Shiri in Annette's Class!
Thank you so much for your help funding this project to include students with special needs in music making at school through Guitars in the Classroom. In April, I had the pleasure of visiting our regular and special education classrooms to observe 4 GITC teaching artists in their 7 week residencies in high poverty Los Angeles schools.
These residencies pair a GITC teaching artist with a motivated, participating classroom teacher who has previously taken 6 hours of training in teaching literacy through music. The classroom teacher will learn how to independently lead music for literacy in her classroom by watching and co-teaching with our artist for the first 5 weeks. As the weeks progress, she develops greater courage, competence and confidence, our “Three Cs.” By week 6 she can lead all activities independently and in week 7, families are invited to come celebrate the learning their students have achieved during the residency.
These residencies are crucial because they give teachers who have never before made music the chance to try leading music as a teaching and learning strategy with guidance and support. We are so hopeful that you will fund this effort so we can give more educators the experience they need to truly succeed.
My favorite special education observation took place at Haddon Elementary in Pacoima. This school in the eastern part of the San Fernando Valley serves many students with special needs. Teaching artist Shiri partnered with special educator, Annette and her assistant to bring her group of students in grades kindergarten through second, with very diverse disabilities, together to play ukulele and sing as a class. Some students had head gear. Others had other medical equipment. Some rocked on the floor or roamed the room. As you might imagine, figuring out how to get them all on the same beat was quite a challenge.
Students with physically disabilities needed to hold ukuleles in adaptive positions to strum. We got that figured out. Others needed hands on guidance to sit with their instruments and coordinate a hand movement. Others who were easily distracted found themselves pulled in by the music when we changed the classroom set up. Shiri got everyone sitting in chairs in a circle where they could make eye contact and concentrate together. Ukes went under their chairs until it was time to play. That made everything possible.
The teacher and teaching aide sat in the circle giving great guidance to the students with Shiri at their side. This gave everyone clear focus. The teachers led clapping and rocking to the steady beat and everyone caught on! The mood was jubilant as students learned to count the beat out loud, then pick up the ukes and strum together.
Once they had accomplished that, Shiri and the teachers led the easy song “Row Row Row Your Boat” and every single child sang the song! Shiri modeled for the teachers and led games for playing and singing at faster and slower tempos. The surprise element delighted the group and their engagement was total. In a special ed class like this one, THAT is a major achievement.
As the students followed their teachers, moving from changing tempo to changing volume, they sounded fantastic and they KNEW IT. Their singing got stronger with each time they played the song. A look of surprise and new confidence crossed many of their faces that day including one boy who was so excited he leaped out of his chair when his dad arrived to show him his newfound talent.
This is the power of music to bring us together, focus our minds, impart skills to our ears and hands, and help us learn.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this true account of one of the classrooms you are helping us support! We can only share this one photo because of protecting the students’ privacy but hopefully reading about the kids leaves you with images in your mind.
Just to give you a sense of impact of these residencies, here is an email that came in from one of our LAUSD classroom teachers this week, Elena Kelly at 4th Street Primary Center in East Los Angeles.
I wanted to thank you for your teaching, your inspiration and for sharing with us your passion. It is going to be hard to replace you, you were the best! My students loved you and I feel that you have helped me understand some of the things that I may have been doing naturally but now I can put a label and do the the proper way.
AMANDA YOU ROCK with and without a guitar.
With all my love,
Contributors, please know that in our hearts, YOU ROCK. You are why we can do this work. Please stay with us and let’s make the world a little better together everyday.
Sitting in Chairs Works Wonders!