A music educator uses music to teach comprehension reading skills

By on June 30, 2014

Nani Bullock is a music educator in the Franklin Public School District in Wisconsin. Nani just completed her Literacy Leaders training this past June. She has worked with LiteracyTA for the past two years. She teaches general music to students in grades K-3. Nani loves her students and tries to find new ways to help them learn how to read and play music. She is an inspiration to us at LiteracyTA. She is a very innovative and passionate teacher.

Nani Bullock
Nani Bullock
Here are some of the skills and strategies from LiteracyTA that Nani adapted for her students. We hope content area teachers and elective teachers can see how academic literacy skills can be taught in any class.

Writing in the Margins

During our unit on musicals, students watch a video of a musical (which is done over several class periods) and write down three different connections, responses, or questions on sticky notes. During the last 10 minutes or so of class, the students get with a partner or small group and discuss what they wrote on their sticky notes. If they wrote down a question, they discuss possible answers. If there is time, I let the groups share with the whole class. We discuss answers to any questions they might have asked. The students post their sticky notes on my window as they leave the classroom.

I showed a video of The Sound of Music to 3rd grade and here are examples of questions they asked: What is Hitler’s religion? Why is the musical called The Sound of Music? Why weren’t the Von Trapp children allowed to sing? Why did the nuns stay behind the iron gate at the wedding? These questions provided for some very interesting and enlightening discussions for the students and myself. I have seen The Sound of Music too many times to count and never questioned why the nuns stayed behind the iron gate! I had to google the answer because I had no idea why the nuns did this.

Marking a Text

I tried something different this year with my 3rd grade students when it came time to prepare music for our concert. I had them mark their music. Marking a text is very different when using sheet music. Instead of numbering paragraphs, students numbered the measures for the entire song even if some of the measure numbers were already given. I modeled this process on the smart board using the same music the students had. We marked dynamics, breathing, repeat signs, 1st and 2nd endings, and any other musical terms or symbols that were essential in learning to read the music from beginning to end. I used the standard markings that are universal in music. I hadn’t planned to explain what each term or symbol meant while we were marking the music, but the students were so curious about the terms and symbols we were marking that I took the time to discuss each one as we progressed. I was blown away by their questions and interest!

While it was a painstaking process to complete this activity with all three of my classes over multiple class periods, it was well worth the effort. The students were completely engaged and really reading the music rather than just looking at the lyrics. I was really worried that they weren’t going to be fully prepared for our concert because of the time spent doing this. (It took about 4 classes because I broke it down into chunks and did other music activities as well). Not only were my students fully prepared, but they were ready to perform three weeks in advance of our concert! I was able to use the remainder of time to further polish performance techniques, artistry, and choreography. I have never had a group of 3rd grade or older students prepare music as fast as these students did! I have no doubt that the time taken to really study the music had a huge impact on this end result which came across successfully in their concert performance.

LiteracyTA is grateful for Nani's work and happy she decided to share it with us and our community of inspired educators. Next week, we will share how Nani used Investigative Reading and other literacy skills on Literacyta.com to help her students practice close reading skills with sheet music.

Interested in sharing your experiences with our community of educators? Have you had success with skills on LiteracyTA? Join the conversation below or send us your stories and we share them in our weekly eCoach.

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Literacy Standards In Action

We've mapped our literacy lessons and reading, speaking, and writing skills to state standards, Common Core, and NGSS. The standards are "the what" to teach. Our lessons are "the how" to meet the expectations defined by the standards. Click on the links below to view our quick reference table that maps standards to literacy lessons.

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; and cite specific evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
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