Hi friends, 

This week I am elated to share my guest blogger, P. Eric Bottorff. I saw Eric present on his Special Education students a few years ago at MMC and how he breaks it down is some of the more brilliant as well as nurturing ways I’ve seen classes put together for Special Education students. I wish I had seen him present when I had a self-contained Special Education class so I thought I’d ask him to share his knowledge with all of you. I hope that you find this amazing article as informative and helpful as I have! At the end of Eric’s post, I’ve got some more resources linked for you as well.

Melissa Stouffer-1

I have 10 special education classes on my roster and they are my favorite part of the day. Like most music educators, my only special education training was an undergraduate class where we learned the initialisms ASD, IEP, 504, and the concept of differentiation. It has taken time to feel like I have gotten my groove and to feel pride in what my students are learning when they leave my class. In this post, Im going to lay out the most two most important of the strategies that I have enacted as part of my lesson planning: the visual schedule and
consistent structure.
One thing to note is the concept of Universal Design: What works for a student with disabilities works for all students. Even if you don’t teach self-contained special education classes, you may still benefit from special education approaches.

The Structure

Your students need structure and consistency. Common wisdom around students with special needs is that they will desperately cling to consistency and familiarity. A special education coordinator colleague once told me “it takes 15 perfect repetitions for our students to feel at ease with a procedure.” This was one of the key points in establishing my lesson structure. Initially, I struggled to figure out how to involve, not just include, the children who presented as non-verbal.

The structure I am presenting is not magic in its own, take or replace any part that does not fit your style. The magic is in the structure and the visual nature.

My classes meet for 45 minutes, once a week. I have found that 8-10 activities can fill this time easily. I’ve planned out my activities so that they can be adapted to nonverbal students, students with motor differences, students who are overstimulated by touch.

Looking at the visual schedule below, you can see the structure I use. Every class has the same type of activity, but the songs change roughly once a month. Each lesson, I add a touch more student independence. When choosing activities, pull songs and games from the grade level equivalents that you are teaching in your general ed classrooms. As students make transitions to their new Least Restrictive Environment, we don’t want them to be automatically behind because you were teaching them like a pre-schooler.

My Lesson Breakdown

1) Voice warm-up
⁃ Follow the line on LineRider.com, vocal sirens, etc.

2) Echo song
⁃ Tip: start out with songs like “John the Rabbit” where students don’t have to copy you but just sing one phrase or point.

3) Pattern Instruction
⁃ Toss a bean bag to each student and have them echo a rhythmic or tonal pattern from the songs on the schedule.
⁃ If they do well, go around again but have the students give you a pattern to echo.
⁃ I use this as an introduction to rhythm reading for my classes that show proficiency.

4) Beat Keeping or Movement Activity

5) Creative Voice (spontaneous song creation)
⁃ This is a “serve and return” activity. Ask the kids to sing a song like a ghost/cat/baby with no words. Listen for aspects of head voice and musical phrases or patterns.

6) Free Dance
⁃ The next few activities are movement based. Many of our students have motor difficulties as well as learning. A gross motor activity leads in well to the fine motor activities.
⁃ Koo Koo Kangaroo are the best dances for kids to follow along to. They repeat the moves long enough for kids to catch on before they change.

7) Beat Keeping Song #2
⁃ Focus on aspects of flow, pulsation, whole body beat keeping, and part-of-body/isolated beat keeping.
⁃ Introduce scarfs and egg shakers at this point in the lessons if students are ready.

8) Social Drumming to a “Choice Song”
⁃ Students fill in the blank of a song (e.g. Aiken Drum), come up and drum with the teacher.
⁃ Focus on two hands together then alternating hands.
⁃ Watch for feet movement. If the feet are moving while drumming, the will not be successful in alternating hand drumming.
⁃ Follow the kids’ speed if they can’t match your beat.

9) Beat Keeping #3
⁃ Focus on fine motor movement and following recorded music at this point.
⁃ Narrative songs are great for keeping student attention (In the Hall of the Mountain King, Peter and the Wolf, The Fox Went Out)

10) Something they love to help with transitions
⁃ Make them sad to leave and excited to come back with a favorite activity. The Duck Song on Youtube, a Muppets song, a story book, or a dance.

The Visual Schedule

Before the students enter my room, I put a visual schedule on the board. Below is an example of my October visual schedule (My monthly lesson plans are available on TPT). A visual schedule helps students both keep track of what we are doing in the lesson and to ease any anxiety about what is happening next.

The pictures here are nothing magical. They can be BoardMaker pictures,visuals from VictoriesNAustism.com, or photos from UnSplash. I try to keep them descriptive of the song we are learning. Descriptive pictures also assist our students who are working on reading.

When I first started making these schedules, I stuck mainly to BoardMaker photos, as if they were some sort of magic. Having A picture is what matters, the students will learn to relate the picture to the song or activity.

Try not to make your schedule too visually busy. Aim for high contrast (black on white) to aid students with visual differences. Do not use color for accent or funky fonts for the same reason. You may find it is helpful to have a printed copy available for student to use as a “First ____, then____ ” behavioral support.

There are many ways to create a visual schedule. I put up a Google Slide. I convinced our art teacher to create one this year and she chose to make it a physical poster. The only wrong way is the way that doesn’t support our
students. You can get a copy of the template I use for my schedule HERE.

A Few More Tips

  • Meet the class at the door. Student anxiety and behavior is worse at transitions.
  • A semi-circle of chairs aids in keeping students in their areas, turn taking, and limiting elopement
  • Put a line of red tape on the ground at the border of any area you don’t want your students to enter. SitSpots makes long velcro tape that won’t leave sticky goop on your floor. There are similar and cheaper options on Amazon.
  • Tell the parapros what you want from them. The last time they were in a music class was probably when they were a student. They are the expert in these kids, you are the expert in teaching music. Respect those different expertise.

P. Eric Bottorff

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P. Eric Bottorff teaches K-4 music for the Livonia Public Schools. He is the former middle school band and choir director at the Korea International School in Jeju, South Korea where he also performed on tuba with the Jeju Symphony Orchestra.  As part of his current daily course load he teaches multiple self-contained classes for student with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Moderate Cognitive Impairments (MoCi) in both the district special education center and the county special education center.  He also teaches first grade and second grade in the Alternative Classroom for the Academically Talented
You can find Eric on his TPT store https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Mrbottorff-Music or by email at p.eric.bottorff @ gmail.com

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Looking for an easy put together Visual Schedule?

Check this one out in my TpT store with 112 different cards of common music class activities in three styles to fit your needs.

Some Books to Check Out

Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs: A Practical Resource
Author: Alice Hammel
ISBN: 978-0190665173
Buy the book on Amazon

Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs: A Label-Free Approach
Author: Alice Hammel
ISBN: 978-0190654696
Buy the book on Amazon

Some Websites

I hope this guest post has been super helpful and I encourage you to reach out to Eric if you need support!

Melissa Stouffer-1

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