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Getting To Know You: Thoughts For A New School Year

by Maureen Butler Mountain Lakes District

ed with former students, this is a good time to think about how we might identify and plan for any special needs that we’ve ob- served since the beginning of the school year. Some behaviors that we’ve seen could point to deeper issues that may not have been identi- fied or addressed. Strategies that were successful last year with individual students may no lon- ger be as effective. We may even be puzzled by certain behaviors and don’t know what to make of them. Taking the time now to accommodate the needs of our special learners will help the next nine months go more smoothly. Hopefully your special ser-


ow that we’ve begun to learn the names of our new stu- dents and gotten reacquaint-

in the student, using positive reinforcement and by including lessons with small groups or partner work. More serious issues such as emotional disturbances at home or changes in a child’s physical health and their impact on student learning are not as easy to deal with. More-

Music class should be a place

where all students feel comfortable, challenged, and engaged. Special learners can find it to be an enriching environment where they can grow and learn.

vices department has already giv- en you modifications and accommodations for the students that are included in your regular music classroom. If not, now is the time to reach out and obtain a written copy. If necessary, meet with specific case manag- ers to determine more specific instructions as well as more detailed information about a child’s special needs.

Understanding Behavior Underlying issues may cause some of

what we’re seeing in our classes. A typical example is when new students have diffi- culty transitioning to a different school and district. By October, most have settled in, but if not, we can help children feel more comfortable by demonstrating an interest


over, any condition that makes it difficult to learn can prevent students from doing their best. For example, a student with an undi- agnosed hearing loss may be acting out be- cause he is having difficulty hearing what’s going on. A child with learning disabilities may become the “class clown” to try to hide the fact that he is struggling to learn. Sometimes underlying conditions are

obvious; others are not. In any case, a wise course of action is to seek out the classroom teacher or school counselor for more infor- mation. It’s possible they already have the answers you’re looking for, and may have practical suggestions for you. Some parents are effective advocates

for their children and provide details about their child’s special needs at the onset of the


school year; others sadly provide nothing, making it more difficult for everyone in- volved, particularly their child. Parents can be a valuable resource for questions you may have about a student’s disability and how it affects learning, and most would welcome meeting with you to discuss concerns. If you determine that a stu- dent would benefit from an in- dividual behavior modification plan, check with the classroom teacher to see if one is already set up for him. Some classroom teachers set up a system for their entire classroom and would wel- come your input. Lastly, accept that some stu-

dents do better at a focused, indi- vidual task than in a large-group environment such as the music class, and the ability to function as a member of a group is a pro- cess that may take time and practice. Here are some questions we might

ask ourselves: • Am I communicating effectively with all students? Consider what communica- tions strategies work best with your spe- cial learners. For example, if you teach students with a hearing loss, be sure that you’re facing students and not covering your mouth when you’re speaking to them in order to facilitate lip-reading. For students with learning disabilities, or communication and language delays, be sure to speak clearly, “chunk” informa- tion, use repetition, and allow time for your words to be processed before con- tinuing.


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