The phonics wars raged back in the days leading up to the publication of the 2006 Rose Review. The value of synthetic versus analytical phonics was one of the key educational debates of the decade. At that time, the fragile readers that I was working with as part of my PhD, struggled to decode a simple C-V-C word (consonant-vowel-consonant) such as ‘cat’. I was glad that, following the publication of the Rose review all children would be taught systematically to recognise letter-to-sound correspondence, as well as being explicitly taught to recognise the smallest sounds of language. It was unacceptable to me at that time that the phonemes of simple three letter word such as ‘c-a-t’ were a new discovery for vulnerable children at nine years of age.
Below the radar of the mainstream media, music educators were digging deeply into their own entrenched positions around the teaching of musical notation. Unfortunately, these ideologies and their false narratives have limited access to the development of important musical skills and musical knowledge. Decoding musical notes (like any other form of reading) opens up access to participation in a multicultural global community. In the case of music, this community consists of performers, listeners, arrangers, publishers and composers, who engage across ever-expanding musical genres, including sound tracks for video games, film and television. Music educators’ ideologies have limited access to creative opportunities for too long.
Most children start school with thousands of words and hundreds of melodies in their heads. Yet, in schools and music studios, one of the most limiting and perhaps most misunderstood ideologies stemming from high profile music educators, is that of ‘sound before symbol’. Music teachers have been told for decades that best practice involves singing and naming the shapes of tunes using doh, re, mi. Only when the tune has been learned ‘by ear’, are the visual symbols introduced. The idea that a sound must be taught before introducing a symbol to represent it, has a certain logic, but sound does not need to be taught in this way because sound is processed incredibly rapidly in the auditory system and was the first of our sensory processing systems to reach full maturity in utero.
Ofsted’s July 2022 publication supports moving away from the principle of sound before symbol and recommends a stronger commitment to the teaching of musical notation as a part of a broad and balanced curriculum. In the teaching of reading, automated phoneme-to-grapheme correspondence is the key to the rapid development of fluency. Indeed this usually involves presenting the sound with the symbol using rapid response multi-sensory teaching methods. In the Rhythm for Reading programme, we teach sound with symbol correspondence using a rapid response multi-sensory approach to musical notation and therefore prioritise fluency as the overriding goal.
Get in touch by visiting the contacts page if you would like to boost reading fluency in a ten-week period and gain the additional benefit of teaching every child to read musical notation fluently in the very first session of the programme.
I believe that together, as educators on a mission to make a difference, we can raise standards in reading. The Rhythm for Reading programme offers a mechanism to achieve this. The programme provides a cumulative and structured approach that supports inclusive teaching and learning.
For instance, in the programme, there is absolutely no need to break down tasks. We strive to lighten the cognitive load on working memory and a light cognitive load is an inbuilt feature of the programme. This is why pupils experience the satisfaction of reading musical notation fluently in the very first week of the programme.
Although most curriculum subjects encourage specialisation in speaking or writing or problem-solving, our approach is multi-sensory and we develop the rhythmic sensitivity of the children in a range of different ways. And so, though its systematic approach, the Rhythm for Reading programme celebrates the multi-sensory elements of music-making.
On the one hand, the materials and resources of the programme are designed to sustain the fluency of the children’s reading, and on the other hand we adapt the level of challenge by working with the children’s ears, eyes, voices, hands and feet in ever-changing combinations.
The programme engages working memory with sensitivity. It systematically strengthens cognitive control across the ten weeks by gradually increasing demands on cognitive flexibility week by week. In each weekly session, the pupils build up their repertoire of routines and techniques. Ease is maintained all the while, supporting fluency and control in the execution of all the tasks. Most importantly of all, the primary goal is to support an ethos of inclusivity by maintaining the pupils’ emotional security at all times.Fluency is established at the start of the Rhythm for Reading programme and it is maintained right through to the end of the ten weeks. Fluency is not just our goal, fluency is our foundation.
Like so many people, I’ve been deeply saddened by the passing of our Queen. Even though I never had the honour of meeting her, I now realise the powerful extent to which she has provided a reassuring presence in my life. HM the late Queen presided with an incredibly serene sense of duty, but above all she led by example. I remember, as a seven year old child, learning to play the piano and reading for the very first time, the back cover of my piano music booklet. There was detailed information about the ABRSM exam board and I saw that the Queen was their patron. My attitude changed immediately. I straightened my back and doubled down on my efforts. As far as I was concerned, this slim red music book obviously mattered to the Queen, and so it now mattered to me, so much more. That day, I made a childish wish to play for HM the late Queen and seven years later that wish came true, when a small musical ensemble I played with was invited to provide the music at the opening of our local shopping centre. I caught a glimpse of the Queen that day, which was thrilling for me. I am deeply grateful for her undiluted dedication to us all throughout her magnificent reign and send my deepest condolences to her family.
The Rhythm for Reading programme is deeply rooted in education for social justice. My personal mission, driven by my commitment to developing inclusion in society, is built on my principles of equity and social justice in education.
I have worked in top independent schools such as Alleyn’s, teaching the children from some of the country’s most privileged families. I believe in empowering all children and I am writing this to share with you the mechanism that we can use together to raise standards in reading. I believe that together, we can raise standards in reading and the Rhythm for Reading programme offers a mechanism to achieve this.
There are two additional benefits. By empowering children with a lifelong love of reading, we can protect their mental health. An additional benefit of the Rhythm for Reading programme is that it launches the children into the world of musical notation, which they learn to read fluently, right from the start. This is what we do…
At Rhythm for Reading, we recognise that phonological processing requires: phonological knowledge (letter-sound correspondence), but also phonological awareness (sensitivity to the smallest sounds of language) and the flow of sounds (rhythmic and grammatical context). The data gathered from the past 10 years shows that the Rhythm for Reading programme improves perceptual sensitivity to:
Children have reported many changes in their learning behaviour at the end of the ten weeks of the Rhythm for Reading programme, including being able to follow their teacher’s instructions, knowing what is going on in the lesson, and being able to get on with their work because they are able to ignore distractions.
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