Archive | September 2011

Thank You Volunteers!

The past few weeks, Pat has been sharing ideas about how to make coaching a more successful experience for both the volunteer and the students. We’re taking a break from that this week to let you know where we are with regard to this year’s recruitment.

We are thrilled to report we have 955 volunteers registered for this school year, and we’re not done! To each and every one of you – THANK YOU for your commitment to our schools, our teachers, our children and our community. We strive to create world-class programs where our volunteers keep coming back. We’re happy to see about half of our volunteers are returning from last year, or years prior.

While our stated goal for this year is 1,000 coaches, we could easily place another 200 beyond that. Our greatest needs right now are at Burnet and Webb Middle Schools for Reading, and Mendez Middle School for Math. If you can give one hour a week to any of these locations, please sign up at or, better yet, just call us at 637-0900 and we’ll help you get registered in less than three minutes.

If you have signed up, we’ve started training and you should have received an email inviting you to select your training schedule. The two hour sessions afford you some great take-aways. You’ll get your curriculum binder that gives you step-by-step instructions on best practices for engaging with your students. You’ll get tips from experts, and chances to ask questions to program coordinators. And, you’ll get the chance to meet other wonderful, caring adults who also decided to give an hour a week to Austin schools.

All of us at APIE work hard to make your choice of volunteering a delightful, positive experience, from our initial ask to your last coaching session. If there’s something you need from us that we’ve not provided, please email us at or call 512-637-0900 and let us achieve our goal of providing the best volunteer support anywhere.

Join us as we open classroom doors and children’s lives to new potential and new knowledge. We are so grateful for your time, we promise to make the best use of it.


Visualizing the Story Increases Comprehension

A favorite pastime when I was a child was paint by number. I reveled in the tiny jolt of anticipation as I slid the fresh canvas from the box. The swirls of blue lines and tiny numbers were dizzying, a blueprint for artistic genius. I inhaled the slightly stinging smell of oily paints as I popped open the miniature, numbered pots and set to work coloring in all of the number 2’s or 28’s. Sometimes, if I squinted just so, I could make out the
basic forms of the picture being rendered – the eye of the horse or the soft curve of her muzzle; the inevitable star upon the stallion’s forehead. (Mine were always of horses). Thank goodness for the image on the box to make sense of the randomly scattered shapes and colors.

Children who are learning to read will likewise dramatically increase their comprehension if they have a vision of the story they are working on. When coaching students to strengthen their reading skills, a key enabling strategy is helping them visualize the story, using all of their senses. What does a jungle look like? Sound like? Smell like? Is it hot or cold? Dry or damp? Once the child holds that image in her head, stopping to decode the words slither and chameleon will not interrupt the flow of the story. Having students develop imagery, engages them in the plot. It connects the story to their own experience and grounds them in the action. Most important, it captures their imagination and compels them to continue reading. It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words; when it comes to students who are learning to read, a picture delivers a thousand words.

Classroom Coaches learn this, and many more strategies to help Austin’s students become stronger readers. Join hundreds who are using these skills in Austin classrooms, and then share the knowledge with all of the children in your life. Volunteer now at  or call us at 512-637-0900 to get involved.

Reading Aloud

When was the last time you stopped to think about the discreet steps involved in reading? For most of us, we read like we breathe. We don’t consciously will ourselves to inhale and exhale. Nor do we notice our cognitive processing of letters, sounds and meanings. Yet there is a specific progression of skill building that must be negotiated when learning to read. First comes the association of sounds to letters. Then the child learns to string sounds together to sound out words; remember “Hooked on Phonics?” The next step is to connect the words together in a fluid progression; and then finally, comprehension — understanding the meaning and ideas behind the connected words.

Reading fluency –  the ability to read connected text smoothly, rapidly, effortlessly and with appropriate expression –  is an essential building block in the development of strong readers. But for many students, the progression from focusing on individual words to fluent reading is a giant leap indeed. Learning differences, English language acquisition, even a lack of reading role models at home can impact a child’s ability to effectively negotiate this developmental step.

One instructional strategy that supports the development of reading fluency is reading aloud. Hearing a text read with appropriate speed and expression, while the student follows the text, provides the student with a model for reading effectiveness. Reading aloud with your student, allows the student to practice and copy proper pacing, while minimizing their apprehension about making mistakes. Finally, having your student read aloud on his/her own, forces the brain to hear, as well as see the words on the page. And hearing where they falter motivates self-correction, builds confidence and strengthens reading fluency.

Last year I coached two sixth grade girls who struggled to master fluency. One started the year by telling me she hated to read out loud. Week after week we read together, sometimes in unison, sometimes having them echo me, and sometimes they read aloud solo. In the middle of the year, they set a goal for themselves to record a book on CD. They selected the story they wanted to record and we practiced hard for 4 weeks, working on pacing, expression and smooth delivery. Finally the day came to record. They were giddy with expectation. At the end of the recording session we played it back. They were amazed and proud of what they had accomplished.

This year, through the generous funding of IMPACT Austin, our “Reading Stars” program will be offered in middle school classrooms, providing 6th graders a chance to make their own books on CD. These recordings will be distributed to elementary schools to encourage a love of reading and a model of strong middle school readers. Next time you’re reading with a young child, encourage them to read aloud.