Review of Research

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Authors: Adam Saenz, Ph.D., Thaddeus Rex, & Natalie Winchell, Reading Specialist

Introduction

The purpose of the present literature review is to explore the theoretical underpinnings and empirical validity of Thaddeus Rex’s use of music as an intervention to increase student motivation and self-efficacy in language arts. Attention will focus on the role of oral language in the development of early reading and writing skills, the role of music as a motivator, and the extent to which Rex incorporates validated strategies. A list of recommended readings is offered for further exploration of the research base.

Early Language Acquisition

Since a child’s capacities for reading comprehension and written expression are closely linked to oral language skills (Fisher & McDonald, 2001), music can provide an ideal modality to develop prerequisite language skills (Jalongo & Ribblett, 1997). Given the interactive nature of oral language, music can be a natural way for children not only to experience rich language in a pleasurable way, but also to initiate and sustain age-appropriate peer interaction (Fay, 2001; Glazer, 1990). Music can also be a valuable tool for toddlers as they begin to experiment with grammatical rules and various rhyming patterns and written text (Wolf, 1992). Further, establishing a sense of rhythm can be used to increase a student's awareness of rhyming patterns and alliteration in other areas of reading and writing. Through music, memory skills can be improved, and aural discrimination increased (Chong & Gan 1997), and as Wolf (1992) noted, listening skills are key in singing, language and expressive movement, and later reading and writing. Throughout early childhood development, thus, the presence of music can be considered as essential to school readiness as other more commonly-recognized resources, such as books, story-telling, and other audio/visual media.

Music and Reading Comprehension

While some studies have demonstrated small to negative effect sizes of the impact of music on reading (Chang, 2000; Kagan, 2001), robust data does, in fact, validate music as a favorable mediator in reading achievement (Pearce, 2000; Towell, ibid.; Fisher & McDonald, ibid.). The relationship between music and reading comprehension has been shown to correlate positively (Douglas & Willatts, 1994). Bradley and Bradley’s (1999) approach to both receptive and expressive written language in students using music showed that students who experienced music as a component of their learning process demonstrated long-term retention of skills and knowledge.

Rex’s program incorporates many of these same strategies. Music not only becomes a tool for reading motivation (Towell, ibid./ Pearce, 2000) in his program, but also becomes an example of what can be accomplished by reading. Children are involved in helping create new verses for songs, cumulative story building, and matching rhyming words (Bradley and Bradley, 1999) which helps them develop a better understanding of the role of author, which in turn increases reading comprehension (Wilson, M., 1981).

Music and Written Expression

While writing in a music class is considered by many music teachers to be a distraction from actually learning about music (Hansen, 2009), the pairing of the two activities can be beneficial to students in both music and language arts classes. Hansen (ibid.) describes three artistic processes—creating, performing, and responding—as helping students develop musical performance skills that have the potential to translate into literary skills. For example, the same skills a student engages in response to music (e.g., selecting, analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating) are utilized in the writing process. Rex builds on these strategies, incorporating extensive lessons in and examples of language arts curriculum into his rock concert program. For example, a song might be used to demonstrate the need for metaphor. As students gain a deeper understanding of the breadth and scope of music as an art form, so too do they develop the capacity to appreciate the breadth and scope of writing as an art form. Writing musical lyrics is not far different from writing poems or prose, after all. Bean’s (2000) ReWrite curriculum is an example of concepts in musical structures transposing into the area of written expression.

Music has been shown to play a favorable role in the acquisition and retention of both reading and writing skills. It is critical to note, however, that many researchers advocate for an even broader application of music to the overall curriculum. Many authors and researchers (Lowe, 1995) claim that musical activities promote the development of three important components that are equally involved in the development of linguistic abilities: auditory perception, phonological memory, and metacognitive knowledge. Given the critical role of language in the transmission of all knowledge, it is evident that a music based writing program like Rex’s has the potential to facilitate cross-disciplinary learning.

Music and Motivation

One of the primary purposes of Rex’s program is to help teachers increase student motivation to read and write. There is much research to support this effort. It’s been shown music can be used as a stimulus to affect one's emotions (Towell, J., 2000), which can serve as an excellent motivator in the classroom. Smelcer’s (1999) use of music as a motivator in literature found not only that music can increase the potential for a favorable first impression toward a reading assignment, but also that music can increase subsequent academic achievement. Wexler, Vaillancourt, and Gillispie (2001) noted that students who engaged selected music demonstrated the capacity to reduce stress and increase focus. Morrow & Thrall’s (1994) work with at-risk urban elementary school students found that students who completed a music-based practicum demonstrated both increased pleasure in reading and increased reading proficiency. Davies’ (2000) analysis of underlying neurological process found that music was a mediating variable in making connections between emotions, thinking and learning.

Conclusion

As this review of literature regarding the role of music and the acquisition and retention of reading and writing skills illustrates, the presence and pairing of music with language arts has potential benefits for children even before they arrive at school age. Having entered into formal schooling, music can serve as impetus to increase motivation and self-efficacy in reading skills, writing skills, and other academic areas. By using music to draw connections between reading, language arts curriculum, and creative writing, Thaddeus Rex is utilizing both research and evidence based practices demonstrated to improve reading, writing and oral communication skills.

Recommended Reading

  • Bean, T. (2000). ReWrite: A music strategy for exploring content area concepts. Retrieved from http://www.readingonline.org/articles/art_index.asp?HREF=bats/index.html. July 2010.
  • Bradley, K., and Bradley J. (1999). Developing Reading and Writing through Music. Paper presented at the Annual TCTE Conference (34th, Fort Worth, TX, February 4-6, 1999).
  • Boyle, R., & Coltheart, V. (1996). Effects of irrelevant sounds on phonological coding in reading comprehension and short-term memory. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 49A, 398-416.
  • Brown, R and Brown, N. (1997). Use Songs To Teach. Reading and Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties; Vol. 13 pp. 349-54.
  • Carlson, S., Raemae, P., Artchakov, D., & Linnankoski, I. (1997). Effects of music and white noise on working memory performance in monkeys. Neuroreport: An International Research in Journal for the Rapid Communication of Neuroscience, Vol. 8, pp. 2853-2856.
  • Chandrasekaran B, Kraus N. (2010) Music, Noise-Exclusion, and Learning. Music Perception 27(4): 297-306.
  • Chang, C. (2000). Relationship between Music Learning and Language Reading? Review of Literature. * ERIC Document* EJ596921.
  • Colwell, R. (1992). Handbook of research on music teaching and learning: A project of the Music Educators. New York: Toronto.
  • Clay, M. (1993). An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement. NH: Heinemann.
  • Currie, S. (1994). Casey Jones, Clementine and Some Other Friends. Teaching Pre-K–8; Vol. 24, pp. 56-57.
  • Daoussis, L., & Mc Kelvie, S. J. (1986). Musical preferences and effects of music on a reading comprehension test for extraverts and introverts. Perceptual and Motor Skills, Vol. 62, pp. 283-289.
  • Davies, NL (2000). Learning ... The Beat Goes On. Childhood Education, 148-153.
  • Douglas, S. and Willatts, P. (1994). The Relationship between Musical Ability and Literacy Skills. Journal of Research in Reading; Vol. 17, pp. 99-107.
  • Douville, P. (2001). Tip for Teaching: Using Songs and Chants as a Source of Predictable Text. Preventing School Failure; Vol. 45 pp. 187-88.
  • Etaugh, C. & Michals, D. (1975). Effects on reading comprehension of preferred music and frequency of studying to music. Perceptual and Motor Skills, Vol. 41, pp. 553-554.
  • Fay, M. (2001). Music in the Classroom: An Alternative Approach To Teaching Literature. Teaching-English-in-the-Two-Year-College; Vol. 28 pp. 372-378.
  • Fisher, D. and McDonald, N. (2001). The Intersection between Music and Early Literacy Instruction: Listening to Literacy! Reading-Improvement; Vol. 38, pp. 106-15.
  • Fitzgerald, Lori (1994). A Musical Approach for Teaching English Reading to Limited English Speakers. Master's Thesis, National Louis University.
  • Fluckiger, J. and Kuhlman, W. (2000). When Human Needs Are Met with Music: Children's Books Share Possibilities. Journal of Children' Literature; Vol. 26 pp. 55-60.
  • Fogelson, S. (1973). Music as a distracter on reading-test performance of eighth grade students. Perceptual and Motor Skills, Vol. 36, pp. 1265-1266.
  • Glazer, T. (1990). The More We Get Together. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, Jovanovich.
  • Hall, J. C. (1952). The effects of background music on the reading comprehension of 278 8th and 9th grade students. Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 45, pp. 451-458.
  • Hansen, D. (2009). Writing in the Music Classroom. Teaching Music. January.
  • Jacobi-Karna, K. (1995). Music and Children's Books (Teaching Reading). Reading Teacher; Vol. 49 pp. 265-269.
  • Jalongo, M. & Ribblett, D. (1997). Using Song Picture Books to Support Emergent Literacy. Childhood Education 15-22.
  • Kagan, S. (2001). The Effects of Music on Students Engaged in Reader Response Strategies. Unpublished Master of Arts Theses, Kean University.
  • Kiger, D. M. (1989). Effects of music information load on a reading comprehension task. Perceptual and Motor Skills, Vol. 69, pp. 531-534.
  • Lamb, S. and Gregory, A. (1993). The Relationship between Music and Reading in Beginning Readers. Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology; Vol. 13 pp. 19-27.
  • Larrick, N. (1991). Let's do a poem!: Introducing poetry to children through listening, singing, chanting, impromptu choral reading, body movement, dance, and dramatization. New York: Delacorte Press.
  • Maess, B., Koelsch, S., Gunter, T. C. & Friederici, A. D. Musical Syntax is processed in Broca's area: an MEG study. Nature Neuroscience 4,540-545(2001).
  • Morrow, P. and Tharyll, W. (1994). Using Rap Lyrics To Encourage At-Risk Elementary Grade Urban Learners To Read for Pleasure. Practicum: Nova Southeastern University.
  • Patel, A. D. (1998). Syntactic processing in language and music: Different cognitive operations similar neural resources? Music Perception, Vol. 16, pp. 27-42.
  • Pearce, M. (2000). A Model for Improving Reading through Music Study in Band and Orchestra. Reading Teacher, Vol. 53 pp. 649-51.
  • Renwick,Lucille (2002). Learning with Jazz. Instructor: Vol. 111, pp. 30-31,79.
  • Smelcer, J. (1999). Music as a Catalyst for Responding to Literature. Exercise-Exchange; Vol. 44, p14.
  • Towell, J. (2000). Motivating Students through Music and Literature. Reading Teacher; Vol. 53 pp. 284-287.
  • Tucker, A., & Bushman, B. J. (1991). Effects of rock and roll music on mathematical, verbal, and reading comprehension performance. Perceptual and Motor Skills, Vol. 72, pp. 942.
  • Wexler, S., Vaillancourt, R., and Gillispie, J., (2001). Voice-of-Youth-Advocates; Vol. 24 pp. 247- 316.
  • Wilson, M. (1981). A Review of Recent Research on the Integration of Reading and Writing. The Reading Teacher, 34 (8), 896-901.
  • Wolf, J. (I 992). Using Song Picture Books to Support Emergent Literacy. Young Children, 56-61.

Annotated Bibliography

Bradley, K., and Bradley J. (1999). Developing Reading and Writing through Music. Paper presented at the Annual TCTE Conference (34th, Fort Worth, TX, February 4-6, 1999).
This document outlines a presentation on the use of music activities to develop reading and composition skills in young children. The outline describes how music contributes to language arts development and presents several classroom activities. Activities to develop reading through music involve creating new verses to songs, cumulative story building, matching rhyming words, illustrating a song, using sound substitutions, and tongue twisters. Activities for composition focus on the importance of tone to illustrate the author's attitudes toward the subject and the audience.
Brown, R and Brown, N. (1997). Use Songs To Teach. Reading and Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties; Vol. 13 pp. 349-54.
Suggests 10 classroom activities that use music to teach reading, writing, and content materials to primary children.
Chang, C. (2000). Relationship between Music Learning and Language Reading? Review of Literature. ERIC Document EJ596921.
This paper reviews literature in the past 60 years about the relationship between music experience and language reading. Results of the literature review fall into three categories: the first group of studies (group I) indicates that music experience benefits language reading due to six transfers of learning--prediction skill, whole-to-part strategy, awareness of rhythm, rhyme and phonological awareness, learning between two similar symbol systems, and eye span and movement. The second group of studies (group II) suggests music experience neither benefits nor undermines language reading. The third group of studies (group III) demonstrates that the learners' socioeconomic status, intelligence, or social capital are better indicators of language reading experience than music experience. It concludes that music experience does not hamper language reading, but whether music experience facilitates language reading and the extent to which music experience aids language reading remains nebulous.
Currie, S. (1994). Casey Jones, Clementine and Some Other Friends. Teaching Pre-K–8; Vol. 24, pp. 56-57.
Discusses how teachers can use folk songs to explore American history, to teach music, and to improve students' reading and writing skills in one integrated project.
Douglas, S. and Willatts, P. (1994). The Relationship between Musical Ability and Literacy Skills. Journal of Research in Reading; Vol. 17, pp. 99-107.
Shows an association between rhythmic ability and reading in seven- and eight-year-old students. Finds that training in music is an effective additional strategy for assisting children with reading difficulties.
Douville, P. (2001). Tip for Teaching: Using Songs and Chants as a Source of Predictable Text. Preventing School Failure; Vol. 45 pp. 187-88.
This article suggests using songs and chants as a source of predictable text in developing students' reading skills. It offers new songs to familiar tunes to aid in content specific instruction. Benefits of using songs and chants in classroom instruction include repeated exposure to words, the versatility songs provide, and the pleasure of combining music with word meanings.
Fitzgerald, Lori (1994). A Musical Approach for Teaching English Reading to Limited English Speakers. Master's Thesis, National Louis University.
An experiment using music activities in the classroom to teach English-as-a-Second-Language reading to limited-English-proficient elementary school students is described, focusing on the teacher's discovery process as well as the students' progress. The students were 23 native Spanish-speaking first-graders in a self-contained bilingual education class with generally high achievement levels and parents who were involved in their schooling. The children sang in English from the first day of class, and sang daily as part of the curriculum, both in their own class and with a native-English-speaking class. Spanish-language songs were also incorporated. The exercises were found to be very useful in encouraging literacy skills, minimizing stuttering, involving a new student, and supporting participation of all students. Some songs and related materials are appended.
Fay, M. (2001). Music in the Classroom: An Alternative Approach To Teaching Literature. Teaching-English-in-the-Two-Year-College; Vol. 28 pp. 372-378.
Considers how using music in teaching language arts and literature helps to create kinship between students from various backgrounds and various parts of the world. Outlines the philosophical and historical basis for such an approach and discusses more benefits of a music-related approach. Suggests several class-tested curriculum strategies and specific assignments for introductory literature courses.
Fisher, D. and McDonald, N. (2001). The Intersection between Music and Early Literacy Instruction: Listening to Literacy! Reading-Improvement; Vol. 38, pp. 106-15.
Focuses on the use of music as instructional material in early literacy instruction. Uses specific examples of music to highlight concepts of print, a sense of story and sequence, phonemic awareness and phonics, background knowledge and vocabulary, basic spelling patterns, and early writing activities. Concludes with an invitation for collaboration between music educators and classroom teachers.
Fluckiger, J. and Kuhlman, W. (2000). When Human Needs Are Met with Music: Children's Books Share Possibilities. Journal of Children's Literature; Vol. 26 pp. 55-60.
Notes that children's literature in which characters engage with music opens the door for readers to identify parallels of musical experience with the art of creative reading. Considers parallels between responding to literature and music. Concludes that texts that invite readers into the world of music are plentiful and well-written.
Jacobi-Karna, K. (1995). Music and Children's Books (Teaching Reading). Reading Teacher; Vol. 49 pp. 265-269.
Discusses briefly categories of children's literature that help integrate music into the classroom, and offers a 214-item list of children's books with musical possibilities.
Kagan, S. (2001). The Effects of Music on Students Engaged in Reader Response Strategies. Unpublished Master of Arts Theses, Kean University.
This study examined the effects of background classical music on silent reading in a sixth grade class, in order to determine the amount and type of influence it would have on the reader's written response to what was read. Thirty-four suburban sixth graders from two history classes were selected for this study. The data was obtained over a period of five weeks consisting of 24 journal responses from eight subjects, two males and two females from each class. One history class (the experimental group) was instructed to read a short selection silently with classical music playing. The other history class (the control group) performed the reading and writing tasks in the absence of music. All students received the same prompt at the beginning of class and allowed 15 minutes to accomplish the task. This study revealed that there was no significant difference between the students' aesthetic written responses and efferent written responses in the classical music setting as compared to the non-music setting. Contains 40 references and 4 tables of data. Appendixes contain reader responses from the non-music and the classical music group.
Lamb, S. and Gregory, A. (1993). The Relationship between Music and Reading in Beginning Readers. Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology; Vol. 13 pp. 19-27.
Reports on a study of the relationship of both phonemic and musical sound discrimination to reading ability among 18 British first graders. Finds that discrimination of musical sounds is related to music performance but that the influential factor is a specific awareness of pitch changes.
Morrow, P. and Tharyll, W. (1994). Using Rap Lyrics To Encourage At-Risk Elementary Grade Urban Learners To Read for Pleasure. Practicum: Nova Southeastern University.
This practicum was developed to encourage the at-risk urban elementary school student to read for pleasure daily. Participants listened to their favorite rap songs, wrote lyrics for their own rap songs, and then read the lyrics as a text. A review of the literature had suggested to the author that rap music might provide a key to literacy for these students. After writing their songs, students were asked to retell their messages and to read a self-selected book relating to their personal raps. For a variety of reasons, only 6 of the 15 completed the program, but students who did complete the program showed increased pleasure in reading. Increased reading proficiency was reflected in the grades of five of the six.
Pearce, M. (2000). A Model for Improving Reading through Music Study in Band and Orchestra. Reading Teacher, Vol. 53 pp. 649-51.
Describes how one middle school band and orchestra teacher, in response to his principal's call for school-wide attention to improving student literacy, engaged students in reading improvement while also increasing musical knowledge. Describes how students each week read one or more short, music-related articles and complete a brief writing assignment. Discusses building a reading resource file. Notes unexpected positive outcomes.
Renwick,Lucille (2002). Learning with Jazz. Instructor: Vol. 111, pp. 30-31,79.
Describes how teachers at three different elementary schools use jazz to teach students to read, write, and sing. In each case, jazz is used to enrich standard curricula and raise students' appreciation of this music form widely recognized for its rich heritage rooted in African American culture. Literature resources and relevant Web sites are listed.
Smelcer, J. (1999). Music as a Catalyst for Responding to Literature. Exercise-Exchange; Vol. 44, p14.
Describes an in-class exercise in which students listen to a piece of music (without lyrics), and then write about their responses. Notes that students learn that responding to literature is as natural as responding to music, and that they all have valid and unique reactions and connections to literature.
Towell, J. (2000). Motivating Students through Music and Literature. Reading Teacher; Vol. 53 pp. 284-287.
Argues that music is a powerful way to motivate students to read. Discusses reading picture books made from songs or written by musicians; using music to set the mood; combining poetry with music; and using instruments or sound effects. Lists picture books made from songs or written by musicians, books for mood music, and books with musical themes.
Wexler, S., Vaillancourt, R., and Gillispie, J., (2001). Voice-of-Youth-Advocates; Vol. 24 pp. 247- 316.
These eight articles describe successful public library programs for teens. Highlights include programs emphasizing immigrants' cultures; viewing film adaptations from appropriate books; summer book discussion groups; using music to promote reading; using teen and senior citizen volunteers to help restore books; teens as computer tutors for other patrons; and murder mystery dramas.