10 minutes of music learning a week for 10 weeks can improve reading skills for poor readers.
This amazing study is by the great Prof Susan Hallam and she tested a music intervention to assist poor readers. After a rhythmic intervention involving clapping, stamping, and chanting to music while following notation on a chart, the poor readers showed significant improvements in their reading accuracy and comprehension.
Another reason why this study is interesting is that the participant group were secondary school students, not early childhood students as is often the case in studies about reading. The Rhythm for Reading program that was the intervention in this study was developed to “support a group of disadvantaged, educationally disaffected children, who received free instrumental music lessons because they were eligible for free school meals. Musical resources were commissioned by the program to capture attention and enhance auditory processing.”
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The thinking behind this is that poor readers struggle to maintain their attention on reading as well as issues with hearing language sounds as they relate to reading in a consistent way. Going further down into the underpinnings of these problems within the brain is a lack of rhythmic entrainment and synchronisation, which is how rhythm activities seem to improve reading skills.
Let’s look at it a different way because this flow of development is an important but tricky idea to understand. Working from the foundation problems upwards – if a child’s brain is struggling to get in sync and send messages around the brain effectively and reliably, it is harder to pay attention because the brain is working far harder than it should to process information. That attention span is further taxed by hearing language sounds unreliably or with a lot of extra noise going on in their brain.
Think of it like trying to listen all day to someone talking while you are wearing headphones and there is extra noise going into your ears. You would get sick of it, your brain would get tired and you would switch off. When these students come to reading they are running the equivalent of a cognitive marathon in a potato sack. On the outside, parents and teachers are seeing children struggling to read and therefore, in this study, they were identified as poor readers by not reaching the benchmarks for reading at age 11. On the inside, their brain is working far too hard because, at its core, it is not passing messages around in an effective and efficient way.
Bring on the drum! Drumming and rhythmic activities are being found to have remarkable effects on this underlying issue in the brains of poor readers, not to mention their confidence and self-concept as learners. Even 10 minutes a day for 10 weeks saw the experiment group improve over three times more than the control group. Imagine what a whole year of rhythm activities would do? While statistically significant results are important, the experience and change for the students is equally as important.
Hallam shares some insights in her paper “After two sessions, one pupil announced that he had finished reading a book for the first time while another wanted to understand how her reading had suddenly improved. After five weeks, many pupils had noticed a change and indicated that their teachers had also seen improvements. They described their reading as ‘flowing better’, ‘more smooth’, ‘easier to read’ and ‘clearer’. They had also begun to volunteer to read aloud in class.”
How can we get this message out? – Music is a complementary learning tool to improve reading skills 🧠🎶🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁