~by Thomas Azar
Orpheus Academy of Music was fortunate enough to have Dr. Judith Jellison* visit and share valuable information with music teachers from all over Austin. The primary focus of our session was how the lives of mentally and/or physically challenged students can be enriched by music and we, as music educators, to bring them the joy and positive energy in the lessons and classes. There were also parents of children with learning disabilities sharing their personal experiences in the session.
During the session, Dr. Jellison led an interactive discussion on topics which she, drawing from her decades of experience working with challenged students, deemed to be the most impactful. One of the most essential point about teaching special-need students is to design a teaching plan which would fit all the students well in the class without isolating them out of the group (universal design). We then broke off into small groups, each group with one to two participating parents so that everyone had a chance to share their own experiences and ask questions. At the very end of the day we gathered again and presented our core findings.
I encountered a long list of individual ideas from Dr. Jellison and the others at the meeting and felt better equipped to create flexible situations in my lesson plans which account for more unique learning patterns. Dr. Jellison stressed that everyone likes to feel good about what they are doing, and we all like to have a clear picture of what we expect to achieve. For this reason, it is imperative that our lessons include interaction among the students, cultivate an understanding of our differences, and celebrate true achievements.
Working with disabled children is very much about anticipating their frustrations, and being firmly present to show them that adversity is not defeat, and challenges are part of the fun in life. Dr. Jellison showed us how to make adaptations of our lesson plans to develop self-determined goals and responsibility in every student–especially among people with disabilities. It is crucial to have good transitions in the lesson, only introduce one new concept, and sufficiently reinforce old concepts.
When we are fortunate enough to establish a good rapport with a disabled student, we have the honor of improving that young person’s quality of life through music, which would last for the rest of his life. If we take a little extra time to consider how we might better reach each student on a personal level, we open up the possibilities of everything that student can achieve.
*Dr. Judith Jellison is the Mary D. Bold Regents Professor of Music in the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas at Austin where she is a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers and holds the title of University Distinguished Teaching Professor. In the Butler School of Music she serves as Head of the Division of Music and Human Learning and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in children’s literature and performance, observation and evaluation, and music in special education and therapy. Orpheus Academy of Music is really grateful for her time and generosity to help us reach our goal to become better music educators.