The Beginning Teacher's Toolbox for Teaching Students With Exceptionalities: Workshop with Matthew Jones
On Monday, April 20th, second-year graduate student Matthew Jones led a workshop that focused on educating special learners, particularly pertaining to music education. In this workshop, we learned about materials and activities that promote an inclusive classroom environment, and Mr. Jones provided several opportunities for those in attendance to engage in the discussion.
Mr. Jones began by defining a "meaningful music curriculum," stating that it needs to be flexible, accessible, and inclusive, and from there we segwayed into the big question: "Why inclusion?" Mr. Jones opened this up for discussion and broke the ice by showing a shocking video of a child with physical and communicative exceptionalities being abused and neglected by her teachers. The footage was caught by a hidden camera that a mother had attached to her daughter's wheel chair. Seeing the way this child was treated by adults who are supposed to be nurturing and trustworthy was certainly a wake-up call for many of us future educators. There are teachers out there who don't have the tools to give students with exceptionalities a proper education, and there are also teachers who simply don't have the right mindset when it comes to inclusion. This is a huge problem in our schools today.
So, why inclusion? We agreed as a group that students with exceptionalities are entitled to be in classroom environments that suit their needs because their social skills, physical/cognitive functions, and self-esteem are all developed and improved through learning.
Mr. Jones went on to identify five types of exceptionalities: cognitive impairments, communication/Autism spectrum disorders, hearing impairments, physical impairments, and visual impairments. From there, we split into five groups and each group brainstormed a bit about how to create a "meaningful music curriculum" for students with one of these types of exceptionalities. After a few minutes, we reconvened and shared our ideas as a group.
It seems that there are many tools that can be used to accommodate more than one type of exceptionality. For example, modifying assessment, allowing more time for certain tasks, creating opportunities for leadership roles, and putting thought into the relative proximity of a special learner to the instructor are all good ideas across the board. Then there are some tools that are specific to each type of exceptionality. For cognitive impairments, we talked about color-coding sheet music to give students visuals, and having students work with "buddies" so that no one ever feels left out. For students with communication disorders, sign language, gestures, visuals, and speech technology can all be useful. Students with hearing impairments benefit from microphones and hearing aids, along with many of the same tools that are often used for Autistic students. For students with physical impairments, we discussed the benefits of instrument stands/clamps, adaptive instruments (such as mallets), and different forms of music technology. And for visual impairments, we talked about the use of Braille, enlarged printing on sheet music/texts, and recordings as practice tools. By using any or all of these tools in the music classroom, a teacher can make appropriate accommodations for students with exceptionalities by achieving the desired outcome through modified means.
That led us to our next question: what tools can we use in the musical classroom to include every type of learner? Before getting to a direct answer, we discussed the difference between accommodation (achieving the same task by different means) and modification (changing the task to fit the students' abilities). Mr. Jones showed us a sequence of videos to further engrave this difference in our minds. One video involved a physically impaired student who was not capable of playing drums. However, with the help of his teacher, he was able to push a button that played drums for him. It was obvious that the student enjoyed playing the drums as he smiled and pressed the button over and over. Other ways to modify intruments include creating instrument clamps/mounts, using velcro to secure the instrument to different surfaces accessable by the student, using non-stick drawer liners on a student's wheelchair tray to prevent the rolling of instruments, and providing students with enlarged mallet handles/grips.
To finish up the workshop, Mr. Jones encouraged everyone to stand up and sing. One piece of repertoire used was Sow It On the Mountain by The Carter Family. He began by singing the piece for us once through, and then he invited us to join when we felt comfortable. He then demonstrated how the piece could be used to foster improvisation, teach about ostinatos, and give students ownership by allowing them to harmonize in a small group. We moved the discussion back to students with exceptionalities and discussed how to use this piece in an inclusive classroom.
This workshop was very enlightening and enormously beneficial to all in attendance, particularly to those of us who are planning to pursue careers as music educators, and we are very grateful to Mr. Jones for sharing his expertise with all of us! The most important idea we took away from Mr. Jones's talk was that inclusion is an essential element of a good music curriculum. Students with exceptionalities are perfectly capable of learning music, as long as they have caring teachers in their lives who know how to accommodate their needs. The tools we discussed throughout the workshop are accessible, practical, multi-purpose, and easy to incorporate into any music lesson. Teachers who stay informed and who are open to trying new ways of enhancing their "meaningful music curriculum" have the power to make a huge difference in their students' lives!
-Juliana Child and Kelly Meehan, '18
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