What can music do for you?  How about help you read?!

Teachers practice their pulse rhythm together.

In the last weeks of our school year, nine teachers in my district (including myself) tried to find out just what music, specifically rhythm could do to help our students read.  (To see more about our thoughts about this just as we were getting trained go to this post: Reading and Rhythm Training.)  We were trained in a program called Reading and Rhythm which was developed by Steven Angel from the Drumming for Your Life Institute located in Los Angeles, California.

Months ago, Steven, whose interest in The Inspired Classroom was sparked by other articles I have written about drumming and integrating music in the classroom, contacted me and gave me the link to his site.  I watched the Amazing Classrooms video and was hooked.  I was excited.  I was determined to bring the program across the country to Massachusetts where I work.  And after months of leg work, the opportunity arose for Steven to send out a representative from the institute, Rex, to train us!

After our day long training, Rex spent the next five days working with each of us teachers as we started to implement the program and for the next four to five weeks, we continued to work with our students, drumming away as they read.

Teachers practice the reading rhythm.

What does a Reading & Rhythm Session look like?

We work on using our whole hand during a pulse beat.

We started each session with the seven Reading and Rhythm rules which range from “Relax the Body, Focus the Mind” to “Never Repeat a Word.”  Then we relaxed with a Pulse Beat: a slow, steady rhythm played with the whole hand right on top of our books.  This beat is meant to relax the body and focus the students’ mind so that they are calm and ready to read.  The next rhythm to play is the Reading Rhythm: a faster, steady rhythm with an accent on the right hand.

From there the students are ready to read both through group reads and individual reads where the teacher can track the student by speeding up and slowing down the tempo.  It was during those times that I found myself helping students with their fluency.  I could push them along to read at a quicker tempo or motivate them to work their way through a difficult word.  The rhythms themselves transformed from a possible distraction to a focusing motivational tool.

There are other components that work for students as well.  Comprehension was the most beneficial for me as a reading instructor of 4th graders.  After reading a passage, I would ask the students to, “Close your eyes and trust yourself.”  I was amazed at their comprehension and glad for the non-linear approach to discovering their recollection of the text.  Many students would recall something from the middle or end of the selection, but would still be able to summarize it in its entirety.

Some other components of the program proved very helpful.  There is a spelling and phonics piece as well as a vocabulary piece where you take words that students stumbled upon as they read and break it up as needed.  But the focus of rhythm remains the same as students create rhythms that will help them work their way through words and definitions.

What observations did I make?

Teachers gather and reflect on their first week using R&R

I used this program with my entire class and I am happy to reveal that this program proved to be not only for my struggling readers, but for my highest achieving readers as well.  In fact a couple of the students that showed the most growth were at or above grade level.   Some of students were hesitant at first to participate in the program, thinking they were just fine in the fluency and reading department, but the scores spoke for themselves and without doubt, the students were proud of what they were able to accomplish.

A couple of high-energy students commented to me how the rhythm really helped them to relax and focus on their task.  A couple of my readers, who had some habits such as repeating word, broke that habit, making their reading much more smooth and enjoyable to listen to.  And speaking of difficult words, the method learned through the Reading and Rhythm program to “See the whole word, attack the first syllable and let the rhythm carry you through the rest of the word,” really worked well.  Students who are weak in phonics were making their way through some difficult multi-syllabic words on the spot, in context and without hesitation.

What were the final results?

Click here to view the official report from our school.

Students shown in the report were tested for both fluency and comprehension.  The comprehension scores are particularly noteworthy with an average increase of 24% in just four weeks.  The average fluency score was 14% and will improve as we get more used to using the rhythm with students.  We also have other scores on fluency only which are great.  One student went from 16 words to 33 words and another from 10 words to 23 words!

I am happy with the results from just a few weeks and look forward to seeing what we can accomplish when we have a longer span of time to work with students.  Not only that, but the difference in some of the students’ attitudes toward reading was worthy of praise.

What did the kids think?

I use a reading rhythm for students during a group read.

I told my students from the start that this was a new venture for me as well as them.  They knew that Rex was there to coach me in my implementation of the program and were very open to him being there as well as watching their teacher try something new.  Throughout the process, I asked students what they thought.  The first time we tried a pulse beat, the students (and I) were amazed at how it truly calmed the whole room down.  It seemed to create a bubble; a bubble of “qua” as I sometimes would refer to it.  (Remember that from Jerry McGuire?)  Later in the process I started to use the pulse beat with the students before DEAR time (sustained silent reading) to create that quiet atmosphere.  Many students commented on how they really appreciated that.  Whenever we did a pulse beat before DEAR time, everyone  was magically engrossed in their independent reading.

After our four weeks, I asked the students what they thought of the Reading & Rhythm program.  I got mixed reviews.  Some students thought it was distracting, while other found it helpful and focusing.  Regardless, every student was making observable gains, even the higher readers.  After the scores were revealed,  some of those readers were taken aback.  It is also important to note that even the students who felt as if the rhythm had been distracting, had wonderful comprehension of their reading.

One of my struggling readers wrote this,”I’m feeling so good with Reading and Rhythm.  I feel like I could read anything now.”  Even if you reach a few students like this with an innovative program, you know you are doing something right.

What now that the school year is over?

Part of the program is teach the students how to internalize the reading rhythms so that they can utilize it on their own.  They can also access the rhythms online using a special student username and password give to them by www.dfyl.org.

When asked if anyone ever tried to keep the rhythm inside him, one student stated, “It feels calming and relaxing when you have it in you.  It also makes you more focused.”

Music is a powerful thing and if we can equip students with tools that will help them in reading, working and beyond, then we are truly being inspiring teachers!


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