Learning styles in the classroom vary with the personality and background of each student. As professional educators, we modify our lessons and scaffold with assistance when concepts are tricky. We change our style to match student need. Our best strategies are challenged, however, with the increase in ADHD diagnoses and more and more students falling into the autism spectrum.
We welcome students into our studios, knowing that our background and experience — and often the music itself — will lend hope to every unique situation. Bringing stillness to the storm ensures learning for students in individual, group, and classroom lessons.
Both ADHD and students on the autism spectrum need predictability and stability. Often teachers use novelty to catch studentsʼ attention, however, the more structure a student can rely on each week, the more he will settle into the weekʼs lesson. Students thrive within the bookends of an established routine, even if he needs to leave the lesson for a short break.
Students with special needs are concrete learners and benefit from visual aids to redirect and support instruction and concepts. Musicʼs written code serves as both teaching tool and a picture reference for new ideas. Use large, simple, colorful pictures in the same way during each lesson.
Because ADHD students are easily distracted, both visual and verbal cues for change are helpful. Communicate individual changes to students before class begins so they are ready for the change when it happens. Very small changes, even a new poster in the room, can instill a feeling of restlessness or panic in special needs students. Attention Deficit students transition well, but need more time and often several verbal and nonverbal cues to change successfully.
Itʼs encouraging to know that being intentional in the music lesson with special needs students benefits ALL students in class, giving them a calm, systematic, carefully organized learning environment in the midst of their busy days. The weather of music can create a safe climate for all learners.
Green Brooms Academy in Santa Monica, California, is meeting the needs of adult students. This group class that meets once a week for an hour was an accidental blessing to the Academy and its students. After attending a group ensemble class, one special needs student invited four friends to class the following week. What ensued is a creative, collaborative class of exploration.
A custom-built curriculum is based on song selection. The instructor modifies songs to suit the unique needs in the class, including use of instruments, song structure, and lyrics. Students focus on one aspect at a time, with plenty of repetition, then bring all the pieces together in ensemble play. Using the Roland Lucina AX-09, students can explore style changes at the touch of a button. With its built-in USB capabilities, the opportunities to learn through music creation become limitless.
At a recent recital, students performed their own original tunes and played pieces from standard method book repertoire. Teacher Ruby Biloskirka-Conley says popular tunes by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and John Mayer are also popular in class.
Each week, students explore with guitar, voice, and other instrument tones on the Lucina. Because the students have differing degrees of ability and need, the Lucina is a perfect fit. Students select a variety of effects and sounds to practice and play with, opening discussion about instrument families, tone, color, and expression. “This seemed to be very effective in a setting where verbal communication and expressing feelings are challenging,” Ruby said. “The students had a much easier time finding a tone and describing how it made them feel.”
Itʼs nice to know musicʼs healing ability, through innovative technology and strategic teaching, is reaching all students!