Since its inception in 2002, the Reading & Rhythm program has witnessed tremendous growth. Over 3,000 students have participated in the program increasing their reading scores by an average of 50%. The Drumming for Your Life Institute (DFYL) trains and certifies teachers and facilitators nationwide in the Reading & Rhythm Training Program. We sat down with Steven Angel, President and Founder of the Drumming for Your Life Institute, to learn more about this successful literacy model.

Kumba: What was the catalyst that inspired the development of the Reading & Rhythm program?

Steven: I volunteered at juvenile halls and detention camps, leading drumming programs designed to help teenagers learn to curb impulsive behavior, and express troubling emotions in positive and constructive ways. While implementing the drumming program at the camps, I witnessed how focused and attentive participants were when performing the rhythmic exercises, and thought about incorporating rhythm into schools. I was invited into a classroom by a 5th grade elementary school teacher in Los Angeles, whose students were struggling to read. I observed the students and saw how frustrated they would get when reading. They seemed to have an “internal doubtful voice” which increased stress levels and caused major insecurities in reading. I spent four months in the classroom where I created the Reading & Rhythm program which uses rhythm to remove the “internal doubtful voices” and dramatically improve focus and concentration. The program incorporates rhythm-making/rhythm-listening and educational tools to help students achieve higher fluency and comprehension scores while increasing motivation and building self-esteem. The students went from having the lowest reading scores in their grade to the highest reading scores in just three months.

Kumba: What are three key components that should be implemented by programs aiming to use rhythm/music to improve reading outcomes?

Steven: Here are three core components:

  • Use rhythms to build critical listening: A rhythmic/music program will help students hear, identify and manipulate the individual sounds in a spoken language. Students will be able to identify rhyme and syllable awareness and blend sounds to make words. A rhythmic/musical program develops sensitivity to rhythms to build phonological awareness in reading development. 
  • Use rhythms to increase multisensory automaticity and fluency: This focuses on allowing the student to gain physical awareness and experience of words through all of their senses, particularly kinesthetic. Our program promotes kinesthetic processing of rhythm and language simultaneously to promote fluency.
  • Use rhythms to accent brain plasticity in comprehension: Rhythm extends ideas, encompasses concepts, and connects language skills.

Kumba: What are your aspirations for the future of the Reading & Rhythm program?

Steven: We hope to create DFYL Chapters throughout the country, where qualified Reading & Rhythm facilitators can go out into the community and train teachers, librarians, and parents in the program to provide the necessary tools to help their students and children become great readers.

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Kumba Sennaar is the National Summer Learning Association’s Program Quality Assistant. Add her as a friend on the Huddle to stay updated on Summer Learning.

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