Special Learners

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    I’m going to be teaching a music appreciation class this school year with a group of 5 high school special education students. Two of these students have Down Syndrome, one is autistic, and two have autistic tendencies but have differing developmental disabilities. All five are functional and conversational, and all five enjoy music. This group will be meeting every other day for the year for a full 47-minute class period.
    What ideas or suggestions would you have for this class, and/or what resources might you know of to help me create the curriculum for this group? Do you know of other situations where a class like this has been created? I’ve already considered ukuleles, videos, seasonal singing, boomwhackers, and “trash” percussion/rhythm work. However, rather than reinvent the wheel (on a very short timetable!), I’d love to find whatever resources might be available.
    Thanks in advance for any help or guidance you can lend!


    That’s a challenge!! Each year I have sped kids with a wide variety of disabilities mainstreamed in my classes. I talk often to their teachers and paras, have learned a lot. First of all, “functional and conversational” in sped could really mean anything. One of my favorite lines about sped is “You’ve seen one kid with [insert disability], you’ve seen ONE kid with said disability. …. The point is that labels are just labels. YOU have to really get to know the kids and their IEPs to understand what they can already do and what they need to work on.

    However in general yes, adding hands-on instrument experiences is a must; just simplify the assignment / lines. Have them play ostinati or simple patterns while listening to a recording or singing

    You may not think so for high school, but I”m sure they’d really enjoy movement!! (You certainly have time for it in a 47-minute period.) Get ’em dancing for a few minutes each class to some clean pop songs. You might use that as an incentive for if they don’t want to do the activity related to your learning objective for the day. 😀

    In my PreK-8 school I’ve taken two autistic students (LOVED music) and one student with down syndrome (one word – stubborn! but he did love piano) to my room during my prep and they took easily to the piano. I let them play my big Yamaha upright with the middle / “quiet” pedal on. They even love little keyboards which I find for like $2 at Goodwill or tag sales. I have taught them kiddie songs like Itsy Bitsy Spider and ABCs. Once the songs are mastered the kids have SO much pride – it glows from their faces! ….. High schoolers probably will cringe if you try and teach them a kiddie song, but be creative. Find out what they’re interested in and teach them a short melody from a song they like. ….. You might ask for money for a small keyboard lab. Melody adds another level to the musical experience. Once kids realize that they can create melodies by themselves — sped or not — there’s no ceiling for their self confidence. 🙂

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