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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Modified Entries and Exits: Individual Behavior Supports for Music Class

With so many students to teach and so little time with each class, managing to give each student the kind of individual support we'd like to is a monumental task! And often when individual students are struggling in school, music teachers are left out of any individual plans that are created for them. I've found a few strategies in the last few years that have been very helpful for students who need individualized support that are realistic for me to implement as a music teacher. I hope they will be helpful for others as well. One strategy that has been helpful for students who either struggle to settle in or lose steam before the end of the class period is modified entries and exits. Transitions can often be the most disregulating part of the day for many students, so this strategy can be helpful for a wide range of individual needs.

Transitions are hard for everyone, and as music teachers we manage transitions all day long. If you haven't already, take a close look at your transitions into, during, and out of music class- I've found a lot of "behavior challenges" can be solved simply by looking closely at how my students and I are managing transitions. Here are a few previous posts on the topic for managing transitions more effectively for all students in general:

For some students, though, transitions can still be difficult. These are the students who, even with a very structured class, spend the first 10 minutes arguing or wandering the room and then seem to eventually "settle in", fly off the handle, start calling out, or completely lose focus in the last part of class after being completely fine in the beginning, or inexplicably resist coming into or leaving your room. For these students, modifying entrance and/or exit procedures can help support them through the transitions so their school day isn't completely derailed. In most every case implementing these modifications will necessitate another adult's support- I have most usually found this help from the psychologist/ social worker, or a paraprofessional/ intern.

1. Come in early

Some students need extra time to adjust to the room, to you, or just to the idea of music class in general. Some students need advance warning of what they'll be doing in class that day so they can mentally prepare. Some students need a little extra individual attention from you to feel safe and cared for in your class. For those students, having them come early can be helpful for transitioning them into music class. It doesn't need to be much before (none of us have much time between classes anyway)- when I've done this 1 minute has been enough- but if you have the ability to, make arrangements for the homeroom teacher to send that student to your room a little early. Depending on what their individual needs are, the student may benefit from just being with you and in the room by helping you finish setting up for class, or talking through the upcoming lesson with you and seeing what you're getting ready, or just talking about something outside of school to give them a chance to connect and have some one-on-one attention.

2. Come in late

Some students actually benefit from coming to class a little bit after the lesson has already started- they feel less self-conscious if they see everyone else already involved in something and can just quietly join in rather than figuring out what to do from instructions (this happens sometimes for students with language or comprehension difficulties, or if a student has a long history of getting called out for inappropriate behavior in the hallway before class, etc, and is in defensive mode about entering with the class). Some students also just can't last an entire period in music class, but don't want to leave early- coming in late can be beneficial for those students as well. I have usually worked with the psychologist or other staff to come up with an "excuse" for where they have to go while the rest of the class is going to music- maybe they go have a check-in with the social worker, read a short book with the para, or sort the mail in the office. Whoever is with them for that planned break can then bring or send the student once the class has gotten going.

3. Leave early

The other option for students for whom the music class just seems to be too long, obviously, is for them to leave early. I often find this can be difficult to manage because it's disruptive to have a student get up and leave in the middle of an activity, and many times the student is resistant to leaving early because they aren't yet disregulated and want to continue with whatever fun we're having! But in a few cases where students really struggle to maintain focus and energy, setting a timer and having someone plan to come and pick them up, or sending them to an inconspicuous corner (or area just outside your open door) can help prevent melt-downs at the end of class. The best solution I've found to make this work is to have an agreed-upon incentive, like a small toy or fidget, coloring page, or book, that they will go to for a quick break before their next class.

4. Come and/or leave with support

In some cases, students can come in and leave with their class, but just need individual prompting to help them manage the transition(s). This might involve another staff member talking them through the transition beforehand or physically walking with them to help give individual reminders, or having some specific visual cues you show them to remind the individual student of how to enter or exit appropriately. This isn't a strategy I've used often, but something to explore with other staff members if you find the usual supports aren't working for a particular student.

I hope this helps you find manageable ways to support students in their behavior goals! What are some tools that you use in your own teaching practice? I'd love to hear more ideas in the comments below! And if you want to learn about how I build a classroom community and foster positive character in my music classes you can read about all of my procedures and strategies in this post, which also includes all of my previous posts on individual behavior supports for other specific needs.

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