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Special Learners Deserve Music, Too!

by Guitars in the Classroom
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Special Learners Deserve Music, Too!
Special Learners Deserve Music, Too!
Special Learners Deserve Music, Too!
Special Learners Deserve Music, Too!
Special Learners Deserve Music, Too!
Special Learners Deserve Music, Too!
Special Learners Deserve Music, Too!
Special Learners Deserve Music, Too!
Special Learners Deserve Music, Too!
GITC Sped Teaching Artist, Jody Mulgrew
GITC Sped Teaching Artist, Jody Mulgrew

Hello, GITC Friend,

We are writing tonight to share an exciting development in the project to which you have contributed. Special Learners Deserve Music, too," is making fantastic progress and you made it possible.

It is said that "much begets more," and we can tell that you that where your love and inpsiration are concerned, this is true. Your "generous contributions empowered GITC to formalize our Special Ed explorations into the GITC Sped Laboratory.

In these three classrooms, students who would normally be excluded from music class are thriving. Little Miriam who refused to make eye contact when she started school this year is now strumming like a rock star. Kelly is not just playing a shaker and strumming a ukulele - she is keeping time by clapping her feet! Isa and Hameed have come out of their shells and are playing ukuleles with their classmates. The miracles that music makes possible more than any other experience are happening each day. The team of Sped teachers - Val, Tony and Lisa- and their teacher's aides are doing an incredible job as is GITC teaching artist ,Jody Mulgrew! 

When we got the Sped Team together in December to share discoveries, the idea took hold that we should open this work to special educators from GITC programs around the country this summer. Planning is well underway now to invite teachers in mild to moderate classrooms, mod to severe classrooms, and resource rooms to learn to lead music adaptively each day. We are aiming for July 20-22nd and will hold the conference in San Diego County, location TBA soon.

Strumming and singing will be just one exciting strand of training at the conference. Adapative rhythm instructor George Thompson will be training teachers of students with autism and other sensory integration disorders how to work with the amazing Comfort Sound Technology and drum tables! Teachers with enough space and motivation to implement the drumming will be able, with George's help, to apply for a set of Comfort Sound drums through a grant program with Sesame Street! 

Finally, our friends at Beamz Interactive will be on hand to train teachers to operate their Beamz Unit, a very space-age device that links popular songs, rich instrumental tracks, computers and light beams to make it possible for students with very limited coordination to influnce the arrangements of songs by interacting with the light beams. Please check out the video below.

We hope to make this conference an annual event! 

Because of your support, we are building this body of work to share and a community of experts who can staff the conference. Our next step here is to assess the improvements and efforts to measure the impact of the work are just beginning.

By pulling together organizations who have been working independently to make a difference, we are eager to build a coalition of helpers whose combined knowledge and resources can make more pathways to musical inclusion possible for thousands of special learners. When like-minded special educators get this chance not only to learn, but to connect deeply with their colleagues in a positive and supportive environment, all kinds of good things are bound to happen. And you are the reason why. 

Thank you for standing up for students who need and deserve specialized education to realize their potential and find their joy. Please stay with us and together we can move the needle, bringing more ability, understanding, creativity, happiness and success to these important students!

With gratitude,

Jess 

Hameed Learning to Strum
Hameed Learning to Strum
Isa Uses a Special Thumb Pick!
Isa Uses a Special Thumb Pick!
Kelly and Caleb Play Shakers!
Kelly and Caleb Play Shakers!
Miriam Rocks Out!
Miriam Rocks Out!

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Students with Special Olympics
Students with Special Olympics

Dear Friend,

Thank you for joining me in caring about students with special needs. Your charitable gift in the past has helped us continue our work adapting musical experiences so that any student may participate. This is so important and positive for the students and their families, too. Access is critical and joy is contagious!

Today I bring you some encouraging news. We were just asked to participate with our sponsors at Korg USA in training chapter leaders for the Special Olympics in the GITC approach in Phoenix, AZ on December 2. The idea here is to create a pilot program that empowers and equips those leaders to bring strumming and singing back to the participants in their local groups. Together we will create ways that making music and composing positive song lyrics can support the process of practice, goal setting, striving for and achieving ones personal best, overcoming limitations, working together, and keeping the faith! 

Our hope is that these leaders will leave the day-long training ready to strum and sing with their special olympiads- and will be ready to learn MORE! GITC instructor for the Phoenix area, Gerry de la Torre will head up this first workshop and offer follow up classes, too. We'll keep you posted about the progress of this promising project as it evolves. Hopefully someday, the Special Olympics will include lots of high spirited singing, strumming and celebrating through the power of music.

Did you know that P.E. teachers love GITC and use it to teach sports and sportsmanship? Please read about "Coach," a beloved teacher at Fay Elementary in City Heights, California. We interviewed him last school year because he strums and sings with his students every day as part of the Physical Education program. You'll find the blog about him on our website homepage at guitarsintheclassroom.org.

If you know someone participating in the Special Olympics who might want to know about our new endeavor, please feel free to share our contact information. As you well know, every person counts and it only takes one person to make a difference for many others.

Thanks for being a part of GITC! If you'd like to keep helping, I hope you will mark your calendar for Giving Tuesday on November 28th when we will be featuring this project!

Wishing you health, resilience, faith and peace,

Jess

Stevie Can Play, Too!
Stevie Can Play, Too!
Gerry dela Torre
Gerry dela Torre
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Jennifer Youngblood and Rosanna De La Cruz
Jennifer Youngblood and Rosanna De La Cruz

For 16 years both Jennifer Youngblood and Rosanna De La Cruz have been teaching young students in San Diego. Many of those years have been spent at Fay Elementary, a majority Hispanic school in the San Diego Unified School District. Both Jennifer and Rosanna teach diverse classes, with many English Language Learner students. Learning how to best reach these students can be a challenge, but through Guitars in the Classroom Jennifer and Rosanna have found that music can be the answer.

Jennifer originally started with GITC in 2010, after seeing an email sent to her school about the organization. She had grown up surrounded by music and even pursued various classes on different instruments, but hadn’t fulfilled her desire to play guitar until starting with GITC. She took a break after a year and a half with the organization, then rejoined with Rosanna 2 years ago.

Rosanna shares that she too had always wanted to play guitar but struggled in classes she took. However, the GITC instruction was a game-changer for her playing. “With the GITC method, I realized, ‘I can so do this,’ whereas with other classes I’ve been to, it was so overwhelming and very difficult. But Jess breaks it down in very manageable steps.”

These teachers at Fay Elementary integrate music in their classroom in various ways. Writing assignments are made more fun and engaging by learning through songwriting. Both are quick to grab their ukuleles for transitions in the classrooms or brain breaks when their students are in need of a quick “reset.” The students often perform their songs at assemblies or open house nights. All kids are encouraged and engaged by the music, but Jennifer and Rosanna emphasize the difference music integration makes during ELD, English Language Development, time.

“The language learners … are kids that don’t really speak and they don’t want to say anything. But when we start singing, more of them want to sing. I do see them talk more through music … They learn the vocabulary faster.

GITC founder and executive director, Jess Baron explains it this way. “For our students with special needs and for English learners, taking the risk of expressing ideas their thoughts aloud can be overwhelming. If you don’t trust your ability to speak clearly or to use appropriate vocabulary, you are less likely to raise your hand with an idea or answer for fear of feeling embarrassed. You are more likely to refrain from participating in group discussions or team activities. This is also true for students with social anxiety. The fear of failing and being teased is terrible. This lack of participation can become a self-defeating cycle over time as the level of language skills being taught increases for the class, but kids who cannot comfortably practice their oral language fall farther behind. Making music gives them a way to practice and learn without feeling singled out or vulnerable. This is extremely important in grades K-4. Students who do not achieve grade level competence in English Language Arts by the end of fourth grade are far more likely to drop out of high school and get into trouble with the justice system.

The benefits go beyond pure language learning, too. Students are helped a great deal in GITC classrooms because the teachers use songs as vehicles for lesson content. The songs impart practical knowledge and the repetitive phrases of lyrics and melodies offer these students a chance to practice new words again and again while memorizing ideas and facts in songs. Each song is a complete package!

The music really brings that vocabulary alive,” says Jennifer. Music allows language learners to retain new words and ideas more quickly in a way that is interactive and enjoyable. Their participation dramatically increases in lessons that are taught through music.

Rosanna shares that her more advanced ELD students also love music integration, “And it’s not just the beginners. I have the early/advanced kids and they also are so engaged.”

These teachers have seen first hand the ability music has to improve the learning experience of students, especially those who are learning English. Jennifer loves seeing the students excited about learning ukulele and asking parents for lessons outside of class. The experiences they are having through the GITC method is creating a passion that goes outside of the classroom. The kids are excited about the music, and Rosanna says that is one of her favorite parts, “I think the best part is definitely the kids’ engagement, excitement, joy … they’re so intrigued and willing to take risks. There’s a big spark that lights up the kids.”

The change Jennifer and Rosanna have seen in their students has made music integration one of the best tools in their classroom. When asked what advice they would give teachers interested in GITC and music integration, they both urge, “Just do it!” They are very familiar with the nervousness that can come with leading a classroom in a music lesson, however, both agree that the benefit outweighs the fear. Rosanna shares, ““The kids love it and they don’t care if you’re an amateur singer like me!” The kids enjoy the music no matter how you sound, and the difference it makes could be life-changing.

Jennifer Youngblood
Jennifer Youngblood
Rosanna De La Cruz
Rosanna De La Cruz
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Shiri in Annette's Class!
Shiri in Annette's Class!

Dear Friend,

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.

Dear Amanda,

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,
Elena

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.

With gratitude,

Jess

Sitting in Chairs Works Wonders!
Sitting in Chairs Works Wonders!

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EUSD Farm Lab
EUSD Farm Lab

Dear Friends,

Thank you so much for supporting GITC's efforts this year to make musical learning an empowering experience for students with special needs. We are glad to let you know that teachers with GITC are busy including music in their special ed classrooms this year in San Diego, California and Clay and Charleston, West Virginia, our pilot locations. We also look forward to including teachers in our Whidbey Island, WA and Loveland, Colorado programs in the work as well by next month.

You may have chosen to support this project because you care deeply about a young person in your life who learns differently and experiences challenges with traditional education. I hope this project brings you a sense of hope. As we work on a relavtively small scale to make thoughtful improvements through music in our most engaged classrooms, it is my intention that we develop a model that others can learn about in time. Perhaps one day in the near future, any special educator or classroom teacher differentiating instruction will have the GITC examples by which to begin to enrich their instruction and classroom community for all learners through hands-on music. In addition, this model can help regular educators who are teaching students with special needs who are mainstreamed into their classes.

The fact is that this project is especially important because most special ed and general ed teachers don't get any music training during their graduate level credentialing programs. And general educators also don't get enough training in working effectively with students with extreme special needs. This project you are supporting addresses both problems. We are individualizing teacher instruction through music so that both special and general educators can do the same thing for their students! And we are offering the training for free on an ongoing basis.

Our goal with this project is to continue to bring this important "differentiated" training to the teachers who are most motivated to make music a part of their students' learning experiences.We are also getting feedback from the teachers to understand the impact of music for their students. Hopefully you will continue to give to this project so we can achieve these goals.

Because autism is so present in our schools, we have chosen to address the needs of autistic students first this school year.  About 1 percent of the world population has autism spectrum disorder. (CDC, 2014) Prevalence in the United States is estimated at 1 in 68 births. (CDC, 2014). The rate of children being born with autism has climbed by 119% in just 10 years.

This means that in any regular classroom you may have at least one student with autism. In many GITC classrooms, we see 2 or more students who are "on the spectrum" because teachers who sign up for our classes tend to be seen by their principals as highly capable. Strong teachers are always called upon to teach students with greater needs than others. Music becomes a source of positive teaching and learning for these teachers because in general, autistic students respond beautifully to learning through making music.

We are supporting teachers to help students with autism participate in music by becoming active music makers. We are training teachers to teach their students to hold and strum ukuleles when they or their classmates sing. By strumming and singing, the students find that they have command over the music they make, rather than reacting to the sounds that disrupt their focus at volumes or frequencies beyond their tolerance. We are also still helping GITC teachers learn to use their Beamz devices to teach subject areas and social skills in addition to music.

GITC has now placed ukulele sets and Beamz devices in 14 special education "pilot program" classrooms that are all working with us to develop ideas and best practices that other special educators and regular educators who are mainstreaming can utilize. We are so grateful to the charity arm of the Beamz company, called  Share Your Blessings for assisting our participating teachers with equipment and training!

In our regular Strum & Sing training classes for teachers this fall, we have  been sharing techniques for successfully leading musical learning for students with Aspergers Syndrome and other forms of autism. In particular, we are coaching teachers to help students with high sound sensitivity to learn to navigate their sound environments by:

  • judging the volume level of sounds near them from 1 to 10, very soft to very loud.
  • covering their ears in class for anything louder than a 7 on their "sound meter" such as loud singing, student applause, class bells and fire drill signals.
  • covering their ears outside of school for anything louder than a 7 on their "sound meter" such as loud recorded beats and music inside a car, emergency vehicle sirens and low flying planes overhead, and movie sound tracks
  • asking adults to lower the volume of sounds that are bothering them
  • protecting their ears by using noise cancelling head phones where possible.

Thank you for being a part of this important work. We look forward to keeping you up to date with our progress and encourage you to share about it with your friends and family who might support and echo your compassion.

Very best wishes and thanks,

Jess

Michele's Class Photo
Michele's Class Photo
Sound Levels
Sound Levels

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Organization Information

Guitars in the Classroom

Location: San Diego, CA - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @GITCmusic
Project Leader:
Jessica Baron
San Diego, CA United States
$12,610 raised of $15,000 goal
 
153 donations
$2,390 to go
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