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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Students with Special Needs: Representation

As I continue to think about ways to better reflect, respect, and respond to traditionally marginalized people and perspectives in the music classroom, I am turning my attention today to people with special needs. In particular, today I want to focus on ways to better reflect examples of people and musicians with different needs in the music classroom to work towards normalizing and making all students feel more comfortable and welcome in music class.

A common theme in all of my reflections on ways to better serve marginalized people and perspectives has been the need for more diversity in the resources, visuals, and examples I use in my classroom. Including people with special needs in this move towards diversity has admittedly been an area that I have overlooked in the past. Along with some of my own ideas, I am grateful to have gotten input and ideas from music teachers and special education teachers around the world on ways they include representation for students with special needs in their classrooms: Helga Thordsen from Priest Lake Christian Academy, Amy Corvi, and Laura Allison.


So the obvious first step in better representing people with differing abilities is to include them in regular education music classes whenever appropriate/ possible. I know in many cases music teachers don't have much say in when, how, or with whom students come to their classes, but when you can, I encourage you to be an advocate for inclusion. Of course there are situations when it's not appropriate, but in more cases than not, I have found all of my students and I reap huge rewards from the additional work I put in to include everyone in the same class. The best way to make sure inclusion happens in the most successful way possible is to communicate regularly with and do everything you can to be an ally for special education teachers, aids, and students. You can read more of my specific suggestions for inclusion in music class in next week's post (so stay tuned!), but it's worth mentioning the importance of inclusion here as we talk about representation.

Examples of Musicians

One of the best ways to better represent people with differing abilities in the music room is to feature examples of musicians! Here are some examples of musicians to incorporate:

Evelyn Glennie (musician who is deaf)
Mandy Harvey (musician who is deaf)
John Mellencamp (musician with spina bifida)
David Byrne (musician with Asperger's)
Jose Feliciano (musician who is blind)
Stevie Wonder (musician who is blind)
Ray Charles (musician who was blind)
Bill Withers (musician with speech impediment)
Django Reinhardt (musician who was partially paralyzed)


Books, movies, and other stories that include people with special needs are another way to represent students with differing abilities in our teaching:

Moses Goes to a Concert by Isaac Millman (story about children who are deaf who go to a concert)
Let's Hear it for Almigal by Wendy Kupfer (story about a girl with hearing aids- great way to explore found sounds)
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold (the rhyming words and repeated refrain lend themselves to singing or beat-keeping)
Music by Prudence  (documentary of woman with physical disabilities who starts a band)
Beethoven Lives Upstairs (story of Beethoven)


What students see in the music classroom and other visuals is so important to what they view as "normal" and whether or not they are welcome and included! Include picture books and posters with images of people with special needs in the classroom. Use video examples that include people with differing abilities in them. Incorporate images of people with special needs into other visuals like projected slides, worksheets, and handouts. Incorporating these images more regularly, rather than only focusing on them when their difference is the main point, will help to normalize and make everyone feel more included.

I hope these ideas help you find ways to more regularly include people with differing abilities into your classroom! I would love to hear more ideas and resources as well- please share them in the comments as we continue to learn from each other. 

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