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Elementary teachers often have plans that are structured in a certain order, in which activities have a proscribed amount of time, and which include specific learning goals for the day or specific expected responses.

In an MLT early childhood music class, children are given constant opportunities to respond through vocalization/singing, movement, chanting, or improvisation, and their ideas are sought for how to structure activities (e.g., How can we move? What color should we paint?

What animal can we pretend to be?). Teachers engage individual students in improvised sung, chanted, movement, or percussion conversational exchanges that are structured to foster individual musical development at the level the child demonstrates. Any response is incorporated into improvised musical conversations or even adapted into the musical activity material by the teacher, but there is no praise or other form of evaluation. It is acceptable and expected that some children may simply absorb the musical environment, and there is no “right” response. This child-centered, play-based musical exploration is different from typical elementary music instruction. In most elementary music classrooms, there is an expectation of participation and correct or appropriate response. Many of these differences in instructional style simply reflect the cognitive development of older children, larger class sizes in elementary settings, and the specific curricular goals that are a part of formal schooling.

According to the MLT early childhood model, music instruction optimally would start at birth, so expected responses vary from involuntary vocalizations or movements to purposeful physical or vocal responses, and could even include accurate, recognizable musicking such as moving to a beat or singing (Gordon, 2003). The following fictionalized anecdote synthesizes moments from several observations to allow the reader to “experience” Ms. Davis’s method of informal instruction, with particular focus on Zack and Katie in this setting.

Ms. Davis starts singing: “Look who’s here, it’s a friend of mine.” This song incorporates each student’s name, and the student who is named accompanies the song on an instrument. Today, it is bongo drums, and Zack plays first. The instrumentalist also gets to choose how the other students move. Zack wants them to move like a pirate (swinging a bent arm, squinting an eye, and saying “argh” after each phrase of the song). He shows this movement rather than verbalizing; he rarely speaks. His playing on the drum seems random, unrelated to the song.

The students are seated in a circle, and the three paraprofessionals are dispersed around the circle, seated on the floor next to students who need the most physical and social assistance. At the end of the song, Zack chooses Maya to have the next turn, and takes the bongo drums over to her. Maya asks the students to wiggle their eyebrows as their movement, and she plays the bongos on the beat. Eyebrow wiggling looks funny and it’s hard to sing and wiggle your eyebrows. The adults giggle along with the students.

This song is familiar, and many students sing. Singing abilities vary widely:

Anna sings loudly and accurately. Katie drones the words in a speaking-voice monotone.

Other students (Austin and Claire) sometimes respond with grunting vocalizations, and still others, such as Zack, are silent. All three paraprofessionals sing and model the movements, and seem enthusiastic even on the eleventh time through the song.

–  –  –

gym and he is worried he missed it. Ms. Davis continues the activity, and one of the paraprofessionals talks to Chuck about how he has to participate. By now, everyone has taken a turn with the bongo drum, except Austin gives up his turn because he won’t take

–  –  –

play with a ball. Ms. Davis puts the bongos away and starts “Roll the ball like this,” a song in minor that incorporates a ball as the prop. She did not plan to sing this song today, but it succeeds in pulling Chuck back into participation.

Ms. Davis used informal music instruction based upon MLT for her self-contained CI classes. The above anecdote demonstrated her use of student ideas (how to move, whose turn would be next, etc) and incorporating unplanned activities to draw a student back into the group (Roll the ball like this). In her informal teaching, Ms. Davis allowed for a variety of group musical responses, such as singing and movement, as well as individual responses such as playing the drums, improvised sung or chanted “conversations,” and singing when cleaning up.

Ms. Davis told me over lunch that she is expected to teach social skills during CI music classes.

Therefore, she incorporated an emphasis on socialization goals—learning each other’s names, taking turns, passing things nicely to each other, participation, and following directions. This presented some difficulties, because Ms. Davis preferred to adhere to the informal music making ideal of voluntary participation, but the CI room goals included encouraging maximal participation for each student (CD Think Aloud, p. 17).

Ms. Davis had ample reason to incorporate informal music instruction based upon MLT for her self-contained CI classes. MLT’s early childhood teaching methods were not simply intended for children under a certain age, but were designed for students in music babble—those who could not yet audiate—regardless of chronological age (Gordon, 2003 pp. 108-111). The immersion activities may be used with students of any age who struggle with matching pitch or finding beat, so they are age-appropriate for this specific group of upper elementary CI students.

Furthermore, MLT early childhood music instruction provides a framework for music learning at the musical and cognitive functioning level of these students. The CI students were not only lacking audiation skills, but they were also between the ages of 6 months and 3 years in terms of their cognitive functioning. Several students in the CI class did not speak, and this early childhood approach incorporates and values the responses of nonverbal participants. Although MLT early childhood instructional methods are not specifically intended for elementary-aged special education populations, Ms. Davis is not the only teacher to apply them in this way; there is support for this approach in the literature (e.g., Gruber, 2007; Griffith, 2008; Stringer, 2004).

Paraprofessionals. I was struck by the musicality and professionalism of the three paraprofessionals who accompanied the eleven CI students when they attended music. During my first observation of the CI class I wrote, “The paraprofessionals sing well and they are skilled with facilitating good behavior. They have a good sense of humor” (CD Field Notes 4/19, p. 2).

I asked Carrie about how she facilitated this:

Let’s see… I have just pulled [Joan] aside a few times and said, “In music time, thank you so much for keeping behavior [under control], can you model the singing for them, too?” And some days [when she is starting a conversation with another adult], I will just stop and say, “Are we ready?” and she goes—“Oh, sorry.” …I’ve thought, oh my gosh, sometimes… They talk SO MUCH, when it is really just a little here and there. But then, I go in their room, [and] they are CONSTANTLY talking. Like, that is just the atmosphere in there. In some ways, I can tell they are trying really hard to keep that under wraps… Janine, just one day said, “Now, some teachers don’t like us to do anything and sit in the corner, some like us to sit with the kids, and some like us to do what the kids are doing, and some like us to help them but not sing, what do you want?” And I said, “Well, here is what I would love.” “OK.” And she is just so natural… And then, Sharon came in, and the first time she came to my room, I was ready to say, “Hi, this is what we do…” And she said “Now, you tell me exactly what to do, and if I am doing it wrong, I don’t care if I have been here for three months, you bust me on it!” She’s been GREAT (CD Think Aloud, p. 13-14).

It seems that Ms. Davis’s success working with CI students is due in part to excellent paraprofessionals with whom she has negotiated for a positive classroom environment. The paraprofessionals are trusted partners who are valued for their knowledge of the individual students’ physical, behavioral, social, and academic needs. They are expected to facilitate appropriate musical and social behavior by providing an excellent model.

Carrie fosters a 11 Clarification based on observation and conversation with Carrie and the paraprofessionals:

Most of the CI students are nonverbal, so the adults in the CI classroom talk and laugh with one another as they deliver physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language programming or teach life skills such as toileting, self-feeding, manipulating objects, etc.

collaborative professional environment in which she invites participation from the paraprofessionals and communicates with them about any concerns she might have.

Social mainstreaming vs. inclusion. In social mainstreaming, “Students with severe disabilities are included during regular education… with the goal of providing social interaction with nondisabled peers rather than mastering academic concepts” (Adamek & Darrow, 2005, p.

50). That is, material presented during music instruction might not be accessible to the student with special needs, but music learning is not the goal of social mainstreaming. In contrast, inclusion entails “the [music] teacher collaborat[ing] with special education experts for adaptation ideas and support” (p. 50). In an inclusive model, music activities and curriculum are adapted so that students with special needs also progress musically. When Zack and Katie attended music with their fourth grade class, whole-class singing and some other whole-group instructional activities, such as playing boomwhackers on chord roots, proceeded without observable differentiation other than the paraprofessional who accompanied them (e.g., CD Field Notes 4/21, p. 2).

However, during recorder instruction, Zack used bells tuned to chord roots or melody (depending on the song being played) and harmonized or played the song the rest of the class was playing (e.g., CD Field Notes 4/19, p. 1). He played the bells by striking a button on the top of the bell with the palm of his hand, resulting in a pleasant, mellow sound, and accurate playing was facilitated by color-coded notation and the assistance of a paraprofessional. Ms. Davis stated that neither Zack nor Katie had the fine motor skills or academic capability for the recorder playing or music reading expected from the rest of the class, which was why Zack was playing bells and using alternative color-coded notation (CD Think Aloud, p. 9). Despite this acknowledged lack of prerequisite skills, Katie played recorder. I noted that she was often offtask, and when she “played,” she was clearly not accurate in her fingerings, or even covering any holes (CD Field Notes 4/19, p. 1).

When I asked why Ms. Davis had adapted her instruction for Zack and not Katie, she told me that Katie’s parents did not want her to do anything different than her peers in music (CD Think Aloud, p. 10). Zack’s parents responded differently to the suggestion of an alternate

music curriculum:

They were thrilled. I think partially they didn’t want to have a recorder at home, being hooted on… They asked… “Is there anything else [other than recorder] we can do?” …I said, “Well, actually, yeah. I was thinking of a couple of different things that we can do...

I am not just going to have him wave a stick and pretend he is conducting, if that is what you are worried about…” And they [said] “Yeah, do whatever he can do to be

–  –  –

teacher… “We are a little worried about the program [performance] when it comes up, is he going to stick out like a sore thumb?” …And [the teacher] said, “Well, Ms. D. will make sure that it seems like a natural blend.” And then our handbells were on back order, and all we had was his set… And I had called them and said, “I don’t know what to do… And they said “No! You know what… He is loving the bells, and that’s his

–  –  –

needs] have to fight. It seems like there is a spectrum of acceptance. Sometimes… I think that with Katie’s parents, [they feel like] she can hold a recorder—she can look like everyone else… (CD Think Aloud, p. 10-11).

Often, the parents of a student with special needs control what services their child receives, including whether an adapted curriculum is provided, regardless of the teacher’s opinion regarding the educational soundness of this decision. In this case, Ms. Davis must and did abide by parents’ wishes.

I mentioned another fourth grade student, Abigail, in the course of our think aloud, because I noticed that she rarely played her recorder in class (e.g., CD Field Notes 5/3 p. 3).

When I asked about it, Carrie reported that Abigail struggled with fine motor coordination and a learning disability that affected her music reading skills (CD Think Aloud, p. 11). Abigail

qualified for special education services, but her parents did not want her to be labeled:

[Since kindergarten] they’ve refused… specific like pull-out things. It was just this year that she started to be able to go to the resource room. Originally [her teachers] wanted her in the resource room for a half day when she was younger, to try to [help her]… They are still trying to crack the code as to what [is going on]... But, [her parents] have refused the extra help. So, she just has had a little bit of pull out help and a lot of adapting by the classroom teacher. [Her parents] still want her tested at the level of the other fourth

–  –  –

When Ms. Davis suggested a possible alternative to playing the recorder, Abigail’s parents stated they wanted Abigail to do the same as everyone else in music class.

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