Archive | August 2011

Pre-Teaching Vocabulary

A friend was reading a book recently and about ten pages into it, asked if I knew a word that the author had used. I didn’t. We tried to guess, based on its use in the sentence.

Failing that, she put the book aside to find a dictionary. It happened again, perhaps twenty pages later. And again. By the fifth encounter with obscure language, she put the book aside for good. Though highly literate, she was simply having to work too hard to stay engaged with the story on the page.

For the two students I coached in reading last year, nearly every sentence contained words that were unfamiliar to them. Some, like courage and scarcely, were intended to extend their vocabulary; others, like swamp, were simply inaccessible to children who have no context for “a lowland region saturated with water.” As a new coach, I had them start into a new story each week. We stopped each time they encountered an unfamiliar word or phrase. I took great care to explain the meanings, giving examples that they might identify with, sometimes even drawing crude illustrations. I made flash cards with the words and definitions so that we could practice from week to week. They learned some of the words. However, they rarely knew what the story was about by the time we reached the end.

Pre-teaching vocabulary is one of the most important strategies we can employ to build reading fluency and comprehension. For students learning to read, reviewing the most challenging words in advance is like turning on the lamps in a darkened room: it illuminates the contours of the story to come, making it more accessible. Once I started pre-teaching vocabulary, I noticed that my students were more willing to read aloud and their comprehension of the story line improved. Perhaps most importantly, they discovered enjoyment in the simple act of reading. – Pat.


Reading Fun with Dick and Jane

School starts this week and I’ve been fondly remembering Dick and Jane. My first memory of reading on my own is “Run, Spot. Run.” What a thrill to realize that the letters on the page could be turned into words and ideas! Yet, I don’t recall being “taught” to read. I don’t remember learning the sounds of the letters or the rhythm of syllables strung together. The Dick and Jane stories, it turns out were brilliant primers. By the time you’ve seen Dick, Jane and Sally, and you’ve implored Spot and Puff to run, you’ve learned the following:

  • a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y
  • Long a with a silent e
  • Short vowel sound precedes a double consonant
  • The importance of verbs…
  • …and punctuation

Our Classroom Coaching programs will start again soon, so I’ve been thinking a lot about how you teach children to read. It turns out that there are a few fundamental strategies that facilitate fluency and comprehension at all grade levels. These are the practices that will build stronger readers:

  • Pre-teach vocabulary
  • Read aloud to model fluency
  • Help students visualize the story
  • Do frequent comprehension checks
  • Help students predict what will come next

Over the next few weeks, I’ll explore each of these approaches in more detail. We’ll talk about why it’s important and how to do it. And I’ll share some of my learnings from coaching two sixth graders last year.



Inspiration for children with learning difficulties

I Can’t Do This, But I CAN Do That, a short (30 minutes) HBO documentary, is an informative and compelling exploration of the impact of learning differences in the lives of students. Told through the voices of eight children who deal with learning challenges stemming from dyslexia, dyscalculia, attention deficit disorder, audio processing disorder, sensory processing disorder and other learning differences, we hear them tell of their own private anguish and isolation. Who is not moved when Scott asks, “would I make the world less dumb if I wasn’t here?” This little film unpacks the complexities of learning differences and illuminates the brilliance of these children.

It also gave me pause, as I considered if in fact we all have learning differences. Aren’t some of us more visual, while others are concrete? There are those who need to understand the big picture first, something to organize the details around, while others get lost in the conceptual and can only move forward when the details are ordered. It made me realize that the learning strategies that we, as classroom coaches, implement in our programs should not be considered a one size fits all solution. Our students come to us with a multitude of learning differences. But each of them, as Abbey says in the film, are “in the race of knowing.”

trailer for the documentary

I Can't Do This, But I CAN DO That Trailer

One of the experts in the film states that students who have a hard time visualizing, also have a hard time verbalizing. So this year, as I begin to prepare for another year as a reading coach, I am committing myself to finding ways to help my students visualize the material we will work on together. The gift we as coaches offer our students is the opportunity, at least once a week, to get the extra help and personalized support that can help them achieve academic success. And as little Julia says, “having extra help can help them go on to great things.” – Pat.


Helping Bilingual Learners

 APIE’s Director of Programs Pat Abrams is going to be sharing her thoughts and insights as a co-blogger. Watch for Pat’s posts most Mondays, starting today.

We received a note a few weeks ago from an Austin elementary teacher, asking APIE to come to her school. She shared some compelling statistics with us: “…while 34% of our first grade bilingual students are reading below grade level, that number increases substantially at the end of second grade, with 43% of bilingual students reading below grade level.” A nearly 10% drop in reading proficiency between first and second grade! When comparing 2nd graders based on their native language, the achievement gap is equally stark: 34% of native English speakers are reading below grade level compared to 43% of bilingual students. If you’re not alarmed yet, let’s add that over 80% of the students in this school are bilingual.

Imagine what it must be like to be a teacher, facing a classroom where nearly half the students are reading below grade level. Imagine how it feels to be a second grader, falling further and further behind. But what if it didn’t have to be that way?

With as little as one hour per week, APIE volunteers are helping students acquire the critical language fluency and comprehension skills needed to read on grade level. Our second grade classroom coaching program is offered in both English and Spanish to address the unique needs of bilingual learners. Ready to sign up? Visit our website at:

– Pat

Join the fun with APIE, Univision and Austin Public Libraries

Have you joined us for Monday storytelling hours at Austin Public Libraries?

The program stems from our partnership with Univision and Austin Public Libraries, where five libraries are hosting storytelling times in Spanish for first through third graders on Mondays at 2 p.m. Univision reporters and anchors are doing the reading and the kids love the experience. Our Classroom Coaching program manager for 2ndgrade Reading (offered in English and in Spanish as Compañeros en Lectura) is at each session and said yesterday at Terrazas was especially fun. Author René Colato Lainez was there to share from his book “I am Rene, the Boy” and other books.

Enjoy reading with your children. Try author René Colato Lainez's books this summer!

Join us August 15th at Cepeda and learn more about the program (in English or Spanish) here on our website. If you’re interested in reading for children, please consider joining our Classroom Coaching program this school year. By volunteering just 45 minutes, once weekly in the classrooms with 1-3 students you will help children improve fluency, comprehension and literacy. It’s a lot of fun for the volunteers, too. Learn more about the 2nd grade Reading program here. We need bilingual volunteers! Please join us.