Success with Special Learners: Classroom Set-Up

Classroom set up can make a difference in how students with special needs respond during rehearsal.

Preventative measures: Plan logistics ahead of time

CLEARLY NOTIFY: Give early notice of any changes to room set up or procedures before any changes happen. This is especially important for students who have intellectual disabilities visually impaired, or in a wheelchair.

CLEARLY MARK: Mark changes to the classroom set up; prepare students by making signs and giving an announcement before any changes happen.

MINIMIZE VISUAL DISTRACTIONS: Try to be aware of visual stimulation and whether it helps or hinders students with special needs. Overly colorful bulletin boards, murals, or other visual stimulation posted directly in front of certain students could distract them.

BE CONSISTENT: Have consistent seating arrangements and be consistent in room set up. Students with special needs require a sense of security in their surroundings.

PREPARE ALTERNATIVES: Have alternate seats assigned for students who may be inclined to move around during rehearsal. Assign a designated place they can move to if they feel the need to do so.

WRITE IT OUT: Write the rehearsal plan on the blackboard; this will aid all students in general, and particularly hearing impaired students, or those with visual impairment.

KEEP IT NEAT: Keep the rehearsal room neat. Less clutter will help minimize disorientation or confusion for students who like to have things “in proper place.” Excessive clutter can distract and frustrate some special needs students.

BE OPEN: Nothing is guaranteed to work every day with every student. Be open to other preventative measures that might work.

Adapted from “Special Learners in Choral Ensembles: Steps for Successful Inclusion,” Kim Van Weelden, Michigan Music Educator, vol 46, issue 1, 2008; and from Van Weelden’s article, “Choral Mainstreaming: Tips for Success,” which appeared in Music Educators Journal November 2001.


Music and Students with Special Needs
Children with Exceptionalities
Center for Music Learning
Music Educators, Special Educators and Families
Council for Exceptional Children
American Music Therapy Association

Sue Rarus, September 23, 2009. © National Association for Music Education