Can teaching primary one children music have a positive effect on phonics?

Created on: 06 Apr 2020 | Last modified: 20 Apr 2023

Can teaching primary one children music have a positive effect on phonics?

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Originating Organisation or Projects
EIS Action Research Grants


In recent years, Scottish education has been dominated by the ambition to close the 'poverty-related attainment gap' which exists in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing (Scottish government, 2017).

It is the professional responsibility of all teachers in Scotland to 'improve teaching and learning' by engaging 'in enquiry, research and evaluation' (GTCS, 2012). This is extremely pertinent, as while the need for a ‘holistic’ approach to beat poverty is recognised (Perry and Francis, 2010: 3, see also, Pirrie and Hockings, 2012), it is also widely agreed that professional learning is 'a powerful lever for getting the kinds of change that enhance student learning' (Timperley, Wilson, Barrar, Fung, 2007: ix, see also, Sosu and Ellis, 2014).

Even those researchers, such as Bulterman, who are slightly more hesitant for teacher-researchers to 'aim to solve the problem', remind us that it is possible for teacher-researcher data to ‘help [us] understand [the problem] more fully’ (2008: 413).

As a Primary One teacher in one of Scotland's most historically deprived inner-city communities, Perry and Francis' description of areas where 'up to 50% of children begin school without the necessary language and communication skills' (2010: 5) accurately reflects my experience in the classroom. Similarly, Sosu and Ellis' delineation of a 5-year old from a low-income family, whose vocabulary and problem solving skills are around 10 months behind their more affluent peers (2014: 8), matches the profile of many of my learners.

This is crucial because 'the foundations of learning to read are set down from the moment a child first hears the sounds of people talking, the tunes of songs and the rhythms and repetitions of rhymes and stories' (Fox, 2001: 15). Simply, the foundations of reading extend beyond phonics alone.

Statistics do show that an attainment gap present in early schooling will often 'widen’ and ‘persist throughout the life-course' (Pirrie and Hockings, 2012: 9). Feinstein agrees in the general 'persistence of scores between 42 months and 10 years', but, crucially, reminds us that 'plenty of scope remains for children to catch up' (2003: 83).

In other words, an attainment gap can be closed. This is the space in which it is necessary for school staff to ‘implement research-information interventions to raise achievement’ (Sosu and Ellis, 2014: 6).

In this paper, I will present a proposal for a case study on an intervention designed to enhance children's vocabularies, listening skills and general phonological awareness. The impact of this shall be measured through the children's attainment in reading.