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Doing the Dance to Learn the Words

Brown Elementary teacher Nikki Haitz flashed a card with the letters “qu” on it. Her first-graders reacted without hesitation.

“Qu, baby we’re stuck like glue!” they sang.

Next, Haitz flashed an “aw” card. “Aw,” students said sweetly, motioning their arms like they were rocking babies.

To “ar” they growled like pirates, lifting their fingers up in hooks.

When it came to sight words –200 words first-grade students practice learning by just looking at them – things got even more active. For “around,” they sang A-R-O-U-N-D, making a complete circular motion with their torsos as they said each letter. For jump, they spelled J-U-M-P while shooting invisible basketballs. And with index fingers pointed up in the air, they chimed, “We’re No. 1. We’re No. 1. O-N-E, we’re No. 1.”

For every letter combination, prefix, suffix or sight word, students had a response: a sound, song or phrase and a motion to go with it. The in-sync, phonemic reciting is the result of Haitz taking a reading curriculum called Seeing Stars and tweaking it to include fun ditties and actions.

Seeing Stars focuses on symbol imagery, and students write letters in the air and with their fingers on cards. Haitz previously taught in Kentwood Public Schools and attended a workshop on the program while there. She began working to customize it for her own students, and, in her five years teaching at Brown, has modeled it for other classrooms. Now the school’s 12 kindergarten-through-second-grade teachers are using Haitz’ version of the program, and interventionists use it with older students.

“It helps me remember how to spell it. In the beginning we spell it, and then we sing something about it,” said student Liliana Gibson.

Rocking a baby while spelling “aw.”
Rocking a baby while spelling “aw.”

“It’s funny,” laughed Chase VerMurlen.

Appealing to Different Learning Styles

Haitz said movement and song reach different learning domains: thinking, emotion/feeling, and physical/kinesthetic. During her sessions, students verbalize words, make motions and hear the catchy tunes, which stick in their heads. “Kids learn in a lot of different ways,” she said. “We all remember songs, so it makes it catchier and easier to remember.”

She said her students always learn all of the required sight words — and many learn more than that — by the end of the year. They excel at those words on their spelling tests.

“Our interventionists in the older grade can tell who has or hasn’t had the program. They see that that’s the missing piece,” said Principal Barb Johnson.


Seeing Stars Reading Program

SNN Story on Byron Center Teachers Reading Program

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She 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, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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