Total Literacy/HOT Readers is a literacy approach for emergent and early readers developed at Lyman School in Middlefield, CT. Literacy is the goal, and music and movement are infused into the reading curriculum.
The reading program at Lyman School has been strong for many years, and teachers have many strategies and materials available. In the past, most children learned to read through careful teacher choices that matched the childrens needs and interests. However, some children did not make the gains that we expected by March of first grade. The original Total Literacy/HOT Readers program was designed for these children, and funded by a grant from the CT Commission on the Arts.
Music and movement were the new added strategies in the Total Literacy/HOT Readers program. At first based on teacher intuition, we now know that this strategy has strong support from the research community.
Gardners Theory of Multiple Intellgences describes seven ways that we know about the world, or seven intelligences which are equally important modes of human communication:
Gardner states that each of these is a unique language, and every child has a right to learn in, about, and through each intelligence. Furthermore, links between intelligences allow one to be used as a conduit to another, strengthening and deepening understanding. Every child has the ability to learn in all intelligences, however there are differences between children based on both their genes and their life experiences.
Brain research supports use of music and movement for several reasons. Teaching with the Brain in Mind, by Eric Jensen, published by ASCD in 1998 provides the most up-to-date research coupled with implications for teaching and learning. Among the findings:
The arts lay the foundation for both academic and career success by building creativity, concentration, problem solving, and self-discipline.
Schools across the country are reporting academic success through an arts emphasis.
Music education has a positive, measurable, and lasting academic and social benefit; and there is persuasive evidence that the brain is specialized for the building blocks of music. Experience with these building blocks builds brain connections that are necessary for learning and thinking in all subjects.
There is a high correlation between pitch discrimination and reading skills.
Listening to certain music dramatically improves spatial temporal reasoning.
Music activates procedural (body) memory and therefore provides learning that lasts.
Music groups singing folk songs on a regular basis exhibit significantly higher reading scores than a comparison control group.
Brain scans of good problem solvers shows activation in the music, art, and movement areas of the brain.
The emotive nature of music and the arts rewires the brain to make stronger learning connections.
Movement is critical for normal brain development, and movement and learning have constant interplay.
Movement has a strong role in boosting cognition, and makes learning easier for students.
Involvement in dance activities increases reading scores.
Research indicates a link between violence and lack of movement due to inadequate development of the brains pleasure centers, leading to the need for intense states.
Physical exercise prepares the brain to respond to challenges rapidly.
Exercise triggers release of chemical that enhances cognition by boosting communication between neurons, and a sense of well being.
Multitudes of positive changes occur when students are engaged in active play activities.
Sensori-motor experiences feed the brains pleasure centers and keep students coming back to school and learning.
Phyllis Wiekarts research indicates that ability to keep a steady beat is highly correlated with ability to read, particularly the tracking of eyes across a page. Research also suggests that the ability to do inner hearing is highly correlated with ability to read silently.
Frank Wilsons work with brain scans shows that when reading words, the language center of the brain lights up. When reading music the brain lights up like a Christmas tree.
Leslie Harts Proster Theory is built on findings that the brain seeks pattern from complexity, and that simplifying information does not provide the richness that is required for learning. The learner will take what is useful from rich and meaningful experiences, especially when both freedom and guidance are provided.
The first group of 21 first graders received classes four times a week during a six-week pilot study. Pretest-posttest comparison documented the following successes:
Approximately 1/3 of students began reading on their own.
Nearly all students demonstrated increased attention and motivation, both during the music/movement sessions and in their regular and music classrooms.
Children in the group came back to their classrooms with enthusiasm and confidence in what they knew. They willingly shared with their classmates, which changed their role within the classroom. The process was new to everyone.
Teachers began modeling a style that allowed for greater student involvement, less teacher talk, and more hands-on learning.
Teachers became more confident in their ability to use music and movement as tools in the classroom.
There was a ground swell of interest from all teachers in continuing this process, and providing the program for all students.
The spring '98 pilot project laid the foundation for the 1998-99 school year work, and the success provided energy to move forward. Although the program was initially designed for a small group of children, enthusiasm of all students for the shared activities and materials led teachers to want this approach for all students. Rather than being watered down instruction, the Total Literacy/HOT Readers program provided a richness and complexity that had not existed. All of the activities and strategies of the past are still available and used, but this program is a synthesis that brings everything to a higher plane. Everything is tied together in a tighter frame.
The program continues to develop through classes facilitated by Dr. Sue Snyder, meeting every other week at Lyman School. Lyman School was already a HOT School, which means they had support for creating arts-infused curriculum through the program sponsored by the Connecticut Commission on the Arts. The classes are offered for graduate credit through Central CT State College, however many teachers are coming simply for the experience. Teachers from Kineslla School in Hartford, Metacomet School in New Britain, and Staffordville School in Staffordville have joined the group. Teachers represent grades K-5, and special education.
Although the approach is still in development, we can make certain statements about the structure at this point.
Total Literacy/HOT Readers follows a learning process that overlays existing activities and materials. Although we are learning new materials and activities, Total Literacy/HOT Readers is not dependent upon a specific set of materials. It is the process of infusing music and movement through the learning sequence that provides the strong learning structure.
Music, movement, and words are all considered equal languages, and there is teaching in, about, and through all three languages in Total Literacy/HOT Readers. Learning concepts and skills in music and movement provide the tools to make links to acquisition of word language skills. The process of communicating through all three languages makes possible deep and powerful learning. Music and movement therefore are still taught as separate and essential entities within the program.
Each concept or skill is explored through the lenses of all three languages if at all possible.
Teaching is not telling, nor do activities by themselves provide understanding. The learning sequence for any new concept or skill in music, movement, or word languages is:
Describe (in the childs own words)
Label (This is done by the teacher)
Reinforce visually, aurally, and kinesthetically
Assess (really happens at all steps, but is formally assessed for mastery at this point)
Aural experience always precedes visual decoding.
Total Literacy/HOT Readers is not a canned program with a specific set of materials and activities. Rather it is an approach to learning that is ever open to interpretation and variation. Teachers are encouraged to put activities in an order that makes sense, and look at each activity and concept in new and different ways. The process is always the same, and each teacher and class develop it to meet their own strengths, needs, and interests.
Teacher understandings and skills are growing along with the students. Over time this will change, but right now it is a perfect model of life long learning. Teachers are continually looking for new ideas.
Teachers feel they have been given permission to do what they know is right for young children to sing and play. In this approach, however, each experience is built upon for maximum learning. We get a lot more out of each activity or material that in the past.
Chris Anderson, Grade One/Two teacher, says What an effective way to deliver learning!
At this point in development of the HOT Reader approach, anecdotal records provide evidence of most outcomes. With an assessment expert soon to join our team, more scientific data collection has been planned.
The following interim findings this year add to the body of evidence that demonstrates differences between the HOT Reader program and other strategies:
This program is still being provided for a smaller group of students which will benefit the most from the intervention. However, the growing confidence of all teachers in the school has resulted in greater and greater infusion of music, movement, and the learning process into literacy instruction across the student population. Because the approach provides rich and varied experiences, all children are learning and growing at their own level.
Teachers report that the children are farther along than past years. The introduction time for each concept or skill has been compressed so it is available for exploration from the start. For example: short vowels would have been introduced one by one, taking up most of the first grade year. Because they were introduced all together through a compare and contrast process, the children have the tools to start using in their reading and writing. Those who are able are moving ahead much more quickly, while those who need more support are able to practice and reinforce all the short vowel sounds in many ways until they are confident.
Children who can read are using music and movement to direct other children to act out what they read. After the others experience the piece through movement, dramatization, and adding sounds, they are ready to read the piece building necessary skills of front to back, top to bottom, left to right, using pictures, word identification, and finally tracking and reading text.
Use of songs has led to children creating their own parodies. For example: After learning the song Going to the Zoo, a child went home and made up a parody that was a trick-or-treat version of the song.
Children are learning from songs and poems at their own level. For example: A teacher introduced the poem Jump and Jiggle to focus on short vowel sounds. The second graders, however, found letter patterns in the poem that led them to construct an understanding of rhyming words, which they then described to the teacher.
Exploration of ideas through movement and sound is as applicable to holistic learning as to the discrete phonics concepts. As suggested in Dimensions of Learning, when students internalize all the parts they have learned, and combine them into a creative product to show the whole, they are demonstrating higher order thinking. For example: Children studying the life cycle of the monarch butterfly culminated their study by demonstrating understanding through an opera with instrument parts and dance.
The Wednesday classes continue every two weeks. The teachers report that sharing is a big part of their growth. They say it forces them to grow and explore. As a result, classroom teachers are attending music classes whenever possible. Instruments are moving from the music room into the classrooms. The parents association is planning to get Orff instruments for all classrooms for next year. Music and movement are becoming just what they should be a part of every childs regular, normal, all-the-time life.
This program is linked to the following literacy/instructional trends and programs:
Dimensions of Learning
Higher Order Thinking
Related Arts Curriculum Integrated Arts Curriculum
Change takes three to five years to yield results. We can expect to have some hard data beginning in two more years. Until then, the program is in development, but the preliminary indicators are very encouraging.
The intangible results of the Total Literacy/HOT Readers approach will be heard in the voices of presenters, in the videotapes of lessons, and in the enthusiasm of the children. It is difficult to measure joy, confidence, the sense of community, the depth of learning that is felt rather than tested. And yet it would be a mistake to report only the hard, cold facts without the warmth that is generated between the members of this learning community. Teachers report that the children in their class have no idea why only some get to go to extra HOT Reader classes. They all want to go. There is no stigma attached to being part of this program. Everyone is in it together, for as much of it as we can get!
This experiential activity points out how movement helps people learn everything more easily. Movement, beat, and rhyme combine to help memorization. This is also an example of using a whole piece, and aural before written experience. Children need arrows in their quiver before they can begin shooting at the target of reading words. Those children who have little language experience will require a great amount of experience with songs, games, poems/rhymes, and stories read to them until they have assimilated the syntax of the language.
Carly thought gestures would help her students learn this 28 line poem. She was amazed that they memorized it quickly, and enjoyed it. Then the poem could be used for creating a book, reading key words, focusing on specific sounds, and finding the meaning. She worked back and forth between aural experiences and the print that matched. Frontloading a lot of language experience not only builds a vocabulary for the individual, but a shared common classroom language.
Using the initial model, Sharon bravely explored the sound of the letter Y first with body movement, then using the drum, and finally with the song Yule the Yodeling Cowboy. She wrote the first few verses, but the class continued to create verse after verse. They created a book, and performed for the whole school. Those who were able went beyond the task to write other endings for the story of Yule.
Chris had learned that the song Town Hall Halloween Ball could become a vehicle for internalizing words as a precursor to silent reading. The song was learned by adding gestures one by one in place of text, until the song was sung completely silently. After a field trip to the Eli Whitney Museum, a parody of the song was set creating words about the childrens construction project. This is a great example about how one piece of literature can be used as a springboard to many creative activities. It also points out the importance of thinking of songs and dances as authentic literature.
It is a fundamental understanding of learning theory and brain research that the brains seeks pattern to learn. Missy started with a poem, Jump or Jiggle. The children learned the poem then rebuilt it into a book and added actions to perform it. Although Missy chose the poem to work on short vowel sounds, the children who already understood short vowels went further to discover the rhyming patterns and the implications for spelling. The point is that in this approach each child pulls from the materials and activities what they are ready to do. It is neither limiting nor too challenging, but opens opportunities for learning in inviting, tantalizing ways.
The short vowel rap is an example of teacher creativity, then students taking over. The class is creating it together, and it is the process that is more important than the impressive product. Through the process the children orally rehearse the ideas and sounds over, and over, and over again. They will never forget them!
Geese Flying Home, however, is heading in the direction HOT Readers is aiming to go. Reading is a skill, not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is understanding, and the ability to communicate in all human languages. This class is ready to make meaning in the languages of music, movement, and words expressive meaning that touches the head, heart, and soul.