The Rhythm of the Words

Elementary Students Learn Rhythm, Beat to Become Better Readers

Students are developing their sense of rhythm by learning to keep a steady beat

Oriole Park Elementary Schools students walked, tiptoed and froze on cue to classical music during a half-hour singsong session filled with music exercises based on rhythm and beat.

“Snail, snail, snail, snail. Up and down and all around,” they sang during another activity of beat-tapping led by Amanda Knoll, master teaching artist for Mind Meets Music.

This wasn’t an ordinary music class in the Wyoming Public Schools second-grade classroom. The goal of the Grand Rapids-based non-profit organization Mind Meets Music is for students to become better readers.

Roderick Goree and Keegan Ward count along to a song
Roderick Goree and Keegan Ward count along to a song

Mind Meets Music is an intervention program created to increase academic achievement, 21st century skills and enhance brain development, said Executive Director Monique Salinas. Instructors work in low-income schools to improve literacy, this year providing instruction to approximately 5,000 preschool through second-grade students in 185 classrooms at Wyoming Public Schools, Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, Grand Rapids Public Schools and area charter and private schools. On average, schools have low-income populations of 85 percent.

The program is funded by a $2 million Arts Education Model of Development and Dissemination from the U.S. Department of Education.

Salinas started Mind Meets Music in 2009 as an after-school program in Wyoming and Grand Rapids after studying at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and James Madison University, in Harrisburg, Virginia. She created the Minds Meet Music curriculum, based on the Hungarian music methodology, Kodaly and Swiss movement methodology, Dalcroze.

“Research into how music affects academics and literacy has exploded in the last 15 years, with very positive results,” said Salinas, who is devoting her doctoral work to research on the ability of music to affect literacy and academic skills.

Realizing the Need

Salinas, who founded the Girls Choral Academy, an after-school girls program in Grand Rapids, said the reason she started Minds Meet Music goes back to a moment she realized how much her choir girls were struggling. In 2009, she took a group of urban third-through-fifth graders to a performance followed by a pool party at a hotel. The girls had a hard time writing thank-you notes to the hotel manager.

“My heart was really touched. I was really moved by that,” Salinas said. I understood the disadvantages that were resulting from their inability to do something like write a thank-you note. I decided there must be something more I could do besides just teach girls to sing.”

Kylen Tanui counts a beat
Kylen Tanui counts a beat

She knew first-hand from her doctoral work the connections between music and brain development.

“Being able to feel and keep a steady beat is very important to literacy. The way we talk is framed by rhythm. Rhythmof is the basis of a lot of academic things we do,” she said.

“You’ll find many poor readers cannot keep a steady beat.”

At Oriole Park Elementary School the program started last winter with six first- and second-grade classrooms. Positive word spread, so Principal Jennifer Slanger added kindergarten classes this fall.

“Our students have really enjoyed this instruction. Students will come into the lunchroom singing the songs they have learned, often adding hand motions,” she said. “It has also been well received by the teachers. I am hopeful that our students’ early reading skills will be positive impacted by this program.”

Oriole Park second-graders said the class made them laugh and feel happy. “It made me feel like I was going to jump up and down and start dancing,” said Andrea Grzeszak.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2012. Read Erin's full bio

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