outer limits of the keyboard and playing two pitches at a time toward the center and back out again), in melodic play, the audio of the intervals is what cues his movement. I thought that traditional piano fingering would be a helpful skill for his future, and he was not unwilling but was uninterested. He generally preferred his own choice of fingers to copy a melodic line. I inferred that the sound of the melody drives him forward more than the order of fingers. When I gave verbal cues to begin playing piano, they often went ignored. However, when I gave a musical cue by demonstrating or singing, Adam joined in or copied without hesitation.
In the last session, Adam tried to play a rhythmic variation to a melody he was playing. In my experience, improvisational play with musical patterns is easier when the focus is auditory rather than visual or spatial, which fit with what I believed about Adam’s musical understanding.
Empowering students to be informed about the lesson tasks, rather than simply following teacher directions is an important component of a constructivist classroom. I believe that viewing that goal in reverse could improve my teaching as well. Just as my students will grow little by only “doing” without being “informed,” I need to not only be ” informed,” but must also “do” to benefit my classroom. Toward that goal, I noted some changes in my teaching that I can implement to support Adam’s musical learning. With further reflection, it became apparent that not only would those changes benefit any student with Autism, they would benefit every student in their musical learning.
I plan to resist prematurely helping in order to better foster independence. This gift of time to enable students to construct their own understanding built upon their own experience and perspective is an approach applicable to all students. A focus on forward motion, whether by expressway or scenic route, is more valuable than arriving at the correct destination by stopwatch.
I plan to relegate my cheerleading demeanor to my High School yearbook. One author advises teachers with AI students to “handle problem behavior in a professional, non-emotional manner”(Darrow, 26). If anger or disappointment is not a behavior motivator for these students, I cannot help but wonder if that would apply to academic success as well. I expect that my excited cheers are less effective in inspiring students than the intrinsic feeling of connection gained through interaction with the music itself. If my goal is to support students as they connect with music (rather than with me), I can use my energy in more effective ways.
I plan to “decrease or eliminate verbal directions.” Adam demonstrated that a musical cue encouraged his participation far more than my verbal prompting. If a picture says a thousand words, can I begin to count what direct interaction with music will replace?
I plan to “incorporate movement.” The advanced musical understanding that Adam showed me was through movement and gesture in mapping. While he could demonstrate better than explain, I expect that to be true in many students thus the need to provide more opportunities for that expression.
As I learned from Adam, it became apparent that my role as his teacher requires the same components as my role for every student. Each of the goals outlined for my teaching developed from observing and reflecting on his learning. While this information serves to reinforce my present understanding of constructivism, the application of this learning theory in my classroom will be enriched.
Studying Adam’s advanced musical understanding within a classroom of students within a varied spectrum of learning needs, challenged me to strive for an environment that can enable learning for all students. My work with students with Autism had benefitted
from applying what I had learned from general education students’ musical learning. My time with Adam will now empower me to also apply what I learned through his experience to all students in my music classroom.
Alice-Ann Darrow, 2009, Adapting for Students with Autism, General Music Today 22; 24.
Alice M. Hammel, 2004, Inclusion Strategies That Work, Music Educator’s Journal.
Ryan Hourigan and Amy Hourigan, 2003, Teaching Music to Children with Autism: Understandings and Perspectives, Music Educator’s Journal, 96; 40.
Kimberly McCord and Emily H. Watts, 2006, Collaboration and Access for Our Children: Music Educators Together and Special Educators Together, Music Educator’s Journal; March, 92; 4.
Angela M. Snell, 2008, ACCESS to Music Education for ALL Students-part 2, MME; Winter, 46; 2.
Jackie Wiggins, 2009, Teaching For Musical Understanding, Center for Applied Research in Musical Understanding, Oakland University.
Cheryl Ogonowski currently teaches Music K-5 for Rochester Community Schools. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Instrumental Music Education from Western Michigan University and a Master’s Degree in Music from Oakland University. With experience teaching students in elementary through college levels, and in instrumental, vocal and general music, her classroom activities center on solving musical problems through listening, performing and creating. She shares her classroom experiences as a presenter in various workshops and professional development settings. n
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