The Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (CTTL) continued its elementary academy for the third day, with us further diving into Mind Brain Education (MBE).

Focus on Reading

Dan Willingham led an excellent deep-dive session titled “Everything Scientists Know About the Teaching of Reading.” This talk was divided into Decoding, Fluency, Comprehension, and Motivation. Dan spoke to how children learn to read and the myths about reading.

As an elementary music educator, I had the following takeaways:

  • Aural language is observed everywhere in every culture. And, children learn it without any instructions. So, spoken language is a natural process.
    • If you replace “spoken language” in that sentence above with “singing”, I feel that we have read the research that it too, would be a natural process.
  • Fluency develops through practice.
  • Teaching reading is not just a matter of teaching the mechanics of reading…background knowledge fuels comprehension so curriculum matters!
    • This was a very interesting statement and eye-opening one for me. It reminded me that the students needed a connection in order to comprehend what they are reading.
    • This can translate to bringing in more supportive reading activities into music class to reinforce and enhance the skill.
    • It also reminds me that music for my students is similar in the way that when they understand the song, and the lyrics they are singing or the show/movie the song comes from, they have a better connection to it. When my fourth graders study the Revolutionary War, and then we learn the educational version of “My Shot” from Hamilton, if I address the lyrics in a way that it relates to what they are learning in their classroom, it means something more to them. Plus, they perform it with a lot more feeling and heart.
  • Consistency of the curriculum is key across schools because of student mobility.
    • For the music classroom, this means that how reading is being addressed and taught in the classroom, should be consistent in the music classroom.

Q and A about Reading

Dan ended the talk by answering questions that the teachers had about reading. There were some answers that made me stop and think more about the topic.

  • When asked about ebooks versus textbooks for students (tech vs text), Dan felt that though the tactile cue of placing a bookmark into a book is meaningful to a child, having an ebook does not affect their comprehension.
  • When asked about if learning to read at a young age is better than an older age, he states quite matter of factly that if your child learns to read at the age of six and another child learns to read at the age of seven, then your child will be reading one year longer than the other child. However, that will not affect them when they are 12 or 15 years old. Plus, it also means that they might have missed out on something at the age of six because they were focusing so much on learning to read at that moment.
  • Finally, learning to read at an earlier age does have the benefit of the possibility of seeing a struggle that can be intervened sooner than later.

Want to learn more?

I will continue blogging my thoughts on this deep-dive. However, the best place to begin is to check out and to read Neuroteach. Finally, if you can ever catch a session presented by Dr. Missy Strong about music and neuroplasticity, I would highly recommend attending it. I have attended a few of her sessions on this topic in the past, and it helps me to understand how students learn music from the youngest of ages.

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