Children's reading improved with karaoke software

- Peyton Suor is in second grade and has trouble reading. Peyton is certainly not alone, but what makes her different is Peyton is a triplet.  

Her mom, Katyna Gainey explained why she’s worried about Peyton's reading progress.

"She is aware her siblings read better than she does. We try to protect her, but they read aloud. She hears them and she starts….. You can just see it all over her face. For her siblings to move into third grade without Peyton, I believe that would devastate Peyton," she explained.

Jennifer Cisneros, an interventional specialist at Trinity School for Children, said many techniques have been used, including extra-guided reading, phonic instructions, and small group instruction. 

However, a new, unexpected tactic is helping teachers and students make progress with reading.  The new method is simple: Singing karaoke.

How does karaoke in the classroom -- and learning to actually sing on key -- help kids like Peyton read better? Bay Area businessman Carlo Franzblau said it all has to do with how music affects our brains.

"What I've come to understand is that different sides of your brain light up when you are doing different activities. Singing is the only activity that lights up both sides of your brain," he explained.

Franzblau said he discovered the connection between singing and reading by accident.

"When my kids came along, I wanted to sing them lullabies, and I wanted to do it without inflicting brain damage," he joked.

With a successful mail-order cigar company, Franzblau had the time and money to pay computer programmers to create software that recognizes pitch. The software, he said, helps you sing on key.

He recruited the 10 worst singers he could find for a trial, and that's when it happened. One student's teacher starting commenting on an accidental side effect of using the software.

Franzblau said, "after using the singing program for four weeks at home, the mom apparently gets a call from Ashley's reading teacher, and she wants to know if the mom is doing anything different at home, because Ashley's reading is getting better all of a sudden."

Franzblau took note, tweaked the software to focus more on vocabulary recognition, comprehension and reading repetition. He called it TUNEin to Reading.

"If they are playing a singing game on screen, and they see lyrics over and over again and they keep singing to improve their singing score, they're basically being tricked into doing their reading practice," he explained.

He set about proving TUNEin to Reading works.

"I trundled out to the University of South Florida, where I met this incredible literacy researcher Dr. Susan Homan," Franzblau said.

Over the next six years, Dr. Homan did studies she said demonstrated remarkable reading gains.

"Both the control group and the treatment group started at a low fourth grade level. At the end of the nine weeks, when we went back and tested individually on their word recognition and their comprehension, sadly, the control group had basically not moved. We were thrilled to see that the children that had been using Tune in to Reading went from fourth grade, fifth month to fifth grade, seventh month. You just don't see that. It was so dramatic," Dr. Homan said, adding, “we did six different studies, with 1,406 students, ranging from elementary -- most were elementary -- but we also had middle and we had several high school and a juvenile justice study."

Dr. Homan said it worked -- for all of them. 

FOX 13 News wanted to put this singing software to the test, so Peyton's teacher agreed to monitor Peyton using TUNEin to Reading for six weeks. Peyton read, or sang, for a total of 466 minutes.

Peyton took a one-minute reading test before she started our unscientific study and took the same test after she finished. 

There was an undeniable difference. Peyton's teacher, Jennifer Cisneros, confirmed the improvement.

"I was impressed. Going from 47 words per minute to 77 per minute -- in six weeks -- is impressive. She seems so much more confident and definitely more fluent," Cisneros said.

So, what worked for Peyton? 

"I like singing a lot. And, listening to it first," Peyton said. "It feels like fun."

Cisneros said she would continue to use TUNEin to Reading on a one-on-one basis with students at Trinity.
Hillsborough County tried the software in 10 schools, but is not currently using it. Franzblau said two schools in Pinellas County and 35 schools in the Bahamas were currently using the software.

For more info on how TUNEin to Reading works, visit http://www.tuneintoreading.com

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