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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Build Reading and Writing Skills with Music

As an inner-city elementary school teacher for 34 years, I made up and tested my original curricula in emotional intelligence, character education, values clarification, writing, reading, thinking, creativity, poetry and vocabulary. Call me an educator, developer, researcher and experimentalist in the classroom.

The Music Writing Project

Music Writing is an activity I developed that introduces kids to inner experience: they listen and relax to music for ten minutes and contemplate whatever happens inside their worlds during that time. They begin to visualize mind-pictures, feel feelings, conjure up thoughts and learn to translate them into words. Students contemplate, write about and discuss those experiences with classmates, creating more openness, honesty and sensitivity to themselves, others and the world.

In my eyes, it is just as important for children to learn about their worlds and how they influence everyday lives as it is to learn about the world in social studies. The project is not a patchwork effort like many short-term crisis prevention programs used in schools to plug up the holes left by societal problems such as drugs, violence and bullying. Music Writing can be used as a multi-year venture from the second to the fifth grade and continuing through middle and high school. The process allows adolescents to explore intra- and interpersonal communication and knowledge, including conflicts, negative emotions, problem-solving and decision-making, through the frameworks of an inner eye, voice and imaginary TV screen in the mind.

The student-centered approach, whose motto is "Get into it, and get it out," teaches what I call, the prerequisite fundamental skills for learning and living. See my earlier post about Music Writing for more on these skills.

From Music Writing to Reading-and-Imagining: The Connections

The frameworks and skills learned in Music Writing also motivated a multi-sensory process that can be applied to reading. That is one of the great benefits of Music Writing: kids have used those visualization-reflection-contemplation processes and learning skills to generate amazing images in reading.

My students' responses to a questionnaire I gave them about Music Writing confirmed how contemplation enhanced their ability to find, visualize and reflect on mind-pictures via the inner eye and TV screen, and how this same process benefited their reading. They wrote how the frameworks helped them discover an inside world and improved their concentration and self-expression, essentials for all readers.

In my approach to reading, I define it as a process that changes words into images, feelings, thoughts and experiences: a silent, inner voice reads words, and the inner eye visualizes the words-as-images flashed on a TV screen, in what I call "the mind's magic reading theater."

It's funny, but initially in the primary grades, we teach words (reading) via pictures. Children translate the pictures into words. The pictures are on the "outside." However, as students move to the upper grades, from picture to chapter books, they are not given enough instruction on how to reverse the process, or to change words into images. Many do not get beyond the lavish illustrations found in early books, and fail to realize that, because of their maturity, they now have to visualize their own pictures in the mind.

Reading and Imagining Activities: A Developmental Approach

I developed the Reading-and-Imagining project to deepen visualization skills and creative thinking, and to grow an affective response to literature. I begin with single words (nouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs) and go to two-word, longer, and complex sentences, paragraphs, and entire pages.

For each exercise, I ask basic questions:

  • What pictures do you see in your mind?
  • What thoughts, ideas and feelings are triggered by the mind-pictures?
  • What was your reading experience?

The ideal outcome for my approach to the reading process is a three-dimensional, holographic, virtual reality with kids-as-avatars traveling comfortably through their inner landscapes.

Single Word Examples

Puppy, apple, clouds, sunset, parakeet, angry, happy, smiling, roses, sadness, pen, racing and forest.

Students scan their memories with the inner eye to find an image, observe it on a fictional TV screen, and connect it to triggered feelings, thoughts, meanings, and experiences. Kids describe in detail what they see, feel and think in written descriptions, orally, and/or by drawing/sketching what they imagine.

Sample Two-Word Sentences (Realistic)

Birds fly. Boys play. Dogs fight. Girls laugh.

These sentences might be viewed as "simple;" however, the purpose is to improve and heighten the visualization process by inspiring greater mental, visceral and psychological involvement from the inside out.

Sample Two-Word Sentences (Surreal)

Children float. Trees dance. Daisies cry. Watermelons explode. Students melt. Rabbits fly.

A fun, motivating, attention-grabbing technique for practicing visualization is to switch from real to surreal sentences and to present the imagination as a self-amusement park. Let this exercise take your kids to "where the sidewalk ends." Drop them in the middle of their imaginations with absurdity and they will start to see, feel, think, create, discover and read with re-energized passion.

Sample Longer and More Complex Sentences (Real and Surreal)

  • The artist paints my portrait.
  • The seagulls flew very low so the bathers could throw them breadcrumbs.
  • A thousand people lived with John in his one room apartment.
  • I sat on the beach watching a small wave grow larger and larger until it reached the shore and picked me up in a slow rise to outer space.

Music Writing and Reading-and-Imagining open up the phenomenal worlds of images-as-words and words-as-images, respectively. Kids enjoy visualizing, reflecting and contemplating in the reading-and-imagining process initiated by Music Writing. When taught the basic tools for changing words into mind-pictures in reading, students can re-create authors' imaginations to discover the virtual realities within and delight in their own creativity. They learn to appreciate reading and writing because they have made friends with words. The writing and reading processes, in order to thrive, need to nourish, support, complement, and reinforce each other.

Comments (2)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Jim4's picture

Very interesting, I thought listening to music could improve skills to draw, but never considered it as a tool for improving of reading and writing abilities. By the way, what are the most popular songs so far? Thank you for another wonderful article.
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My money and medicine essay.

Jeffrey Pflaum's picture
Blogger

Thanks, Jim, for your kind comment. It is very much appreciated.

Yes, music enhances many things, especially art/drawing lessons. It works well with kids, but I have also found that music motivates writing from the inside out or intrinsically. The skills learned in the "Music Writing" project, such as visualization, reflection, contemplation, and recall, all transfer over to the reading process. Structures or frameworks such as the inner eye, voice, ear, and an imaginary TV screen in the mind all connect with the reading process, which help kids improve their ability to read as well as grow a passion for reading. Music is played mainly during the Music Writing/Contemplation sessions, and not so much in my reading lessons. Although, I see no reason why you can't play music while students are visualizing the words, phrases, and sentences from the exercises in the article. I know my daughter always played music while doing homework and she said it really helped her with it.

As for the most popular songs list, I will give you the sounds played way back in 1983 and 1984: "Thriller" and "Beat It" by Michael Jackson; "Rocket" by Herbie Hancock; "Girls Want to Have Fun" by Cindy Lauper; "Rock Down Electric Avenue" by Eddie Grant; "Micky" by the Go-Gos; "The Radio" by Donna Summer; "Do I Do" by Stevie Wonder; "Every Breath You Take" by The Police; "Sweet Dreams" by The Eurhythmics; "I've Seen the Light" by Kool 'n The Gang; "A Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler; "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" by Boy George; and, "Rocking on the Radio" by Crash Crew.

One of the songs the kids loved was the hit by Peaches and Herb titled "Reunited." When I played it, the entire class would sing along together, just contemplating the lyrics and letting the words transport them to a peaceful, relaxed state of mind. Best, Jeffrey Pflaum

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