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Student Learning Styles — VARK Model

Did you know that there are several categories of learning styles? By understanding your student’s learning style, you can figure out which teaching strategies will be most effective when helping them understand and retain new information.

Neil Fleming’s famous VARK model categorizes learners under four different learning styles: visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic.

Visual Learners:

These students learn best when lessons use visual images. They like to look at and observe objects and pictures. Do you normally have a picture in mind when you are trying to remember something? This is one characteristic of a visual learner.

Auditory Learners:

Are you a good listener? Auditory learners prefer to have lessons presented in lecture form. The best teaching strategy for these students is to present new information to them out loud…even if that means making up a song.

Reading and Writing Learners:

For some students, reading a textbook is the best way to learn new material. Reading and writing learners aren’t always bookworms, but they do prefer to have information available in a written form. Writers enjoy taking notes and making lists during class. Having handouts available for these students can be very helpful.

Kinesthetic Learners:

Do you prefer a more hands-on approach? You may be a kinesthetic learner. These students are active learners who like to touch objects because they learn by doing.  It’s helpful when they can move around during the lesson.

It can be difficult for teachers to accommodate the learning style of each student in their classrooms. This is why studying outside of class is important, and tutoring can help! APIE’s curriculum incorporates written material, games, auditory exercises, and pictures. Our coaches support teachers by helping students discover the most effective learning strategies.

Candace McCray, Development Intern


Remembering Mr. Allison (part two)

Mr. Allison delivered me from the educational miscarriage of my 6th grade year. He knew I needed more challenge than this class was going to provide and found creative alternatives for keeping me engaged. For most of the year he sent me to be Miss Raab’s helper in the Special Ed class. At least weekly, I would go to the other end of the hall to read to her kids. Though the stories I read were well below my academic ability, the job was important. And I was the only student in the school entrusted with it.

Then, Mr. Allison did something that transformed our entire class. I think it started as a playground taunt: one of the smart kids called us dummies. A boy in our class struck back. “Oh yeah? I bet Pat could beat you in a smarts contest any day.”

Shortly after, Mr. Allison announced we’d have a spelling bee. Our class against the smart kids. He put us in training. We memorized word lists and did drills and practice bees. The playground at recess filled with boasting and jeers. By the day of the contest the rivalry was palpable.

With desks pushed aside, our two classes faced off. One by one we stepped forward to spell. About half on each side made it through the first round. We went again. And again. I was the last one standing for our class. I faced Leonard, the brainiac of Mr. Bell’s class. My stomach churned as I wiped sweaty palms on the side of my skirt. My entire class was cheering for me, depending on me to prove a point.

Sadly, I don’t remember how it ended. It doesn’t matter. For those few weeks, my classmates and I knew we were smart enough to go up against the smartest kids. We worked as a team towards a singular, academic goal. We proved we weren’t the dummies that everyone thought us to be.

Mr. Allison encouraged us to stretch ourselves. He showed us how to challenge stereotypes and overcome our own preconceived limitations. He believed in us, gave us confidence and instilled pride in our accomplishments. And after all these years, he is the only teacher whose impression I still carry with me.

Who were your great teachers? Tell us your story of teachers and mentors who had an impact, and changed your life.

Write to me at

Pat Abrams, Executive Director

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.

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.