Combining Children’s Literature with Music (2017 National NAfME in-service Conference, Day 3)

While I did attend three advocacy seminars today, my favorite seminar was the fourth one: Storybooks and Children’s Literature: Finding the Music Within, taught by Suzanne Hall, PhD.

Suzanne Hall, PhD Augusta University

And, it was wonderful that it was the first seminar of my day because it energized me to take note of all the wonderful advocacy information I learned the rest of the day.

I already knew that music was interdisciplinary, but I didn’t realize the scope by which you could use literature in music. She gave us examples at various age/grade levels and explained five very basic reasons why story books can be used in the music classroom:

Hall, S. (2017). Storybooks and children’s literature: Finding the music within

So much of what she said resonated with me as it sounded so much like Paivio’s theory that Lindamood-Bell utilizes. Students are able to both learn vocabulary and comprehension of the reading material in addition to understanding how rhyme, rhythm, sounds, and composition can work in music. In addition, there are symbols and both decoding and encoding present with both reading and music. For me, this changed my thinking that not only can music reinforce literacy, but that literacy can reinforce music. This would be an excellent argument for including music in elementary education, or if it already exists, to add more or find ways to collaborate with language arts instructors.

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae

The best part of the seminar was Hall’s reading of Giraffe’s Can’t Dance. She had already demonstrated what qualities made a book usable in the music classroom. This one was perfect as it talked about music. For her reading, she prepared a soundtrack including African percussion, Chopin’s “Minute Waltz”, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’s “I Love Rock and Roll”, Isaac Albeniz’s “Latin Flamenco”, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra’s “Tea for Two”, Jimmy Shand’s “Scottish Country Dance”, and Song from A Secret Garden. What I really loved is her incorporation of types of music played for types of dances performed by the various animals. Students could learn the words cha cha and tango not only by looking at the pictures in the story and hearing the teacher read the words, but by experiencing the sounds associated with those types of dance.

Within my work at Lindamood-Bell, it is common to look up images for words students don’t understand. While most students may understand what dancing is, they may not comprehend that such dancing needs a certain type of rhythm. You can’t do the tango to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll”!

In her last example, Hall shared a lesson that could be used with older students, or at least those who were at the level of reading chapter books. Within a chapter book, or I suppose more than one chapter book depending on the number of students, each student or group of students selects one chapter and identifies three key points within the chapter. They need to illustrate those three points and then imagine, instead of dialogue and actions, what types of sounds could the students hear? The students drew representations of those sounds and then drew a legend where they identified which instrument was represented.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Hall showed us an example of Charlotte’s Web where instruments were used to make the sound of Charlotte talking to Wilbur, Penny first meeting Wilbur, and Wilbur being seen at the fair. Students really had to comprehend what they were reading to come up with the perfect sound or instrument. Without truly understanding what a spider is and how it acts, one might choose a drum instead of a xylophone.

The whole thing fascinated me! I contacted the presenter after with my thoughts on the similarities between her siminar and Paivio’s dual coding theory, and she shared with me the complete version of her presentation, including sound tracks!

Contact me for help in finding story books to use in your music classroom, or books that can incorporate music in your language arts classroom. I would be happy to do the leg work for you and find some great examples based on what your students are currently learning!

Lindamood-Bell and the Dual Coding Theory

dual coding quote

As I mentioned in my previous blog, Paivio’s theory of dual coding is used extensively at Lindamood-Bell, and the practices of Lindamood-Bell — primarily the benefits to the students — have been published in various peer-reviewed journals.

For students first learning words, or even letters, a clinician will show a letter, tell what the letter is and what sound it makes. The clinician then asks the student to repeat the name of the letter and the sound it makes. And as a final step, the clinician will ask the student to draw the letter in the air right in front of his eyes. So, here we have the combination of visual and auditory learning. The goal is for students to first see words and then concepts in their minds. English, of course, doesn’t play fair, so while the program might start very similar to “Hooked on Phonics”, it progresses to teach students common endings, the schwa, flexing vowels, and other instances when words don’t follow the general rules.

Lindamood-Bell, along with many respected psychologists and educators, recognizes that even when students can recognize words and pronounce them correctly, they still might not be able to comprehend what they’re reading. It could be something simple like the particular text has a lot of vocabulary with which the student is not familiar. The simple solution, then, is to increase his vocabulary. Or, it could be a more complicated issue, such as a learning disorder known as hyperlexia, where students can read, but they can’t form concepts in their mind about what they’re reading. Using the dual coding theory, once again, Lindamood-Bell will either instruct the clinician or the student to read a story out loud (auditory). Then, the clinician will ask the students to act as though they are the directors and what they have just read is a script (visual). “What kind of setting do you see?” “What do the people look like?” “What is the mood of the people in the scene?” Lindamood-Bell wants the students to have such a solid movie in their brains so that when the reading is taken away from them, they can easily recall the facts of the story and be prepared for higher order thinking questions. Depending on the age or grade level, Lindamood-Bell has seen students’ reading levels increased by at least two levels, and at most (from my experience as a clinician), five levels. I am always amazed to see the progress students have made as they near the end of their program.

So, great! I’ve told you how using both auditory cues and visual cues can increase learning when it comes to the basics of word recognition and reading comprehension – speaking, drawing letters, creating images in your mind. How does the dual coding theory work with music education or music cognition?

You’ll have to read my next blog to find out!