School Leaders, Teachers

Using music to tackle literacy gaps!

Following a long period out of the classroom, many children may have taken a step backwards in literacy learning but, music, the world’s first and most popular language could help fill the gaps. In her recent article, dyslexia specialist tutor and assessor Dr Anne Margaret Smith, who has previously taught English for 30 years in Kenya, Germany, Sweden, and the UK, explains why music offers a fun and stress-free way to get these children back on track with their reading.

Research into the links between music and language shows that the patterns in rhymes and songs can help learners process sounds and words, as they develop the essential speech and communication skills they need to access the curriculum. This is particularly true for dyslexic learners and those using English as an additional language (EAL), who may need additional input to support their learning.

Many children have spent the last few months locked down after the school gates closed as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Their experiences of home-schooling will have differed, as parents have juggled work with family and other commitments, and some learners may not have been using English every day. This could mean that some schools will see a much wider gap in their pupils’ literacy progress than they typically might, as children return to the classroom.

Incorporating more music and movement into the school day is a perfect way to make the first experience of learning in the new academic year as stress-free as possible.

Sparking the joy of reading

The more learners enjoy a task or activity, the more they will do it. Unfortunately, for dyslexic children, and for EAL users, the challenges of decoding words, understanding vocabulary, or remembering enough to make sense of the whole text may discourage them.

Singing can be a great way to motivate reluctant readers. Once they have learnt to sing along with a song, they can be encouraged to look at the words and make the connections between their spoken and written forms, which deepens their understanding of the meanings at word, sentence and text level.

Singing has also been shown to be a great way to retain new vocabulary, and chunks of language can be memorised quite easily this way. The benefits of this memory technique can last a lifetime.

Learning by doing

Introducing more movement into lessons can be done simply by getting pupils dancing, marching, or skipping while repeating sounds or words. The combination of rhythm and repetition is a great way to embed them in children’s memories.

When you add music and physical actions to your lessons, learning is more fun, and the musical elements help children to develop better concentration and memory. It’s like learning to ride a bike, where fine motor skills and balance develop through repetition, and a child can eventually do it without thinking.

How many of us remember bashing a drum along to ‘Hot Cross Buns’ as a child? This is just one example of how musical activity endures, impacting on both early language development and memory. The necessary repetition is much less boring when it is part of a song or a dance, and can really boost a child’s ability to develop the underpinning skills needed to develop literacy practices, such as phonological memory and processing.

Rhythm sticks

Bringing the joy of music into learning can be particularly helpful for those children who struggle with English literacy.

The use of rhymes and songs helps to embed the rhythm of the language into the brain, increasing a child’s familiarity with syllable structure and word stress This is particularly useful for EAL learners. Pupils move from understanding the spoken word to recognising the written form more easily. Improved phonological awareness has been shown to have a positive impact on spelling too.

Socially distant songs

Music stimulates the brain and encourages movement, which is enjoyable and will also help to boost mental wellbeing after what, for some, may have been a challenging time. Music is a great way to reconnect with classmates and rebuild group cohesion.

Although children may need to stay physically apart, they can communicate using improvised instruments and a ‘call-and-response’ activity. For example, one child could make up a rhythm by tapping two pencils together, and the others in the group could respond by repeating it, knocking on the table. The role of the caller can be passed around the group so that everybody has a chance to lead. The children could then be encouraged to think about what the message might have been, based on the number of beats, the rhythm, and even the volume and speed. Was it an urgent message? Or just a friendly ‘hello’?

Here are a few more ideas for songs and activities you could try in your school:

  • Sing ‘Old MacDonald’ or ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ and encourage the children to move in the way the animals or stars do while they’re singing
  • Create a marching band and get the children to move to the beat of a song like ‘Hot cross buns’ or ‘The music man’
  • Encourage children to write their own rhymes then act them out
  • Get children to sing songs and beat a drum or play an instrument when they hear a sound such as ‘ou’ or ‘ar’. Or they could sit down on the sound – like musical bumps with a twist.

To find out more about using music to develop literacy you can download Dr Smith’s recent Lexplore Analytics Webinar for FREE – here

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