Sunday, January 4, 2015

Let's Bring back the Magic of Song for Teaching Reading

Becky Iwasaki, Timothy Rasinski, Kasim Yildirim and Belinda S. Zimmerman's article Let's Bring back the Magic of Song for Teaching Reading from The Reading Teacher, 67(2), discusses a case of using song to help teach reading. The first author, a first grade teacher, utilized simple songs within her classrooms in order to successfully teach reading. Although using song within elementary classrooms is not new, often early 20th century kindergarten teachers had to learn to play piano as part of their training and McGuffey Readers, which were first available in 1836, included song passages, songs have been leaving classrooms at an alarming rate.

Songs are excellent mediums for teaching reading for several reasons cited by the authors:
  • songs method of playing with language practice phonemic awareness
  • songs lend themselves to repeated reading and performance
  • songs help develop sight word vocabulary
  • songs' melodic nature "requires the singer/reader to attend to the prosodic nature of the lyrics" (p. 138)
  • songs are a great way to gather student attention
  • songs are motivating to students
  • songs' "brevity, melody, rhythm, and other features" make the lyrics easy to learn thus supporting development of sight word vocabulary (p.138).
All these add up to songs being excellent tools for practicing the fundamental skills of reading- phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, language and comprehension.

While it is easy to imagine kindergarten and first grade teachers singing with their charges, it is more difficult to visualize high school teachers doing the same. While occasionally songs will make an appearance during a poetry unit and history teachers may use songs to highlight cultural features of a time period, the appearance of songs in secondary classrooms is seen as a novelty rather than a teaching routine.

When it comes to addressing remedial readers, however, it seems that song would be an excellent fit. Adolescents tend to be drawn to music. Karaoke, while not the major hit it once was, still is a socially acceptable entertainment. Music videos and culture motivate and fascinate teens. All the reasons that songs work with our youngest readers can be shared with our older struggling readers. Furthermore, songs that students want to learn to read means the content of reading instruction is age appropriate as well. The lyrics lend themselves to word study. Students will be far more motivated to reread lyrics than simple passages within their reading levels. Along with poetry, songs should be a component to any remedial reading instruction.

Once the song has been read a couple of times, the lyrics can be torn apart for comprehension. Word study can take place either highlighting new vocabulary, figures of speech, or phonic elements. Songs that adolescents enjoy have lyrics that are rich in complex elements that are wonderful targets for instruction. Students are far more likely to be engaged in challenging reading that they are interested in than those usually selected by teaching staff.

If we look at Meghan Trainor's hit song, All About That Bass, we can see how we might use it for instruction. (If needed, some of the lyrics could be redacted to sanitize the song.) This song has an excellent collection of sight words. It has lots of silent e words. The -cle syllable is highlighted. The entire song is a metaphor full of alliteration and consonance. Students can examine rhythm, meter and limited rhyme. Furthermore they can analyze social mores that are troubling in today's culture. What a rich teaching opportunity in something that will inspire many students.

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