The field of special education is one that is fast-paced and constantly changing. Teaching techniques, resources, tools, and so on are modified, as are laws, district requirements, and individualized needs of students. In researching, it is essential to consider the publishing dates of books, educational journals, websites, and so on. While some past theories and suggestions on the subject of special education and music are relevant today, a lot of the published material available was written prior to the passing of important laws such as the Education of the Handicapped Act and IDEA. Such information would not be considered appropriate or politically correct in terms of provisions and concepts of the year 2002.
In both the general and secondary music classrooms, it is certainly not uncommon to see many students will special needs. While conducting research, I have discovered that many teachers, regardless of experience, have not had special education requirements as a part of their music education curriculum. Installed in the Music Education program at the Hartt School is the course EDH 120: Psychology of Exceptionalities. Future educators from the Hartt School and the School of Education, Nursing, and Health Professions learn about each of the special education categories, are given suggested teaching techniques, and are required to complete twenty four hours of fieldwork at a placement with at least one student with special needs. While this course was very insightful and peeked my interest in the area of special education, I have discovered several universities that offer courses specifically designed for music education majors with titles such as "Music for Exceptional Learners" and "Mainstreaming and Music." Music educators would greatly benefit from courses such as these; at some point or another, music teachers will have to interact with students with disabilities/special needs in some way.
Throughout my course of study, I have learned that the music teacher "wears many different hats" and has endless responsibilities. In the Fall 2001 issue of General Music Today, author Victoria S. Hagedorn states:
The music educator must impart musical information and concepts that all children should know, as well as challenge gifted and motivated students and accommodate and modify lessons for those with special needs.
While lesson plans greatly aid teaching, it is essential to understand that each class is unique in terms of individual students' needs, capabilities, physical restraints, and general attitudes. The music teacher must be prepared to accommodate to the needs, learning styles, and capabilities of all of her students. It is also imperative for the music teacher to familiarize herself with each special needs student's IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Placement in the music classroom may appear in the IEP as a part of mainstreaming, therefore, the music teacher should fully understand the IEP process and available services so as to provide appropriate and proper instruction.
A teacher should cater to all of the learning styles. These include: aural, tactile, visual, and kinesthetic. In order to do so, the teacher must incorporate as much spoken interaction and music for the aural learners, activities that could involve clapping, tapping the beat, or any other form of appropriate touch for tactile learners, posters, charts, pictures, and so on for visual learners, and movement activities for kinesthetic learners. Teaching to all of the learning styles has been proven to help initial learning, retention, and transfer. In teaching to all of the learning styles, all students can benefit from the lesson.
It is essential to include ALL students to the fullest extent in the general music classroom. "Teachers must be willing and able to devise changes in activities, create special activities, and alter materials so that physically handicapped children can participate and gain musical and therapeutic benefits from the music program (Mark 236)." It is greatly suggested to set different goals according to the capabilities of each student. It is highly unfair to create one generic grading scale; students learn, process, and perform at a multitude of levels. Many children with disabilities have a limited voice range; therefore, staying within middle C to C the octave above would prove more effective in encouraging such students to sing and participate. To engage hearing impaired students, a teacher can use tactile techniques. The teacher can sing while placing the student's hand on her throat to encourage imitation, thus creating an interest in singing. It is said that most hearing impaired students enjoy singing songs because it brings personal satisfaction and shared social pleasure. Singing works in the students' (hearing impaired) greatest areas of disability, including auditory perception, processing and memory, voice quality, production of speech sounds, learning and retention of language, and use of meaningful oral communication.
In the general music classroom, games and dances are very popular amongst the children. Games in which the students create their own movements such as "Pity My Case," "Down to the Baker's Shop," and "Walk Daniel" give them a sense of leadership. While physical limitations can hinder a student's participation in such games, they can still take part in games and dances in many ways. For example, if a child is unable to participate in a circle game or dance, they can be a part of a rhythm section or accompany the class with an Orff bourdoon. In speaking with longtime music educators, I have learned that hand motions for dances can be given to students with limited range of motion. Peer tutors, assistants and buddies may be assigned to greater help the students. In the January 2001 Music Educators Journal, it is said that this "eliminates need for constant teacher intervention or a high level of attention for inappropriate behavior" (Adamek 23).
Depending upon the district and the nature of the students' needs, classroom assistance can be provided. Students with disabilities often work with school personnel including counselors, special education teachers, general classroom teachers, aides, therapists, and paraprofessionals. Music therapists are considered a related service and can work cooperatively with both teachers and students. Music therapists can serve as consultants, helping the music teacher design and administer appropriate lessons and experiences for students with special needs. They can also accompany children with disabilities/needs to assess and build upon skills needed for success, as well as help music teachers to adapt equipment and instruments, simplify arrangements, and offer teaching strategies. Paraprofessionals/aides are also seen in the music classroom when students with special needs are present. Depending on the exact nature of the disability, district requirements, scheduling, and the personality of the paraprofessional, they might participate with the student, accompany the child to music class and leave to plan for the rest of the day, or accompany the child and "sit passively unless needed" (Bernstorf 37). There are many ways of incorporating paraprofessionals into lesson plans and the classroom in general.
General music education provides a strong foundation for music making in a young child's life. Every child has amazing potential in the music classroom, regardless of cultural diversity, physical or mental handicaps, and experience. Today's population is one with increased needs, which need to be answered to accordingly. By providing an effective and stimulating music education for all students, new opportunities and outlets are explored by those with special needs.
***************There are many resources available for perusal by educators and the general public, which have proven to be beneficial in the classroom.