SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Teachers who want their students to do well, need only find a way that makes them feel part of the learning, is the conclusion Jenna DePizzo, a Slippery Rock University elementary education and special education major from Cortland, Ohio, reached after conducting a seven-week research project.
DePizzo, working with Sherry Dupont, SRU associate professor of elementary education and early childhood development as her faculty adviser, devised an "action research" study as part of her required student-teaching assignment, to link music with literary skills.
The project was titled "How Can Song Influence Foundational Literacy Skills?," and was conduced with second graders at Musser Elementary, part of the Sharon [Pa.] School District.
"This was a project that literally elevated second-grader's vocabulary and comprehension abilities. They were impressively engaged in the singing activities every day," DuPont said.
"I knew there was a need to help increase the student's fluency and the rate at which they could read. I also knew they loved music, of all different genres, so I worked to put together a program that might link the two - and result in a better reading comprehension rate," DePizzo said. "And, I knew, for the most part, they did not like reading."
"At the same time I wanted to see if there was a connection between the music and the reading comprehension," she said.
"My overall plan was for a seven-week project. The first week I gave each of my 31 students a fluency pre-test and recorded their reading rate of words per minute that they were able to read to me. In weeks two through six, I incorporated songs, everything from Disney movies to Broadway, country and western and popular music. Each week we also focused on 25 different vocabulary words as part of the process," DePizzo said.
The seventh week was used for the post-research test, with the students again reading to DePizzo.
"It was clear, the students had benefitted tremendously," she said.
"Twenty-nine of my students showed positive gains in reading; only two students remained the same," she said. "The average gain was between zero, for the two students, and 61 words per minute and that is huge in a seven-week period."
On the word recognition test, students averaged recognition of eight additional words out of a possible 25, she said. "Some students showed a 98 percent increase in vocabulary development, giving the class an overall 32 percent average increase."
"It was clear to me the students truly enjoyed the project and that it was not too time consuming, since it was just incorporated into our other standard classroom activities. I realized the students enjoyed the learning, and that had a lot to do with the success of the program," she said."
"Previous research has shown there is a strong connection between music and cognitive growth. Not only does music engage both hemispheres of the brain, but it is also linked to children's awareness of speech sounds. Studies have also shown that students who are more aware of rhythm test higher in vocabulary, reading and spelling. This action research study investigated the influence of music on second grade students' skills in foundational literacy, specifically in the areas of fluency and vocabulary acquisition," she said.
DePizzo and DuPont presented their findings at Slippery Rock University's 2014 Symposium for Student Research, Scholarship and Creative Achievement.
DePizzo said she expects to someday incorporate the teaching plan in her own classroom.
DuPont said, that research is clear that students involved in the arts, of any form, have achieved higher in reading scores. She said DePizzo is one of the most creative and positive student teachers that she has worked with in 25 years. "DePizzo will absolute go on to touch the lives of thousands of children in her teaching career."
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