‘To be understood - as to understand’ from the prayer of St Francis captures a profound truth: we are at our happiest when we feel truly understood by others. This feeling of mutual understanding strengthens communities and generates an aura of certainty at the core of each individual’s character. The ability to understand exists in all of us, but can easily be obscured by doubt, worry or fear. Removing worries, doubts and fears leads to clarity –as Johnny Nash put it, “I can see clearly now the rain has gone…”. The same principle applies to reading comprehension. The songlike qualities of speech (i.e. prosody) come to life in children’s voices when they are able to read with ease, fluency and understanding.
In the Simple View of Reading, reading comprehension is described as the ‘product of’ skilled decoding and linguistic comprehension (Gough & Tumner, 1986). The recent focus on oracy (for example Barton, 2018) highlights a focus in some schools on linguistic comprehension. According to researchers, the proportion of children beginning school with speech, language and communication needs is estimated at between 7 and 20 per cent (McKean, 2017) and unfortunately, communication issues carry a risk of low self-esteem and problems with self-confidence (Dockerall et al., 2017).
In the Gough & Tunmer model, the term ‘product of’ seems a little vague. I like to think that ‘product of’ refers to the flexible quality found in skilled reading as well as the dynamic integration of natural language with the alphabetic code. At first, beginning readers struggle to accommodate words and sentences of a variety of shapes and lengths, but as they become more skilled, they ease into a state of flexible, responsive reading, which leads to being able to read sentences whilst processing meaning at the same time. What is even more remarkable about this process is that reading with this wonderful flexibility takes place within distinct time constraints.
The time constraints are a kind of rhythmic signature for language comprehension as well as music and are biologically determined (Long, 2006). Each and every line of a song, poem or musical phrase typically lasts for 3-5 seconds. This brief ‘window’ is our subjective sense of the present moment (Gerstner & Fazio, 1995). In a song, a poem or a musical phrase, this moment is packed with messages and meanings – relating information about feeling, being or doing. The rhythm of reading in any language is very flexible indeed, but it is underpinned by this constant ebb and flow of units of meaning every 3-5 seconds. Becoming aligned with this natural flow of meaning helps children to read words, phrases and sentences with ease, fluency and understanding and also to anticipate words and phrases prior to reading them.
The importance of this rhythmic ebb and flow of meaning cannot be overstated and is a core part of the Rhythm for Reading programme. The programme uses music rather than words to develop rhythmic sensitivity, so it is suitable for children and young people who need a sharp ‘boost’ in reading comprehension, language and communication skills, phonological awareness or cognitive control, whether attending mainstream or special schools.
Barton, G “Teachers should encourage pupils to speak up – and should remember to do so themselves TES News https://www.tes.com/news/teachers-should-encourage-students-speak-and-remember-do-so-themselves Retrieved on 29.4.2018
Dockrell, Julie Elizabeth, et al. “Children with Speech Language and Communication Needs in England: Challenges for Practice.” Frontiers in Education. Vol. 2. Frontiers, 2017.
Gerstner, Geoffrey E., and Victoria A. Fazio. “Evidence of a universal perceptual unit in mammals.” Ethology 101.2 (1995): 89-100.
Gough, Philip B., and William E. Tunmer. “Decoding, reading, and reading disability.” Remedial and special education 7.1 (1986): 6-10.
Long, M. “Stamping, clapping and chanting: An ancient learning pathway?” Educate Journal, 3, 1, (2006) 11-25
McKean, Cristina, et al. “Language Outcomes at 7 Years: Early Predictors and Co-Occurring Difficulties.” Pediatrics(2017): e20161684.
Academic achievement relates strongly and reciprocally to academic self-concept, for example in English and Maths (Schunk & Pajares, 2009) and also reading (Chapman & Tumner, 1995); moreover the importance of motivation increases as perceptions of reading difficulty increase (Klauda et al., 2015). So reading catch-up can also feel as if it’s a catch-22 situation. To resolve this issue, Hattie (2008) recommended that teachers teach self-regulating and self control strategies to students with a weak academic self-concept: ‘address non-supportive self-strategies before attempting to enhance achievement directly’ (Hattie, 2008; p.47).
Peeling back the layers on the self-concept literature, various models and analogies are available (Schunk, 2012). Hattie’s highly effective analogy of a rope captures rather vividly the idea of the congruence of the core self-concept as well as the multidimensionality of intertwining fibres and strands that are accumulated via everyday experiences (2008, p.46). The rope image supports the idea that a particular strand applies to maths, whereas a completely different strand applies to reading and another one for playing football and so on.
The relationship between self-concept and academic achievement is reciprocal (Hattie, 2008) and also specific to each domain (Schunk,2012). Therefore, strengthening self-concept for reading supports achievement in reading, while strengthening self-concept for maths supports maths skills. It is very difficult to strengthen low self-concept in a specific domain before addressing achievement in that area, unless introducing a completely new approach. It is important that the new approach supports self-strategies as well as directly building strength in domain-relevant skills. The Rhythm for Reading programme meets both of these requirements.
Rhythm for Reading works as a catalyst for confidence and reading skills and therefore lifts a negative reciprocal relationship (catch-22 situation) into a positive cycle of confidence and progression. This programme is effective as a reading catch-up intervention because it offers a fresh and dynamic approach, which perfectly complements to traditional methods. Instead of reading letters and words, pupils read simplified musical notation for ten minutes per week. Consequently, they are practising skills in decoding, reading from left-to-right, chunking small units into larger units, maintaining focus and learning, as well as developing confidence, self-regulation and metacognitive strategies all the while.
The musical materials used in the Rhythm for Reading programme have been specially written to be age-appropriate and to secure pupils’ attention, making the effortful part of reading much easier than usual. In fact, throughout the programme, the cognitive load for reading simple music notation is far lighter than for reading printed language, enabling an experience of sustained fluency and deeper engagement to be the main priority. As these case-studies show, this highly-structured approach has had huge successes for low and middle attaining pupils, who were able to read with far greater ease, fluency, confidence and understanding after only 100 minutes (ten minutes per week for ten weeks).
Chapman, J. W., & Tunmer, W. E. (1995). Development of young children’s reading self-concepts: An examination of emerging subcomponents and their relationship with reading achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 87, 154–167.
Hattie, J. (1992). Self-concept. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Hattie, John.(2008) Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Routledge.
Klauda, Susan Lutz, and John T. Guthrie. “Comparing relations of motivation, engagement, and achievement among struggling and advanced adolescent readers.” Reading and writing 28.2 (2015): 239-269.
Pintrich, P.R. and Schunk, D.H. (2002). Motivation in education: Theory research and applications (2nd edition) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
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Schunk, D. H. and Pajares, F. (2009). Self-efficacy theory. In K. r. Wentzel & A. Wigfield (Eds.), Handbook of motivation at school (pp. 35-53). New York:Routledge.
Schunk, D.H. (2012) Learning theories: An educational perspective, 6th edition, First published 1991 Boston: Allyn & Bacon, Pearson Education Inc.