The Impact of Active Rhyming Strategies

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Action Research by Andrea Wondra

How will implementing active rhyming strategies in a four-year-old kindergarten class impact student mastery of rhyming?

Part I – Introduction

Although this is just my fifth year as a certified four-year-old kindergarten teacher in a small Wisconsin town, I have had many more years of experience teaching children in a similar, near-by rural community. My unofficial teaching experience began as a childcare provider in my home for eight years. As my own four children got older, I completed the classes required by the State to open a group childcare/pre-school. My center was licensed for 25 children where I was the owner, director, and head teacher for ten years.

Later I went back to college as a non-traditional student to be dually certified in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education and had several pre-student teaching experiences. Additionally, while student teaching, I was fortunate to hold a teaching internship for one semester in an early learning center.

Throughout all of these experiences rhyming words were embedded into the free-flowing, natural environment. Nursery rhymes were included in the nine-month programs, as were songs, finger-plays, poems and stories that incorporated rhyming words. Yet, it became evident to me that not all children mastered the ability to rhyme words by the time they went to kindergarten. I would ask for a word that rhymed with bat and hear answers of alliteration such as banana or boat; or I might receive answers of association such as ball or summer. Although I recognized the discrepancy in the ability to rhyme words, it did not alarm me until I began teaching four-year-old kindergarten.

As State and Federal educational standards are changing, and Common Core Standards are being put into place, I am aware that children are not beginning to learn to read in first grade any longer. They are being taught to read in kindergarten. They are expected to read at a beginning level and write sentences by the end of kindergarten. Therefore, I feel that along with intentional lessons for the names and sounds of letters, it is important for me to teach intentional lessons to recognize rhyming words. One of the most useful spelling patterns for beginning readers are rimes (more commonly known by teachers as word families). An example of this would be “at” in the words cat, hat, mat, or rat.

Research Question: How will implementing active rhyming strategies in a four-year-old kindergarten class impact student mastery of rhyming?

Embedding the lesson in other areas no longer seems to be enough. I believe I must model the desired outcome and provide monitored repeated practice of rhyming, especially in the beginning stages of learning to help children grasp this important early literacy skill.

Early literacy skills are different from, but related to reading, and develop along a continuum during the first five or six years of life. (Lonigan, Burgess, Anthony, &Barker, 1998; Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998) These early skills, which include phonological awareness (e.g., rhyming, alliteration), vocabulary, letter naming, and word manipulation (e.g., word blending, word segmenting) are related strongly to the ability to use phonics later on, and are precursory skills for learning to read successfully (Adams, 1990; Hart & Risley, 1995; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).

There is a movement to teach children to read at a younger age and it may help to incorporate short periods of intentional training every day in the area of rhyming in order to move along the continuum of learning in a reasonable, developmentally appropriate manner.

Area of Focus: The focus and goal of this action research project was to increase students’ understanding and use of rhyming words as a pre-literacy skill.

Part II – Implementation and Narrative

Phase I
I teach two sessions of four-year-old kindergarten Monday through Thursday. Because of the developmental level of this age group, activities are planned in 10 – 15 minute segments to accommodate the students’ short attention spans. I knew that any activity chosen for Rhyme Time would need to fit within that time frame. I primarily chose to incorporate rhyming activities into a period of time that was used as a transition from the classroom to the hallway.

My first week’s activity was to distribute consent forms to my classroom aide and to the parents/guardians of my students by way of the students’ folders. My aide signed the consent form on the spot and returned it. Most of the forms were signed and returned by the next day. I allowed two weeks for forms to be returned before I called parents with reminders. By Parent/Teacher conferences a few weeks later, all but four of the forms had been returned and I was able to obtain the missing signatures at conferences.

On the second and third week I administered a pre-assessment of rhyming skills to students using a Rhyming Assessment typically given in our classroom in October and March. (Appendix A) This was easily done and each assessment took about 10 minutes to conduct. One student was absent on all of the assessment days and my aide gave the assessment to the last student the following week.

I planned on implementing Rhyme Time on the fourth through seventh weeks and I created a Daily Rhyme Time schedule of activities showing the type of activity to take place each day of the week. (Appendix B) Each day was planned with a different type of activity but I chose to alter the plan several times as I reflected on the needs of the children. For instance I chose to conduct a musical activity called “Rhyming Bridge” (similar to London Bridges Falling Down) on more than one day because it was a musical activity but was also a physical activity and one type of game. On my schedule I listed Musical Activity, Physical Activity, and Games as separate activities, but when I saw the enthusiasm for “Rhyming Bridge”, I chose to repeat it several times in a single week. This gave the children confidence and was an avenue for students to help other students that struggled with rhyming. At times it was necessary to change the schedule due to other activities taking place in the classroom such as when parents visited for a “Star of the Week” day. We also had to forego Rhyme Time altogether one day because of a field trip.

I had planned on my aide writing on the Rhyme Time Anecdotal Record (Appendix C) for individual student participation while Rhyme Time was taking place, but because of her other duties this did not work out. Instead, I wrote notes on the form at the end of each class period when time allowed. I wrote anything that stood out for that day regarding participation as a group or individual. Although these notes were not written every day, they do reveal some interesting observations.

At the end of each day I wrote a reflection of the day’s activity on my Rhyme Time Activity Log. (Appendix D) This log included columns for the date, day of the week, activity for the day, and my reflections of the activity. I also used the log on days that we did not have school as a reflection piece. I wrote general thoughts of how I was feeling about the progress being made as well as other unrelated thoughts.

As Rhyme Time continued for several weeks, parents gave me glimpses of how their children rhymed words at home. This information is valuable in that the lessons learned in the classroom were being carried over to other environments. I entered this valuable information into my Rhyme Time Activity Log.

On the eighth week of this research project, I conducted a rhyming post-assessment using the same rhyming assessment as that issued at the beginning of this research project. Results were recorded for each student next to the pre-assessment results on the Pre and Post Assessment Form. (Appendix E)

Further data analysis took place during weeks nine and ten.

Phase II
Since the second phase of my action research project was to begin early in the year with a brand new class of four-year-olds, I decided they would need extra instruction on rhyming since we would not have had the prior months of embedded lessons that took place during Phase I of this research. I began by compiling rhyming activities to be used for short periods during our Large Group Time as well as transition times.

Rather than send consent forms home to parents in folders, I distributed them to parents during the first week of school on scheduled orientation days at the beginning of the year. All parents and aides in attendance signed a consent form, and two forms were sent home, which were signed and returned the following week.

I planned on administering the pre-assessment of rhyming skills to students during the next two weeks of school which proved to be a difficult task for the students and took longer than expected. I believe this was due to the newness of the school experience and it was hard for the students to focus on the questions I was asking. I was also interrupted frequently by the needs of other students, which delayed the assessment schedule one week.

My plan was to begin Rhyme Time activities during the last week of September, but they did not begin until the first week in October. I chose immediately to alter the plan based on the readiness of the students in the class being taught. For example, the first three days I incorporated Rhyme Time two times each day. I taught the lesson at Large Group Time and repeated it during a transition time from the classroom to the hallway. Each day I added another element to the same lesson, rather than changing the lesson daily. I decided repetition was necessary for this inexperienced class.

We played an echo game where I gave a word and the children repeated it. We repeated the process for a total of three sets of rhyming words each consisting of eight words. Each set of words had a different rhyming sound. The second day we added marching and rhythm to the same sets of words. The third day we began the echo game with a rhyming phrase explaining rhyming words and proceeded with the familiar marching and three sets of rhyming words. The fourth day of the first week we did not have Rhyme Time because we were on a field trip.

As the research progressed, I again wrote anecdotal notes for individual students when the class period was over and entered reflections into my Rhyme Time Activity Log. I determined from my notes that I would deviate from my plan of different types of activities and instead I would use repetition of one activity at a time for several days in a row.

Although I had planned on including the use of new technology during the research project, a new Smart Board and I-Pads did not arrive in time for the beginning of school. The use of technology during Rhyme Time will take place later in the year. I did incorporate more interactive games, however, with the use of cross-curriculum dice, puzzles and students working in pairs or groups.

Rhyming post-assessments were completed one week later than planned, October 29 –31, and results were recorded on the Pre and Post Assessment Form. Additional analysis of the data continued into the following week.

Part III – Data Analysis and Interpretations
Data Collection Strategies/Analysis and Interpretations

The findings of the data collected strongly connect to what was found in the review of literature researched. Children who are behind in early emergent literacy skills when starting kindergarten will remain behind and possibly be labeled as children with special needs during later years in school. Emergent literacy skills include phonological awareness (rhyming, alliteration), vocabulary, letter naming and word manipulation. These early skills are related strongly to later skills in phonics and pre-reading skills. (Missal, McConnell, & Cadigan, 2006).

There is evidence for including physical movement and the rhythm of language and linking those elements to literacy for young children. A neuroscience educator, Dee Coulter, states that combining rhythmic movement with speech and song will positively affect language development, self-management, and social skills. It also informs us that comprehension of words could be long lasting if children combine physical action with words (Pica, 2010).

Rhyme Time Anecdotal Record

Phase I
The information on the anecdotal record demonstrated which activities were most interesting to each student, rather than giving a score pertaining to their current understanding of rhymes. Entries on April 24, 2012 pertained to the activity of marching and rhyming. A few of the entries for the morning class included, “She just loves this, especially the new phrase I added,” “VERY LOUD,” and “She went right along and yelled as loud as student number 4.” In contrast one entry was written for the entire afternoon group on the same day, “The whole group got right into this today. (Because of familiarity?)” On April 30, 2012 one entry summed up the morning class’ enthusiasm for the Rhyming Bridge game. “I don’t know who did what, but this is a great activity. The usual kids responded with a real or nonsense rhyme word to my word, and helped kids who didn’t get it. Music, action, game – What could be better?”

The qualitative information gained was helpful to differentiate lessons for each student in other curricular areas as well. On May 10, 2012 the activity for the day was a rhyming card table game. One entry indicated a learning style for a student that was helpful for teaching other subjects. “This game demonstrates she can rhyme visually.”

The anecdotal records also gave an indication of when an activity was not working and would not be worth repeating. An example of such an entry was written for the morning class on May 2, 2012 for the use of rhythm sticks, “This was hard to monitor. I don’t think it teaches rhyming as well as marching or rhyming bridge.”

Phase II
Not only did the information from the anecdotal records show activities which were most interesting to students, but it pointed out how important it is to build confidence in children so that they believe they can learn new concepts or are able to convey what they already know. When new activities were introduced, these notes were written concerning one student: October 1, “Watched intently, but no response.” October 2, “Stood up, but didn’t march.” Another new activity was introduced on October 8. The entry for the same student was, “Very hesitant.” After experiencing the same activity the next week this note was recorded: October 11, “Smiling! Whispered rhyming word to me!”

The anecdotal records reinforced the importance of repetition. This is the entry for the morning group as a whole on October 11 after repeating an exercise that we did the previous week called the Rhyming Bridge: “This was a hoot. Everybody lined right up and it went smoothly. I can’t remember who rhymed the words correctly, but was satisfied others from the line tried to help those that didn’t know.” On the same date, the afternoon entry stated: “The kids love this and my aide (name omitted) took some happy pictures. Again, kids helped each other, especially one boy (name omitted). He’s Got It!”

Rhyme Time Activity Log

Phase I
The activity log is another qualitative data collection form. Daily activities were adjusted, enriched or eliminated based on the day’s activities. As a result, the activity schedule as planned was not implemented as designed, but instead served as a starting point. The Rhyme Time Activity Log turned into a teacher reflection form, which was well utilized.

One outcome of the form was to write parent input about Rhyme Time and its influence on their child. One day’s reflection column included this entry: “It was funny when one mom said: My husband and I were talking about friends named Kim and Ted, and my daughter said, ‘Kim, Tim, Bim, Rim! They rhyme! Ted, bed, ped, med. They rhyme! The mom said it goes on and on and on….”

Another aspect of the log that will be useful in the future is that each activity is explicitly laid out so that the same activity may be repeated.

Phase II
Not only was insight gained regarding the effectiveness of activities and their outcomes the Rhyme Time Activity Log has proven to be invaluable as a personal reflection piece. It is a tool that can detect behavioral patterns and can be utilized for teacher growth. Entries were made that could be used in other subject areas as a reminder of personal qualities or weaknesses. Phrases such as, “I’m worried”, “I’m trying to relax”, “I’m reminding myself to breathe!!!”, “YIKES!”, and “… this is frustrating” were entered repeatedly concerning time constraints.

However, positive outcomes followed quickly: “I can’t believe I got all the assessments done this week, but it happened and I can begin activities on Monday. YAY!” “… I do believe I can get it done after all by that date. It will just be crunch time at the end!” “I’m going to be optimistic!” “ … I am comfortable with that.”

By reading the entries and realizing that positive outcomes usually followed day-to-day stresses a teacher log may serve to improve the reaction to other daily stresses in the future.

Pre and Post Assessment Form

The assessment was broken into two parts. The first page assessed the ability to distinguish the difference between the sounds of two words and determine whether they rhymed or did not rhyme such as fin/win or hat/dress. The student gave a thumbs-up signal if the words rhymed and a thumbs-down if they did not rhyme. The second page of the assessment assessed the ability to name a new word that rhymed with two other words such as me/tree or chair/bear. Any real word or nonsense word that a student gave that rhymed with the assessment words was counted as correct. There were eight sets of words for each page of the assessment with a score of 6 correct answers given to indicate mastery of rhyming.

Phase I
The results of the pre-assessment used data collected from the morning and afternoon groups. The students needed to master both parts of the assessment to confirm an understanding of rhyming. The results showed that the morning group of 18 students had an even split of 9 students who successfully demonstrated rhyming skills and 9 students who did not. This meant that 50% of the morning class had already learned how to rhyme.

The afternoon class showed that 18%, or two of eleven students, could demonstrate rhyming skills on both aspects of the pre-assessment. A combined score for both the morning and afternoon groups showed that 11 of the 29 total students, or 38%, demonstrated mastery of rhyming skills on the Rhyme Time pre-assessment.

The post-assessment revealed that 17 out of the 18 students, or 94% of the morning group demonstrated rhyming skills following the implementation of Rhyme Time. Comparing the results of the post-assessment to the pre-assessment, there was an increase of 44% of the morning group passing both parts of the rhyming skills assessment.

The afternoon group pre-assessment results were compared to the post-assessment. The post-assessment suggested that following the implementation of Rhyme Time, 8 of the 11 students, or 73% had mastered rhyming skills in both areas of the assessment for an increase of 55%.

Combined, the morning and afternoon groups revealed 25 out of 29 students had mastered rhyming skills for a total of 86% of the entire class. This was an increased score of 48%.

Phase II
One change was made in the administration of the pre and post rhyming assessments for the second phase of this research project. The use of a thumbs up or thumbs down motion as the way to respond to questions on the first page of the assessment was changed to a voiced answer of yes or no. Having the students say yes or no when they were asked if two words rhymed insured the focus would be on the question rather than focusing on an unfamiliar form of answering questions.

The results of the pre-assessment for the morning group showed that of 24 students, two had mastered rhyming skills. This meant that just 8% of the morning class understood the concept of rhyming at the beginning of the school year.

The afternoon class showed one of the fourteen students, or 7%, could demonstrate rhyming skills on both aspects of the pre-assessment. A combined score for both the morning and afternoon groups showed that three of the 38 total students, or 8%, demonstrated mastery of rhyming skills on the Rhyme Time pre-assessment.

The post-assessment revealed that nine of the 24 morning students or 38% demonstrated rhyming skills following the implementation of four weeks of Rhyme Time. Comparing the results of the post-assessment to the pre-assessment, there was an increase of 30% of the morning group mastering both parts of the rhyming skills assessment.

The afternoon group pre-assessment results were compared to the post-assessment. The post-assessment showed five of the fourteen students, or 36% had mastered rhyming skills in both areas of the assessment for an increase of 29%.

It is interesting that combined, the morning and afternoon groups revealed 14 out of 38 students had grasped rhyming skills in just four weeks, for a total of 37% of the total class. This was an increased score of 29% for the entire four-year-old kindergarten class at the beginning of the school year. Since the morning group had raised its percentage by 30% and the afternoon group raised its percentage 29%, the time of day students concentrated on rhyming skills seemed to hold little importance.

Part IV- Final Thoughts

Phase I
My research asked the question: How will implementing active rhyming strategies in a four-year-old kindergarten class impact student mastery of rhyming? Although the results will vary from one group to another, the outcome of this data period indicates an overall increase of 48% in student mastery of rhyming skills as demonstrated on a rhyming assessment. The evidence supports such a program and the positive impact it has on student understanding and mastery of rhyming as a pre-literacy skill.

As the Rhyme Time research project unfolded, I quickly realized the importance of the use of intentional lessons for rhyming. Some children caught on to this concept rather quickly and easily, while others struggled. The lessons helped students to develop this skill in a fun, and unintimidating way. For the children who had already grasped the concept of rhyming, the activities gave them a chance to practice, refine and expand their skill while also offering an opportunity for them to help other students. This was fun to observe. Those students were an inspiration to the whole class and I believe other children learned rhyming faster as a result. I was thrilled with the progress made in such a short period of time.

Typically a child will hear the sounds of two words and be able to tell if they rhyme as the first developmental stage of rhyming, such as those given on the first page of the assessment. In the next stage of development a child will be able to name a rhyming word when asked, such as those on the second page of the assessment. However, a number of the students in the afternoon group indicated a no answer by giving a thumbs-down to hearing rhyming words, but were able to state a rhyming word when asked. The anomaly may indicate that the children were developing in an atypical manner, or it may indicate that they were confused by the use of the thumbs-up/thumbs-down motions for the yes/no responses they were giving. The next time I give the rhyming assessment, I will simply have children answer with a yes or a no.

I am looking forward to the second cycle of this research next fall. In the next cycle I will be using additional teaching strategies including the use of technology. I plan on incorporating interactive, manipulative lessons using I-Pads and/or a SMART board. This may entice the two new groups of students. I will also incorporate more games using dice and rhyming partners that may help them get to know each other.

Phase II
The focus and goal of this action research project was to increase students’ understanding and use of rhyming words as a pre-literacy skill and asked the question: How will implementing active rhyming strategies in a four-year-old kindergarten class impact student mastery of rhyming? Using data compiled during four weeks of intentional rhyming activities during a daily Rhyme Time the number of students who mastered rhyming increased a total of 29%.

At the end of Phase II of this research project, 37% of the four and five-year-olds participating in the program fully grasped the concept of rhyming. The total percentage of students who could rhyme is significant in that the second phase of the research took place at the beginning of the year in a classroom of students who had never before attended a public school. The newness of their circumstances could have greatly impacted the results. It is true there was not as large of an increase percentage wise in mastery of rhyming as there had been during Phase I of the research (29% compared to 48%). However, it is important to point out that the total number of students with rhyming skills at the conclusion of Phase II in the last week of October, was within one percentage point (37% versus 38%) of the beginning number of students who could rhyme during Phase I of the research at the end of the previous March. This means it took approximately five more months for about the same percentage of students in Phase I to master rhyming skills using only embedded lessons compared to the students receiving daily intentional rhyming lessons in Phase II.

In conclusion, after two cycles of research, using four different groups of students during two different times of the day and conducting one research cycle at the beginning of the school year and one cycle at the end of the school year, the data obtained clearly indicates that implementing active rhyming strategies in a four-year-old kindergarten class will positively impact student mastery of rhyming.

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