Special learners are individuals whose physical attributes and/or learning abilities differ from the norm. Students who are mentally impaired, learning disabled, visually impaired, hearing impaired, physically challenged, and gifted and talented are often identified as special learners. Music is a vital part of the education of all learners including special learners. Music is a valuable content area and can be used as an aid in developing basic skills for all learners. Children learn to learn through music activities.
Music helps develop skills that are necessary for cognitive, affective, and psychomotor skills which are utilized in all areas of the school curriculum. Learners with disabilities can benefit through music instruction, music refines their auditory, language, visual, and motor skills. Inclusive classrooms allow children with disabilities to participate in class and extracurricular activities, and learn with and befriend their peers. Generally before 1975, special learners were isolated and placed in self-contained classes.
In 1975, Congress passed Public Law 94-142 (Education of All Handicapped Children Act), now codified as IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). With the passage of PL 94-142, students with disabilities were to be educated in the least restrictive environment which became the regular elementary classroom. Individual education programs (IEP’s) were developed to meet the needs of each special learner. In 1997, the amended version of IDEA (PL 105-17) was passed. The 1997 Amendments include changes for students with disabilities and their families.
This law ensures that the IEP team including classroom and music teachers must educate and include all children in the classroom. Classroom and music teachers are entrusted to reach and teach all students including students with special needs. To encourage music learning, teachers must provide personalized instruction to accommodate various learning styles. Teachers must provide a learning environment in which all students can grow and perform to their highest potential in an inclusive classroom.
Mentally impaired students develop at a below-average rate and experience difficulty in learning and social adjustment. Music teachers can utilize an imitation strategy when teaching these special learners. One task at a time is most comfortable. For example, techniques such as singing and clapping in response to others are helpful in their learning. Students who are cognitively impaired sing in a low voice. Songs may be dropped three or four pitches to help learners match their tones. These strategies are helpful and encourage special learners to gain independence and confidence.
Learning disabled individuals have difficulties processing aural and visual information. In order to effectively accommodate the needs of this learning disability, the music teacher must determine which music mode the learner is most comfortable with. These modes include singing, playing, listening, creating, or reading music. Students can sing the melody of a musical piece, later once the song is mastered students can clap along with the melody. Learners require extra practice when singing and dancing, and often require cues to help them remember lyrics and dance moves.
Visually impaired students have corrected vision between 20/200 and 20/70 and may require the use of special materials for learning. The effect of visual problems on a student’s development depends on the severity and type of loss. Students who visually impaired need to be seated in the front of the class and often require enlarged aids such as charts and dimensional study guides. It is important to use hands on items to enable the special learners to see with their hands. Music teachers can provide visual aid through Braille music signs, and cut out music shapes.
Teachers must verbally describe what is going on in the classroom at all times. Through the use of visual aids all learners will gain knowledge and understanding of the lesson which is taught. Hearing impaired refers to individuals with all types of hearing disabilities, ranging from a very slight loss to profound deafness. Students with hearing impairments can feel vibrations of sounds. Students feel vibrations through instruments such as drums, Autoharp, Chromaharp, and resonator bars. Music teachers should provide musical experiences in which learners can explore and differentiate between speaking and singing voices.
Teachers can also use visual aids and sign language to incorporate songs and singing. A physical impairment is a physically disabling condition resulting from a health impairment, an orthopedic condition, or a traumatic brain injury which requires an adaptation to the student’s school environment or curriculum. Physical impairments do not always require more time to complete musical activities, but may simply require modified equipment. In which cause instruments can be modified to accommodate special learners. For example, mallets can be attached to hands or gloves.
Synthesizers and electronic pianos are sensitive to touch and may be used for easy participation. Body parts may be used also during movement activities such as: fingers, head bobbing, and wheelchairs demonstrate movement. Gifted and talented children learn skills efficiently, with little practice. Interpret nonverbal cues and draw inferences independently. They often excel in one or more content areas. These students often display a deeper understanding of concepts. Teachers should recognize these talented students and offer opportunities for learners to be challenged and achieve their potential.
Music teachers may place students in groups to compose and research projects using CD-ROM music programs. Music is a content area of the curriculum that strives for the achievement of facts and skills, and provides all children with learning experiences that are basic to learning in other areas of the curriculum as well. Teaching music to special needs requires teacher to utilize diverse teaching strategies to reach and teach each learner. Music teachers need to be very aware of individual learning styles and needs in order to plan for their successful participation.