own– to document current levels of student performance in academics and study skills. I put together draft LSP’s and asked classroom teachers and administrators to review them. The next step will be to review these plans with parents at conference time. Even then, these plans are not ever ‘final’. If any member of the team–parents, teachers, administration, feels the plan is not working, we can meet to review and revise the plan.

What are the present levels of performance?
I believe the most important part of an LSP (or an IEP, in the states) is the section outlining the present levels of student performance. The better we understand how students learn, the better we can understand how to teach and support them in ways that will work. It often takes me several hours to research and write this section of an LSP. But I invariably find I come away from the process with a much better understanding of the student’s strengths and needs.

The present levels of performance should include strengths of the student, parental input, and meaningful, measurable data about student performance. From all of that, we can better decide what a student needs and we can tell when we are making progress.

What about accommodations and modifications?
Accommodations are instructional changes we make that do not fundamentally alter the content curriculum or the standards we expect students to reach. Modifications involve more fundamental changes in the content we are covering or the standards we are expecting students to reach. Most of what we address in this section of the LSP are accommodations. This section of the LSP documents our best thinking about what sorts of things might help a student learn best in the general education environment; accommodations can range from preferential seating to access to an electronic spell-checking app.

What goes into a goal?
First, good goals should be meaningful and measurable. Measurable means we should have an assessment or assessments in mind that we could use to evaluate student progress toward the goal. Sometimes that leads to clunky language, but it results in more effective teaching and learning.

To be meaningful, a goal should take into account where a student is, and where we would like to see that student be next year. A good goal should be ambitious and realistic. It should also be relevant; it should address an area where a student would benefit from specially designed instruction. (We don’t need a reading fluency goal, for example, for a student who already reads with fluency.) All students in Academic Support have access to support in all academic areas. But we set goals in areas where we want to focus our instruction.

To be meaningful, our goals should also make sense within the larger AES community. Since AES middle school uses Common Core standards in Language Arts and Mathematics, you will see common core language in many of the goals I’ve drafted, because that’s the way AES and most American schools are measuring progress these days.

Where do the students fit into all of this?
Student participation in this conference is not required but it is encouraged. I will not be prepping my students to participate in any specific ways, but I will ask that if they come, they will listen and participate as members of the team.

Self advocacy is an important skill for middle schoolers to learn. In the classroom, I will be clear with students about what I see as the most effective way for them to move forward, and I will listen to their ideas, as well. Moving forward, we will want to increase student participation in this process.

What will the conference look like?
That depends on what you want. We will start with a discussion of student strengths and we’ll discuss parental input. I will go through the LSP in as much detail as you would like. In some cases we may decide to tweak things one way or another. In some cases, we will spend some of our time talking about what your child can do at home to speed their progress.

If you have any questions, please do feel free to contact me before our conference– I look forward to meeting with you!