Speech Rhythm - I Am BCU Research Series

Speech Rhythm image 350x263 - Teacher teaching class of primary school kids

Dr Emily Harrison is a member of our School of Social Sciences, and below you'll see her talk about her work into speech rhythm in her own words.

I completed my PhD in early 2015 at Coventry University, and joined Birmingham City University later the same year. My research has primarily focused on the role of speech rhythm sensitivity in children’s reading development.

There is a lot of focus on the role of phonological awareness (awareness of speech sounds) in the acquisition and development of literacy skills, but sensitivity to rhythm has been less well explored in the literature. Over recent years, more research has begun to demonstrate the robust relationship between speech rhythm sensitivity and reading skills, and one of my early papers investigated this relationship (Holliman, Critten, Lawrence, Harrison, Wood & Hughes, 2014).

My PhD research centred on developing a speech rhythm-based reading intervention that could be administered to both beginning readers and older struggling readers in comparison to both a traditional phonological-based intervention and a control.

The book chapter entitled “Towards a Speech Rhythm-Based Reading Intervention” was written in preparation for this research and was later published in a book on Linguistic Rhythm and Literacy in 2016. The chapter summarises literature on the relationship between rhythm and reading, highlights suggestions for the development of training programmes, and makes suggestions for implementation.

My research focused on developing, implementing and evaluating the potential of such a training programme, and reports that rhythmic-based training has the potential to improve reading skills beyond that of a control intervention in both 4-5 year-old beginning readers and 7-8 year-old struggling readers (Harrison, Wood, Holliman, & Vousden, in press).

The research has opened doors for numerous further research projects and collaborations. In 2016, I worked closely with colleagues at Rising Stars and Professor Clare Wood at Coventry University to develop the new Reading Planet scheme which was launched in schools in October 2016.

Reading Planet is a unique reading curriculum, including rhythmic-based activities at the heart of the scheme to enhance children’s rhythmic awareness through exploration of the themes within the books. As part of my work on the Reading Planet scheme, I was responsible for reviewing books, designing rhythmic activities in relation to the stories, and collaborating with colleagues on the design and development of teachers’ notes and guides for schools. I was also directly involved in the marketing of the scheme, writing blog posts and featuring heavily in marketing videos where I was interviewed regarding my research.

Rhythmic activities have since been piloted with pre-school children to determine response rates as a way of informing the development of a full ‘Rhythm Play’ programme which I am currently developing for a larger scale study. I also plan to collaborate with colleagues not only from my research cluster (i.e., Psychological Research in Development and Education), but also from other Faculties at Birmingham City University on similar projects in the near future - Watch this space!

Harrison, E., and Wood, C. (2016). Towards a Speech Rhythm-Based Reading Intervention. In J. Thomson & L. Jarmulowicz. (eds.) Linguistic Rhythm and Literacy (pp. 77-98). Philadelphia: John Benjamins

Harrison, E., Wood, C., Holliman, A. and Vousden, J. (in press). ‘The Immediate and Longer Term Effectiveness of a Speech Rhythm-Based Reading Intervention for Beginning Readers’. Journal of Research in Reading

Holliman, A., Critten, S., Lawrence, T., Harrison, E., Wood, C., and Hughes, D. (2014). ‘Modeling the relationship between prosodic sensitivity and early literacy’. Reading Research Quarterly 49 (4) pp. 469-482

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