Success with Special Learners: Steps for Inclusion, Part 1

When students with special needs are part of your group, how do you create a successful learning environment for all students, especially in ensembles? With the right approach, it’s possible to create a rewarding learning experience for all students and achieve the goals you have set for your class.

Find Out About the Kids and Plan Ahead

All students with special needs have a legal document that lists their unique needs, the Individualized Education Program, or IEP. The law gives all teachers the right to read a child’s IEP if that child is a student in your classroom.

The IEP won’t have specific music goals and objectives, but it will list specific characteristics each child displays, which will allow you to take proactive measures to make the ensemble experience successful for all students.

The law does not give teachers the right to know the student’s disability label. This is to prevent generalizations about what the student can or can’t do.

You can find out more about your students with special needs by talking with other people who have worked with that student – a special ed teacher, a counselor, a teacher of another subject. They will be able to share observations, tips, resources, and possibly what instructional aides or other approaches they use to help this student.

The IEP will also list assistive devices that the students currently use in other classrooms, such as amplifiers, the help of a paraprofessional, materials in Braille, etc.

The law limits the number of students that can be mainstreamed in a class, but national experts recommend that the percentage of students with special needs in any one class should not exceed the percentage of students with special needs in the total student body. However, this is not a reason to refuse to admit special needs students. The goal is to create a positive learning environment for all.

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.

–Sue Rarus, September 16, 2009. © National Association for Music Education