Debra is the current Chair of the NSW Chapter of the Australian Society of Music Education. In her role with ASME Debra has consulted with NESA regarding Music Curriculum in NSW, organised extensive professional development and generally advocated for the status of music education in NSW schools. In 2017 Debra was awarded a NSW Professional Teachers Council Award for her outstanding service to ASME.
Debra has taught music at Carinya since 2003. She established the Choral Program at the school and has incorporated an Orff-Schulwerk Philosophy to the teaching programs at the school. She currently coordinates peripatetic tuition in the school.
Debra is a passionate educational researcher. In 2017 in conjunction with Carinya she was successful in securing a competitively funded grant enabling her to lead a School Based Research Project exploring how direct instrumental music instruction could help students with learning difficulties associated with reading.
Debra completed a Master of Education at the University of New South Wales - completing the course with Academic Excellence, and being included on the Dean’s List. She is currently completing a Doctorate which is examining the impact that high quality Arts Programs have upon the learning outcomes and aspirations of low SES primary school children.
HITTING THE RIGHT NOTE
TO LEARN TO READ IS TO LIGHT A FIRE; EVERY SYLLABLE THAT IS SPELLED OUT IS A SPARK – VICTOR HUGO.
Reading is a fundamental life skill which is a primary focus of learning in schools. It provides the tool to find meaning from texts and open up a world of knowledge and enjoyment for children. It is apparent that despite traditional methods of intervention, if reading skills have not developed by Year 3 it is likely that students will fall further behind and in some cases will be unable to grasp the skills necessary to read independently.
At Carinya Christian School a significant cohort of students in Middle School (Years 5-8) were classified as low ability readers. In spite of the use of traditional reading intervention programs, such as MiniLit and Reading Recovery, there was very little progress in their reading ability. This led to an opportunity to examine the impact of instrumental music tuition as a form of reading intervention in addition to the interventions already being used with these students.
How students “hear the world” has a significant impact upon their early progress as readers. Furthermore, there is a growing body of research demonstrating a relationship between music tuition and improved auditory processing, phonological processing, neuroplasticity and executive function. All of these areas have an interaction in developing pre-reading skills. Enhancing these skills through music tuition may benefit students who have consistently shown a lack of progress in reading.
A longitudinal cohort study was used to assess improvements in reading. The cohort of students involved in the music intervention (n =20) was compared to a group of similar students who were not involved in the intervention (n = 20). Student’s reading progress was assessed using standardised tests of reading comprehension. The tests utilised were the Progressive Achievement Test - Reading Comprehension (PAT-RC) and PROBE 2 Reading Comprehension Assessment.
The intervention was designed so that students would learn a musical instrument over eighteen months. They could choose from flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, and baritone horn. Students participated in 1 small group (2-3 students) tuition and one ensemble lesson each week. The control group did not participate in music tuition. Students were interviewed to examine broader impacts of music tuition on the student including motivation, self-efficacy, confidence and engagement.
Results show that music tuition has had a positive impact on low ability readers. Statistical analysis of the PAT reading comprehension results demonstrates a very large effect size of d = 1.22, whilst an analysis of PROBE 2 Reading Comprehension Assessment revealed an effect side of d = .67. There have also been other impacts from the project including improvements in sense of achievement, engagement and the development of social relationships. All students have been able to learn a variety of pieces of music, with some students even reaching a standard where they could be graded for their achievement. Students performed in ensemble groups at several school functions, enjoying the experience.