The Arts and Literacy: Part Two

Posted by Big Universe on Feb 11, 2013 10:25:37 PM

Last week, we took a look at how drama and movement can be integrated with literacy. This week, we take a closer look at music.

Music and literacy go hand in had. The parallels between the two are amazing. In fact, someone can work all their life to become literate in music, just as one may do so to become literate in a language. You must learn to listen to it, read it, write, perform it and respond to it. This is the same for language: you listen, read it, write it, speak it, and respond to it. In essence, anyone who studies music can become a more effective language learner.

Music Listening and Reading

Let’s first consider the parallels between music listening and reading. When someone reads, there are things they do before, during and after the experience. In fact when we teach reading, our lessons are structured around this format.

The same applies to listening to or "reading" music. Before you listen, you must know some background about the genre, composer or piece. While you listen, you are concentrating on the experience by becoming familiar with the music as you listen to it many times. After you listen, you interpret what you have just experienced by making judgments about the music.

Knowing the background of the music we listen to can be beneficial. We can learn about the composer, the time in which he/she lived or the style of the piece. Learning about and playing some of the instruments that are used can also provide students with some good vocabulary to use later as well as using vocabulary words learned in music class.

As soon as we begin to read a story we are experiencing it. The same goes for listening. The more we listen to a piece of music, the more we remember main themes, hear the detailed layers of the instruments, anticipate familiar or favorite parts and even pick up on new surprises. Listening to good music has the same effect as reading a good story: we want to listen over and over to continue enjoying the experience.

After we have experienced a piece, we are open to interpretation. We think about and discuss what the piece means to us, making judgments about it, the instruments and even the composer. It is in this stage that integration takes place. Your objective for your students will determine what activity your students may do after they listen. You may want them to write, draw, create something, or practice their speaking skills. This is true integration and the sky is the limit.

Writing and Composition

What better way to explore the writing process than with music?! Musical creation, or composition, is nearly identical to the writing process that we teach our students. Just look:

Composing Writing
Prewriting Students brainstorm sounds/melodies for their composition. Students brainstorm ideas/topics for their writing.
Rough Draft Students get their ideas down. Students get their ideas down.
Revision Students ask: What do I want to improve? Students ask: What do I want to improve?
Editing Students make final corrections using a checklist. Students make final corrections using a checklist.
Publishing Students make a final score and perform the piece for an audience. Students make a final draft (book or otherwise) and read their piece to an audience.

Just explaining these connections between writing and composing to your students isn’t enough, though. Going through the actual process of composing can be used to explore and reinforce the writing process. Sometimes students need a new motivation to see things from another perspective and what better way than to change things up a bit and have them go through the same process with a different outcome? A piece of music!

Have students write a short composition using anything from body percussion (slaps, claps and snaps) to small instruments (hand drums, cymbals and shakers). They can compose their own Sound Symphonies using symbols to identify sounds they want all the while, they will go through the writing process from sound ideas to performance in front of their class.

Lyrics and Stories

Of course lyrics are a natural connection music has to literacy. They are authentic texts! Composers and song writers go through their own creative writing process to come up with lyrics-poems that have meter, rhyme and tell a story or send a message.

Lyrics are poems and poems are lyrics. When I taught 8th grade music, I created an entire unit around this reciprocal relationship between poetry and lyrics. We started by looking at the lyrics to Led Zepplin’s The Ocean. (I did not tell them they were lyrics to a song, just handed them the paper.) We read it, discussed it a bit, talked about meter, rhythm and rhyme, and then I pressed play to the song. (And as I rocked out a little, they gave me some looks, but I’m ok with that. ;-) )

The inverse to this would be to read poems to the accompaniment of music. You can do this with so many poems. Shel Silverstein is a favorite and honestly any kid poetry would work well due to the heavy emphasis on meter.

Of course, not all poetry is stricken with rhyme and rhythm such as that. And so it is important to point out the flowing, musical quality that poetry has even if it is not with a strong meter. For example, recite a haiku to sounds of nature coupled with instrumental music or visit a site that showcases poetry slams.

Singing a song is another form of storytelling. Not only is this how epic poems and stories have been passed down for thousands of years, but it continues to be a way for people to express life in seriousness and humor, reality and fantasy – much like the genres found in literature.

I know of a great music teacher who has many picture books that contain the lyrics to songs. She uses them often as a reading teacher would use for a read aloud. Introduces the book to her students, takes a picture walk, sometimes reads through the lyrics and then sings the song with them while turning the pages to display the wonderful illustrations. Often the book will come with a recording of the song to play while you look, read and sing on. There are some great examples of these on Big Universe too.

Lyrics provide another layer of music that can be shared with your students and connected to literacy through poetry and storytelling.

Other Skills Can be Honed While Listening to Music

My favorite way to integrate music into literacy instruction is through Active Listening time. This is something I do with my students each day during snack time. We listen to a piece of music for an entire week and throughout the week we focus on a variety of literacy skills.

  • Visualization - What do you think of as you listen? Is there a story that unfolds? Who/what do you see in your mind?
  • Inferencing - What in the music makes you see what you see? What in the music gives you that overall feeling?
  • BME - Every good piece of writing (and MUSIC ) has a beginning, middle and end. Listen for these qualities in the music and see how they parallel stories you read and write.

Just these three things alone give us so much to discuss and listen for that our time simply flies by!

This is just scratching the surface of what you can do when you integrate music with literacy. What are some other ways to integrate music into your literacy programs?


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Topics: Classroom Ideas

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