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31 May 2012

Singing in reading class

One of my favorite memories of third grade is of the class singing, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” by John Denver (with her record player, not CD)
image from google image search
We would sing a different song or read a poem out of our teacher-made songbook every morning before instruction started.  I figured it was just because Mrs. Borntreger liked John Denver songs and Robert Frost poetry.  It wasn’t until 20 years later, when I saw Mrs. B in the grocery store and told her of my memory that she looked at me and said, “Well you know why I did that, right?  It was to teach you fluency.”  


At that time, I hadn’t started any coursework in reading education, so I didn’t really know how important being a fluent reader was to being a successful reader.  

(Reading fluency is “the ability to read accurately, quickly, expressively, with good phrasing, AND with good comprehension.” Rasinski)

It wasn’t long after that I did start coursework, and also happened to be lucky enough to see Dr. Timothy Rasinski speak at the Virginia State Reading Association Annual Conference about fluency.  He spoke about oral fluency being a strong predictor of silent reading / comprehension skills.  

Three components that make a fluent reader are: accuracy and automaticity in word recognition and reading for meaning (Rasinski)

Dr. Rasinski said that one of the best ways to teach fluency is by singing songs, reading poems and doing readers theater.  Let's face it, those timed repeated readings, Quick Reads, and Aimsweb are lame and I hate listening to them.  However, hello Mrs. B!  You really did know what you were talking about!  

Armed with Dr. Rasinski’s information, and my memories of 3rd grade, I decided to try this out with my 5th grade students last year.  I spent hours making up little song and poetry books; getting lyrics to songs that I didn’t think they would know (side note--one of our favorites was “When the Red Red Robin”); looking up clips on youtube; and singing with the students at least one song a day.  

At first, they thought it was kind of dumb and the songs were lame.  I used oldies, oh well.  But by the 3rd day, they were asking for song time.  “Can we sing that bob-bob-bobbing song today, Mrs. Furmans?”  

And, I started to see an increase in their oral fluency.  I didn’t keep track of the numbers to say definitively that this increased their fluency, but I can tell you that I observed more fluent readers, readers that were more apt to try and sound out a word rather than guess,readers that had a better vocabulary, and readers that were more confident.  

Do I think that my students realized they were becoming better and more fluent readers?  No.  I’m sure they thought it was just happy fun time.  Did I observe them become better, more confident readers?  Yes.  Am I going to do this next year with a new batch of students?  You betcha.  

Link to presentation

Tim Rasinski “Camp Read A-Lot” Poems (and songs)

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