My Story, My Song
By Jeanette C. Hachmeister, M.E.D., LSLS Cert. AVEd
Click here to access a downloadable lesson plan for using song as a language learning tool.
On a dreary, blustery January afternoon, one of my students, a 4-year-old girl, climbed a mountain top. We had just finished singing our song “Let’s Get Healthy.” It was a teacher-made song that had key elements of our social studies unit embedded in its tune. It is a perfect song for a Moog-oriented school because the words were written to the tune of “Brother John,” the best modeling and imitation song ever written.
After we had finished singing the song, this wide-eyed student raised her hand and announced that she had a song too. She got up and started to sing. Her song had elements of our unit and had stream-of-consciousness elements, too. The hairs on my arms stood up. On this quiet routine afternoon this little girl had crossed the threshold that we hope all students with hearing loss cross. How did this occur in my classroom at Child’s Voice school in Wood Dale, Ill.? What did she accomplish when she sang her song? Why is this important? How can we have others do the same thing?
Sharing and Building Knowledge Through Song
When this 4-year-old girl started to sing to the class, she was sharing her knowledge. She had incorporated the schema of information on healthy living. She had organized key information, stored it and was now retrieving it just like her peers with typical hearing. She was sharing her story using spoken language. Because she had experienced this shared information, she was able to sing about it in a predictable manner. Because songs are compact, they can be an easier medium to use to share knowledge or tell a story. My student had crossed the mountain of processing language similar to a child with typical hearing and she was now at the summit by using language in an age-appropriate manner.
Telling stories is how we learn. Stories bond people together. For example, all major religions began with stories passed from one generation to another. In this way, stories foster a “culture creating community” (Bruner, 1987). Singing helps acculturate its participants. If a child learns to communicate in a manner that incorporates the thoughts of her/his culture, then s/he is a part of that culture. Ludke, Ferreira and Overy (2014) showed that singing helped learners learn a new language much better than any other method.
The Importance of Singing for Literacy
If a child with hearing loss processes information in a manner similar to peers with typical hearing, her/his brain will have more time to focus on higher level thinking skills and learning will be easier and matter-of-fact. In other words, a child with a hearing loss will be able to compete in a classroom where the Common Core Standards are being implemented because these standards enable children to use critical thinking skills in their lives.
Strait, Hornickel and Kraus (2011) examine the interrelationship between music and reading in school-aged children. The authors found common brain mechanisms underlying reading and music abilities that relate to how the nervous system responds to regularities in auditory input. This accounted for about 40 percent of the difference in reading ability between children. In other words, music helps the brain remember words. If music and reading are related via common neural and cognitive mechanisms, it would make sense to use musical training and song as a mechanism to improve literacy.
Using songs to tell a story or share a unit of information makes sense. In her book, My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor (2009) discusses the value of singing. Taylor is a brain scientist who had a stroke in her mid-30s. The book outlines in great detail the stroke itself and Taylor’s eventual recovery. Singing was an important part in her recovery process because singing employs both of the brain’s hemispheres, while the ability to speak uses the brain’s left hemisphere. She also talks about stroke survivors capable of singing their messages although they were unable to talk after their strokes. Songs give stories a shape and their musicality helps the brain store stories in a manner that words alone cannot. For example, we can all recall old songs from our favorite artists, but few of us can remember classroom lectures verbatim. Songs enhance stories so that they can be enjoyed repeatedly with little effort. They are a tool that can bring words and stored knowledge to the forefront of one’s lips and attention.
But My Family Doesn’t Sing!
Every year there is a child who looks at me dumbstruck when I and the others burst into song throughout the school day. The child states: “I don’t sing.” To which I always reply: “Sure you do!” I encourage students to move to the rhythm of the song. If the song incorporates movement that mimics the rhythm of the song, the child is learning to focus on the rhythm. That exercise will help the brain respond to speech better (Tierney & Kraus, 2013) and promotes multisensory learning (Gardner, 2000, 2011). The more a child sings and moves to the beat, the better that child’s brain will respond to sound.
Sing, move and share an experience using song as a medium. For example, during car rides, my children and husband used to make up songs about the mouse in “Popeye the Sailor”, which made the car rides enjoyable. Many years later they can break into songs that help them remember a time when all of us lived together and there was a plethora of games and lessons to attend. Songs and the stories that were told in the songs define a period of life for my children. All parents want their children to remember their unique family time and to share in the family’s history.
This Is My Story…This Is My Song
When the 4-year-old burst into song she was sharing what she knew. She was communicating to the class using music in its purest form as a social communication tool between individuals (Ukkola, Onkamo, Raijas, Karma, & Järvelä, 2009). She was making sense of her world and telling others her story. As Lewis Carroll noted, she was singing her story, her love gift. She found music in her world and heard music in her being. Everything can be made into music.
Song as a Learning Tool: Strategies and Tips
Do you have a story to tell? Do you want to help a child with hearing loss learn and recall language in the easiest possible way? Sing your heart out!
How can professionals and parents ensure that more children with hearing loss spontaneously burst into song and demonstrate knowledge of language comparable to their peers with typical hearing?
Last year I incorporated advanced concepts into my Kindergarten writing curriculum by exposing students to the concept of nouns. To facilitate understanding of these concepts, I wrote a song to the tune of “Brother John.” My class sang it throughout the year.
Nouns are people*
And places too
Don’t forget things
People places things
||Nouns are people*
And places too
Don’t forget things
People places things
*An amended version starts Nouns are people and animals…
This song is a vital and invaluable tool when categorizing words as nouns. When the students in my class don’t know if a picture or word is a noun, I encourage them to break into the song. They are able to figure out where the picture belongs without any additional help every time! The class then uses the Smartboard and the children move pictures and/or words to the right category according to the song, which is an invaluable tool for promoting understanding of concepts.
To create your own songs for the classroom, begin by identifying an appropriate tune that will resonate with a particular age group and pair it with relevant concepts. Start with the refrain or chorus of a popular tune. For third graders, I looked up popular songs for 2013 and came up with Selena Gomez’s song, “Come & Get It.” After listening to the song and locating the lyrics, I analyzed the refrain which starts like this: “When you’re ready …” I realized that Gomez had two eight-syllable/word phrases and three four- syllable/word phrases per unit. I then did an online search about the types of knowledge that third graders need to know. I found a site that gave factual information about the human skeleton and created a tune about it. You can make it longer by adding more refrains.
The human skeleton
Provides a framework
It protects vital
Organs to survive (repeat entire unit 2 times)
Oh skulls protect brains
Rib cages save hearts
Backbones save spinal cords
Oh our skeleton (repeat entire unit 2 times)
The human skeleton
With muscles, tendons
Let us move, lift, reach and throw (repeat entire unit 2 times)
Here are some other songs that are educational, humorous and just plain fun.
The Vowel Song (Bingo)
There was a classroom full of kids
Who knew the vowel letters
A, E, I, O, U (3x)
And sometimes letter Y too. (Write the letter Y on the palm of your hand while singing this.)
Everybody Have a Seat (Mama’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin Bread)
Everybody have a seat, have a seat, have a seat
Everybody have a seat on the floor
Not on the ceiling, not on the door
Everybody have a seat on the floor.
I Lost a Tooth - (Ta-Ra-Ta-Boom-De-Ay)
I lost my tooth today.
||I lost my tooth today!
When I went out to play.
I lost my tooth today!
Bruner, J. (1987). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences, third edition. New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (2000). Intelligence reframed. Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. New York: Basic Books.
Ludke, K. M., Ferreira, F., & Overy, K. (2014). Singing can facilitate foreign language learning. Memory & Cognition, 42(1), 41-52. doi: 10.3758/s13421-013-0342-5
Strait, D., Hornickel, J., & Kraus, N. (2011). Subcortical processing of speech regularities underlies reading and music aptitude in children. Behavioral and Brain Functions, 7(44). doi:10.1186/1744-9081-7-44
Taylor, J. B. (2009). My stroke of insight: A brain scientist's personal journey. New York: Plume.
Tierney, A., & Kraus, N. (2013). The ability to move to a beat is linked to the consistency of neural responses to sound. The Journal of Neuroscience, 33(38), 14981–14988.
Ukkola, L. T., Onkamo, P., Raijas, P., Karma, K., & Järvelä, I. (2009). Musical aptitude is associated with AVPR1A-Haplotypes. PLoS ONE, 4(5), e5534. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005534