Take Your Singing to the English Class


Why do we limit singing to our choir room? Why put restrictions on it? Why not get creative and share what we know to be true with others? We have read the research that shows the tremendous benefits that learning to read music has on our brains and how it impacts our academic studies and test scores.  We also know the benefits singing has on our well-being regarding our mental and physical health. But, did you know that singing helps just about anyone that struggles with reading? It can aid in retention, speed and ability to digest content. Attending a workshop by Professor Timothy Rasinski at Kent State a few years ago revealed even more positive benefits to singing or chanting poems and stories.

As a child I was able to remember the story of  Zaccheus, (the wee little man) because we sang the story. I remembered scripture taught to me at church much more easily when it had a melody. To this day, I can sing Psalm 23 much easier using Bobby McFerrin’s chant than if I just try to recite it.

Why not share the magic of singing with children who struggle with reading? It can provide confidence, enjoyment for reading, improve memory, and the ability to express one’s thoughts and emotions.

Dr. Timothy Rasinski’s research shows that the “singing episodes” in which we engage (i.e. worship services, ipod, radio or sports events) provide useful instructional tools to teach reading to beginning readers.

He goes on to say that it is imperative for beginning readers to develop a robust sight vocabulary, essentially memorized words—by sight and sound. Lyrical songs are often steeped in rhyme that use word families. Playing with the sounds of language through song can open the door to the development of phonemic awareness. The rhyming nature found in many song lyrics provides teachers with excellent texts for teaching word families. Not to mention that singing is just plain fun! Learning to read and to sing at the same time not only develops young minds but it helps them to express their feelings and understand the emotion behind what they are singing about and what they are reading about.

Kathy Cochran conducted research entitled The Effects of Singing and Chanting on the Reading Achievement and Attitudes of First Graders. Having taught music to the first-grade students of a Ms. Mary Bing, she became aware of Ms. Bing’s song method used to teach children to read. She had come to understand that the children’s language skills were strengthened “as singing and chanting gives children a chance to practice language”. This practice increases their phonemic awareness as well as their reading skills. Ms. Bing also noted that it increased their ability to focus and gave them a sunnier attitude which made learning more desirable and achievable.

Wouldn’t it be great, if we could collaborate with the reading teacher down the hall to take their simple poems or short stories and create chants that could be used to improve our children’s reading ability? In reverse, we could use simple folk songs and create word cards that could then be used in those reading circles. I would love to hear a chant or melody written on Sally Sells Seashells Down by the Seashore. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I could recite the poem “Jack and Jill” without singing it.

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Published by

Lynn Swanson

Music Director & Organist, Grace Episcopal Church, Gainesville, GA Music Director & Conductor, New South Festival Singers, Atlanta, GA Music Director & Conductor, Cobb Summer Singers, Marietta, GA Advisor to The Institute for Healthy Singing, The William Baker Choral Foundation former Assistant Director, Zhuhai Classical Children's Choir

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