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Improving Spelling through. Music. Using Rhythm and Melody to Teach Spelling Rules. In Partial Fulfillment of a Masters Degree in Education Technology and Curriculum. Action Research Project. University of Phoenix Online. Kathryn S. Morrison, Researcher. Table of Contents.

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improving spelling through

Improving Spelling through


Using Rhythm and Melody to Teach Spelling Rules

action research project

In Partial Fulfillment of a

Masters Degree in Education Technology and Curriculum

Action Research Project

University of Phoenix Online

Kathryn S. Morrison, Researcher


Table of Contents

1. Statement of Problem

2. Description of Community

3. Discussion of Literature

4. Method of Intervention

5. Results

6. Resources and References


Statement of Problem

Second grade students in a predominantly African-American semi-urban public school setting are failing to perform at or near national norms in spelling…


Statement of Problem

…particularly in attempts to memorize and use generalized rules when adding suffixes to root words.

swim + er put + ing

drive + er try + ing

copy + ed safe + est


Description of Community

  • Public school system in urban Southeastern US
  • District comprised of
    • 31 Elementary Schools
    • 5 Middle Schools
    • 5 High Schools

Description of Community

In a community of 250,000, only 10% are enrolled in public schools.

* * *


Description of Community

The school for this study has a student population of approximately 400 students, grades Pre-K through 6.


Description of Community

  • 98% African-American
  • 1.5% Caucasian
  • 0.5% Other

Description of Community

  • 95% of the student population qualifies for free or reduced price lunches
  • 25% qualify for special education
  • 12% retention in grade level

Description of Community

Language Arts

Nationally Norm-Referenced Test Scores



Description of Community

  • High degree of reciprocal community involvement through:
    • partnership with area businesses/churches
    • PTA and parental education programs
    • After school programs

Discussion of Literature

Students who have been unable to intuitively grasp rules of English structure benefit from introduction to and more structured work with generalizations (Abbott, M. 2000)


Discussion of Literature

Rather than teaching to the generic mean, students would benefit from teachers who can match their teaching to the unique qualities of their students (Jennings, 1997)


Discussion of Literature

By fourth grade less than half of African-American students are performing at grade level (Howard, 2001)


Discussion of Literature

“If learning structures and stimuli are grounded in a cultural context familiar to students, the potential for cognitive expansion is increased” (Howard, 2001)


Discussion of Literature

  • Foster and Peale (1999) suggest the three R’s of
  • rhythm,
  • recitation, and
  • repetition
  • in order to reach and teach African-American students.

Method of Intervention

Spelling rules were divided into three general categories:

  • Root words with 1 syllable, 1 vowel, and single ending consonant
  • Root words ending in silent e
  • Root words ending in consonant then y

Method of Intervention

1. A pre-test was administered

2. One rule was taught through song

3. Students practiced application of the rule in rhythmic call and response for three weeks

4. A quiz was administered


Method of Intervention

5. The process was repeated with each of the other two rules (song, practice, and quiz)

6. All three rules were reviewed for one week

7. A post-test was administered to the study group


Method of Intervention


– Silent E Rule Song

When do we drop silent ‘e’

We want to add a suffix;

Can you tell me, what’s the rule?

This is what we learned in school:


Method of Intervention

If you see

– ‘e-r’,

–- ‘e-s-t’,

–- ‘e-d’,

–- ‘i-n-g’

But leave ‘e’ to add – ‘l-y’

It’s so easy when you try.


Method of Intervention

Rhythmic Practice

- Silent E Rule

Word: Bike

+ ing

With a ‘b’ and an ‘i’

and a ‘k’ and an ‘e’;

– drop the ‘e’

Add an ‘i’ and an ‘n’ and a ‘g’




Expected outcome:

Bring class mean spelling test score up to 70%,

plus or minus 5.

(net improvement between 9% and 19%)



  • Actual outcome:
  • Pre test mean score 56%
  • Post test mean score 66%
  • Actual net improvement +10%


Although the net gain in test scores did not bring the class average up to 70%, the intervention did result in an overall improvement of 10%.



This improvement was within the margin of error established prior to intervention (14%, plus or minus 5).


Results - Conclusion

The addition of elements of music (song, rhythmic speech, call and response) was effective in improving spelling of African-American second grade students when adding suffixes to root words.


Resources and References

Special thanks go to Patsy Stevens, composer of the three songs used in this project.

Interested parties can find a wealth of information on her web site at


Abbott, M. (2000). Identifying reliable generalizations for spelling words: The importance of multilevel analysis. [Electronic version] The Elementary School Journal, 101(2), 233-245.

Foster, M. & Peele, T. (1999). Teaching and learning in the contexts of African American English and culture. [Electronic version] Education and Urban Society, 31(2) 177-189

Howard, T. C., (2001). African-American students: A case of four teachers.[Electronic version] Urban Education, 36(2), 179-202.

Jennings, M., (1997). Individualize your spelling instruction. [Electronic version] Preventing school failure, 42(1), 44.

Kaplan, A. & Maehr, M.L. (1999). Enhancing the motivation of African American students: An achievement goal theory perspective. [Electronic version] The Journal of Negro Education, 68(1), 23-41.