Using Music As An Instructional Technique

When thinking about learning disabilities, many automatically think about how they affect students' abilities in math, language arts, history, and other important core subjects. This article by Shannon de L'Etoile brings to the forefront another subject that is deeply affected by students' learning disabilities: music. Many times, music teachers are uninformed about students' individual special needs, and because of inclusion, there are many children with learning disabilities that are taking regular music classes. The article outlines different classroom strategies that can be used by music teachers to help their learning disabled students to better understand music, as well as reused to help them in their other classes.

The cognitive behavior modification (CBM) is the learning model demonstrated throughout this particular article, which includes operant (or behavioral) learning, social learning, and cognitive learning. Any teacher can implement consistent consequences to enforce operant learning, model desired behaviors to enforce social learning, and teach problem-solving skills to enforce cognitive learning. Keeping these three parts of the CBM in mind, as well as the ways to enforce them in the classroom, is necessary before one can understand the specific strategies that music teachers can use. In addition, one must understand that children with learning disabilities suffer a disruptance in their learning process, making simple tasks that "normal" children take for granted very difficult, such as: grouping similar items, recognizing symbols, following sequences, and linking sounds with their visual images. For this reason, they commonly lag behind academically, have difficulty accepting success and overcoming failure, have low self-esteem, and have a tendency to act out in order to avoid work.

Keeping this in mind, music teachers have the ability to address social and cognitive learning difficulties. Regarding social learning, LD students tend to learn best when the information being presented to them has both relevance and meaning. If music teachers can impress upon these students the importance of the new information, as well as how to make sense of it, they will pay better attention and engage more in the learning process. For example, if you are a music teacher and you want your students to clap out a rhythm and then play it on a xylophone, you might have a student who refuses to clap out the rhythm first. By explaining to the student, "We're clapping the rhythm first, so that we can play it the right way on the xylophone," the student will then understand the relevance and meaning of the activity. Looking at cognitive learning, LD students do not use learning strategies or understand how to evaluate their progress like "normal" students do, and so in essence have no grasp of metacognition. Music teachers can use advance organizers (putting a schedule on a board, a handout, or illustrating through pictures) so that students with learning disabilities can constantly review in their head where they are supposed to be and where they are going. In addition, music teachers can encourage metacognition by giving students mneumonic devices that work as frameworks for organization. These devices help students to remember new information later on because it reduces the stress on short-term memory so that long-term memeory is able to develop. For example, the popular FACE and Every Good Boy Does Fine are mneumonic devices that music teachers have been using for years (FACE stands for the spaced notes F, A, C, and E on the treble clef and Every Good Boy Does Fine stands for the lined notes E, G, B, D, and F on the treble clef). Another example the article gives is SMILE (Stand, organize Music, put together/warm up Instrument, Listen to instructions, Engage in music). Such mneumonic devices as these help LD students to get through a music class without becoming overly frustrated and also help them to remember new information later in the day, week, or year.

Through a few simple stragies, as well as an understanding of learning disabilities, L'Etoile's article explains that music teachers, and music in general, can have a great impact on the increasing success of students who are learning disabled.

de l'Etoile, Shannon K. Teaching Music to Special Learners: Children with Disruptive Behavior Disorders. Music Educators Journal. 5 May, 2005. PP: 37-43. Copyright 2005 MENC: The National Association for Music Education.