3 Ways to Make Performance Accessible to All LearnersJan 12, 2021
There are a lot of things that were exceptional about my first real teaching experience. First of all, I was so thankful to be hired before I technically finished my degree. This was because my undergraduate school was on quarters rather than semesters so we didn’t graduate until mid-June! I was also lucky enough to work with another music teacher until November when she retired and I continued in her position for the remainder of the school year.
My first job also allowed me to get experience right away working with various grade levels from preschool to fifth grade and multiple self-contained classes of students with disabilities. In fact, right before Thanksgiving break, a student even gifted me a turkey! Like a big, frozen turkey that his family raised on their farm. This, too, was a pretty exceptional experience for a city girl like me.
Although I have so many fond memories from my first teaching position, I know there were lots of things that I did not do so exceptionally in my early career. Of course, I had the best intentions in helping all students to be their most musical selves. However, many times my planning was not inclusive of all of the learners I worked with in my elementary music classroom. This is something I have tried to improve year after year in hopes to do better than my young self.
As a Kodaly-inspired teacher, it was easy to see the possibilities by incorporating visual, aural and kinesthetic ways for students to express themselves and experience music in my classroom. However, I really struggled with how to transfer that into the performance aspect of our music standards.
How could I make performance appropriate for all learners? How could I give the same opportunities to all of my students?
Despite all the ways I have tried (and sometimes failed) to make performance accessible to all learners, I am by no means an expert! I have, however, learned a lot along the way. I have found there are 3 things you need to consider to make performance accessible to all of your students.
1. Create adaptations to student performance based on your purpose
Obviously, some things we do not have control over as teachers. Many times this means we do not get to choose the final goal or benchmarks that students in our classrooms need to meet. However, we do have complete control over the strategies we use to get them there.
When you are choosing activities to be accessible to all students, you need to start by focusing on the “why” so you can differentiate for the students in your classroom.
Let’s consider everyone’s favorite performance opportunity in the elementary classroom---the recorder! Despite the memes, the purpose certainly is not to make parents shriek! But, do you teach recorders to give students the opportunity to perform from written notation? Or, is it about learning to master an instrument as a beginning ensemble experience? Or maybe, as the Orff Schulwerk approach stresses, the recorder is a starting point for improvisation and elemental music making.
Whatever your “why” for including recorders might be, there will still be some students who are not able to participate in that type of performance for a variety of reasons. This does not mean that they cannot perform. You just need to adapt what that performance could be based on your purpose. Maybe a student could focus on air support and work to create a good tone on just 1 pitch. Maybe they could focus on just rhythm reading rather than performing from notes on a staff. Maybe they could meet your goal by using another instrument completely.
Or perhaps, it is not a traditional instrument at all but something that technology can help make your curriculum more accessible. For instance, Google has an incredible collection of Creatability Experiments that can make performance accessible to the most diverse learners including a body synth, and a keyboard able to be controlled by multiple parts of your body.
Be creative and consider all of the possibilities you have to differentiate performance opportunities based on your purpose.
2. Create resources to support student need
Sometimes, you can create authentic performance experiences for a variety of learners by just taking a look at the resources you are using with them rather than the performance itself. This is an accommodation that can help exceptional learners complete the same tasks. For instance, could you make it more accessible by color coding the written notation (think Boomwhackers)? Would the notation be easier to read if it was a larger font? Or, could you even use pictures to help students be able to be successful?
The first place you should always go to help create appropriate resources is the student IEP. The IEP will discuss the current performance including strengths and needs of the student it is written for. Hopefully, you are already familiar with this document as it is your responsibility to implement any services, accommodations and/or modifications that it outlines! (If not, we’ve got you covered. Click here for Three Things from an IEP You Should Know!) These aspects of the IEP can help you make appropriate accommodations to a resource.
You can also talk to your colleagues, specifically OTs, PTs, and Special Education teachers. They can help you brainstorm and try out different strategies and adaptations to help students succeed even if it is not specifically for an IEP. They are the experts in your building and have more training specifically designed for making things accessible for all students.
Once you have some ideas on how you can adjust resources to support students, you just have to give it a try. Will it work? Maybe! Will you need to try again? Probably! Consider it an experiment! However, just because a resource you created did not work for one student, it may work for another so do not forget to save all of the things! You never know when it might come in handy for a future student to have a successful performance.
3. Plan for practice
One of the biggest things I have learned to make a performance accessible to all learners is that I need to prepare my students for what a performance will look, sound and feel like instead of just assuming they know. In my classroom, we practice everything from getting on and off the stage to what audience members do. We practice how to respond if mistakes are made and how to show we appreciate the effort of others along with practicing the repertoire we perform.
Some learners can even benefit from practicing these things outside of the music room, too! One example of this is creating a social story. A social story is an individualized short story that depicts a situation that your student will encounter. A performance social story can be viewed with other teachers or with family members at home. Another way I have planned for student practice is by creating songbooks for them.
In my current school, each student has a device. I am able to create a songbook that includes the lyrics to songs we are working on along with video or audio practice tracks for students to utilize anywhere their device goes. This could also be done on a website where students can access the repertoire from any device at school or at home.
Do you want to learn more about accommodations and adaptations you can make to be inclusive of all students? Grab your copy of our free guide on 5 Ways to Better Serve Students with Exceptional Learning Needs!
What are some ideas you have to make your performances accessible to all learners? Let us know in the comments!