A new look at Brain Research Part Two- Additional information about the impact of music on reading fluency/prosody: A Video Interview by Dr. Sam Bommarito

A new look at Brain Research Part Two- Additional information about the impact of music on reading fluency/prosody: A Video Interview by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The Story Behind this Interview

For several years, I have used the ideas of Dr. Tim Rasinski as I work with my students in grades K-3.  Those ideas include:

  •  Use of repeated readings to build fluency. These are done with short reading passages, poems, or songs.
  •  Measuring prosody using the rubric from Tim and Melissa Cheesman Smith’s Megabook of Reading. LINK
  • Teaching my students how to “read like a storyteller.”
  • Teaching my students to “read to remember.”
  • Having my children sing excerpts from selected songs.
  • Using the method of “read to perform” (explained below)


As a result of the use of these ideas, I became familiar with a wide range of poems and songs. These came from friends like Eric Litwin and David Harrison. These also came from Tim’s Megabook and Phonics Poetry. Students invest about 5-7 minutes a day 5 days a week practicing their piece. At the end of each 2-week cycle, they perform their piece (read to perform). The results have been impressive both in improvement in prosody and in improvement in comprehension.  BTW- Dr. Rasinski reports similar positive results from the use of this adaption of repeated reading.  For me, this was a case of using research to inform my instruction. But what I didn’t know at first was that the research base supporting these practices was much larger than I realized.  

Enter Ann Kay. Ann made me aware of the fact that there is a large body of brain research that supports the idea of using music and poetry as an integral part of the process of teaching reading. I interviewed Ann at length about how she uses music in her reading instruction. Here is a link to that first interview LINK. Ann was especially excited about the work of Dr. Nina Kraus.  She drew heavily upon Dr. Kraus’s work as she carried out her own projects. She said she might be able to arrange a second interview with Dr. Kraus and herself and, of course, she did (Thank you Ann!). I’ll now let Ann tell you about herself, the work of Dr. Krauss, and her use of that work.  

Information provided by Ann Kay

Dr. Nina Kraus

The biography was taken from the Northwestern University website:

Nina Kraus, Ph.D., is a scientist, inventor, and amateur musician who studies the biology of auditory learning. Through a series of innovative studies involving thousands of research participants from birth to age 90, her research has found that our lives in sound, for better (musicians, bilinguals) or worse (language disorders, concussion, aging, hearing loss), shape auditory processing. Kraus has invented new ways to measure the biology of sound processing in humans that provide unprecedented precision and granularity in indexing brain function. With her technological innovations, she is now pushing science beyond the traditional laboratory by conducting studies in schools, community centers, and clinics.

The Brainvolts Website has tremendous information: LINK

Ann C. Kay

Ann is the co-founder of The Rock ‘n’ Read Project, LINK, a Minnesota nonprofit organization dedicated to using singing to unlock children’s potential for reading and learning. She leads educational development and makes presentations and teaches courses for parents, preschool and elementary classroom teachers. Formerly, Ann was a K-6 classroom music teacher, choir director, and associate director of graduate music education at the University of St. Thomas.

How does Dr. Kraus’ research about auditory processing impact the teaching of literacy?

Ann Kay says Dr. Kraus’ research is different than MRI studies because they track how the brain processes frequency. This has helped us understand that auditory processing is the key to language acquisition and literacy, and making music is the primary means of developing it. Her research studies have found that children who do not process sound effectively and those who cannot keep a steady beat (beat synchronization) will most likely struggle with reading. In an article, “Beat Keeping Ability Relates to Reading Readiness,” she writes:

The synchronizers also had higher pre-reading skills (phonological processing, auditory short-term memory, and rapid naming) compared with non-synchronizers. Overall, the results supported the idea that accurate temporal processing is important for developing the foundational skills needed in order to learn how to read.

Nina Kraus, PhD, & Samira Anderson, AuD, PhD 

https://northwestern.app.box.com/s/4gvdq5wksmiwti98jk362jdf0mijs2xs

What does this mean for teachers of reading?

We must be intentional about helping students develop their sound processing, phonological awareness, auditory working memory, and beat synchronization. The most effective activities are chanting rhythmic poems and singing folk songs while keeping the beat with two hands on their laps and playing singing games that require keeping a steady beat, such as hand-clapping games and jump rope rhymes. Later, students can use those games for practicing reading skills, such as letter sounds and sight words. Then, they can read the singing games, in this way they go from sound to sight, reading and re-reading words their brains already know. 

Examples: https://www.rocknreadproject.org/

Links to videos of singing games: https://www.lifelongmusicmaking.org/songdatabase.html

The Music and Mind video that Nina referred to LINK. In this video, a panel of experts talks about all the research supporting the idea of using music as part of a literacy program.

Another video detailing Dr. Kraus’s research is this one: ARTSpeaks Full Lecture: Music and the Brain (Nina Kraus) LINK

Thanks again to Ann for providing all that background. Now let’s have a look at the interview. Here are the questions we covered.

Dr. Kraus:

  1. What is the relationship between language and music in the brain? 02:30
  • In terms of brain development, what is the difference between making music vs listening to it? 05:00
  • How is the ability to keep a beat and play rhythms related to reading achievement? 09:50
  • How does having better auditory processing, auditory working memory and beat synchronization impact reading achievement? 19:30

Ann Kay:

  • Given the science, what do you suggest that parents and teachers do to help enable all children’s brains for reading? 21:30
  • Tell us a little about the work you’ve done with using music to teach reading. 29:00

Dr. Krauss just published a new book. Here is a screen capture of the book cover:

Of Sound Mind: How Our Brain Constructs a Meaningful Sonic World

Link to order the book: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/sound-mind

REMARK BY ONE OF MY READERS

One of my readers- Mark Pennington made this remark on Facebook. Specials thanks to Mark for sharing these resources- Here are two sets of songs link in blog articles, which reading teachers may freely use with their students.

The first resource includes two videos of speech articulation songs (vowels and consonants) with mouth formations and sound-spelling cards:

The second resource is a collection of eight conventional spelling rule song videos: https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/8-great-spelling-song-videos/?fbclid=IwAR26GbZHMrPzrVmpf359Zw03CqL96ALkv5cOdl7gY3ookQWoXQ2STKJe5_I

Dr. Sam’s Final Thoughts

I’m not sure that most practitioners in the reading field are aware of just how extensive brain research around the use of music in the teaching of reading is. What I find most intriguing about the use of songs and poetry is the high impact I’ve found from using “reading to perform”. This is a method that can be used for students of all ages, and it is especially effective for helping older readers who need further development in decoding skills. The beauty of it is that it only requires an investment of 5-7 minutes a day of classroom time. Additionally important is that students love doing this.

During the interview, I noticed Dr. Krauss viewed teaching as both art and science. So does Dr. Rasinski. Taken together I think the ideas of these two researchers can really inform us on how to teach reading in a way that is effective and appealing to students. As a practitioner, Ann Kay is on the cutting edge. I hope this interview has provided lots of new ideas for you to unpack. I also hope you will have a look at Dr. Kraus’s new book. Every time I read it, I find new ideas and insights.

Next week I’ll be sharing my interview with Laura Robb and David Harrison about their new book Guided Practice in Reading Growth. Until then

Happy Reading and Writing (and Singing too!)

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

Copyright 2021 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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5 thoughts on “A new look at Brain Research Part Two- Additional information about the impact of music on reading fluency/prosody: A Video Interview by Dr. Sam Bommarito

  1. mark

    I believe! As addition to my career as a reading specialist, I’m also a professional songwriter and musician. Of course I love to meld these passions, so I compose school songs (announcement lead-ins, spirit (fight) songs, and alma maters.

    Here are two sets of songs link in blog articles, which reading teachers may freely use with their students.

    The first resource includes two videos of speech articulation songs (vowels and consonants) with mouth formations and sound-spelling cards: https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/free-sound-wall-songs/

    The second resource is a collection of eight conventional spelling rule song videos: https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/8-great-spelling-song-videos/

    Reply
  2. Pingback: An interview of Laura Robb and David L. Harrison, authors of Guided Practice for Reading Growth. Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito | doctorsam7

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