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Creating a Culture of Inclusion by Ellary Draper, University of Alabama

One of both the joys and challenges of being a music educator is working with a large variety of students on a daily basis. Music teachers are able to interact with students in a different way than other teachers; frequently we are able to bring out talent in students that other teachers aren’t able to see.

error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach and use.

These principles

As music educators, we know that music can connect people and break down barriers; but how can we create a positive learning environment where this happens every day?

When considering how to make our classroom a place where all students have access to music education and feel as though they belong, multiple environments within our classrooms begin to emerge: the physical environment, the learning environment, and the social environment.


environments may be overlooked, but how we design and configure our classrooms impacts who has physical access to the music classroom, which in turn affects students’ ability to participate in learning activities in that space.

The learning

environment is complex, and includes the intricate details of our music programs, curricula, and instructional strategies. Finally, the social environment both within the classroom and within the community – do students have opportunities to interact with each other? Each of these environments will be explored to address how we can create a culture of inclusion within our classrooms.

Physical Environment Within the architecture and design community there is a set of principles known as universal design (UD). Ronald Mace, an architect, is credited with coining the term universal design and influenced legislation prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities (Center for Universal Design, 2008). With its roots in the barrier- free movement of the 1950s, and to increase access of World War II veterans to community buildings, the principles of UD also extend to the materials necessary to access activities held inside (Jellison, 2015). There are seven principles of UD: equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for


remind us to design physical environments and products in a way that they can be used to the greatest extent possibly by everyone, regardless of age, ability, or status in life (Center for Universal Design, 2008; Jellison, 2015).

As music teachers, we can use the idea of UD and the principles when arranging furniture and other physical elements in our classrooms. Arranging the physical environment and making integral changes ahead of time sets our students up for success in the classroom.

Music teachers with their own rooms are fortunate enough to be able to arrange their own space and make choices so all of the students who come into the classroom on a daily basis can navigate the furniture. Other changes to the physical environment may improve the background environment so students can focus. When considering the physical environment, consider changes that can improve mobility in the classroom, access to materials, instruments, and equipment, as well as access to on-going classroom activities (Jellison, 2015).

Changes can involve: Lighting Furniture Carpeting Seating Shelving Risers Ventilation Floor space

Sounds and acoustics

Entrances to classroom and performance spaces

Changes to the physical environment are sometimes over looked when making adaptations for students with disabilities to enhance the classroom environment; however these small changes can make a big difference.

Often, these decisions and

subsequent changes benefit all students, not only the student with a disability.

Learning Environment

Learning environments are complex, and teachers are balancing the needs of many students in relation to what they are teaching.

When considering the learning environment it is important to recognize the inextricable relationship between curriculum, instruction, and assessment; when reevaluating one, all need to be examined.

When faced with students with disabilities, teachers make curricular, instructional, and other adaptations for those particular students; however, by using universal strategies for all students, a culture of inclusion is fostered. Similar to design and products, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) includes principles of how to ensure access to the learning environment (CAST, 2015). UDL focuses on including multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and representation in the classroom at all times. By providing multiple means students are able to access content and demonstrate their knowledge and mastery in a variety of ways.

Music teachers can design activities, tasks, and routines that allow for multiple levels of participation, so that all students are able to be successful. For instance, in an elementary classroom when doing a dance, there is an instrumental ensemble to accompany the movement, allowing students with physical disabilities to continue to contribute to the activity, and students without disabilities can rotate and play instruments as part of the ensemble. A student with a disability may serve as the inspiration for the change in activity, but all students benefit from the new activity. All students may benefit from an individual’s required accommodations, such as receiving a written list of exercises to practice.

For UDL to be implemented successfully, it is necessary to have knowledge of students’ needs. This is a proactive approach, guiding teachers to meet the individual needs of their students through flexible strategies and learning activities. UDL guards again the overuse of individual adaptions, particularly the unnecessary separation from classmates, negative stereotyping, and lowering of

February/March 2015

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