What do you do if you’re a teacher who finds yourself with an open class period at the change in semesters? If you’re Jennifer Akers, you build a new class.
When approached by special education teacher Anne Broshear about including a few of her students with disabilities in a music class, the brainstorming began. Akers, the chorus director at Hopewell Junior School, had an open class period due to scheduling changes in the new semester. Broshear inquired about creating an adaptive music class for her students and Akers loved the idea. “I thought the kids would get more out of an adaptive class than coming to a (traditional) chorus class,” explained Akers.
Now, between 10-15 students from both multiple disabilities and social communication classrooms head to music class for 30 minutes every day. “It’s amazing to see how much the kids really enjoy a class where they can participate through singing, rhythm (and) instruments - chorus doesn’t have to mean (just) singing,” said Broshear.
Before joining Hopewell Junior, Akers, like her mom before her, taught music class in Lakota elementary schools. For the new adaptive music class, Akers taps into her training in the Kodály method of music education to meet the needs of her students. The Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály developed a method of teaching that, following child development, introduces students to the easiest musical concepts first and then progresses to more advanced concepts. Akers has seen firsthand how successful this method can be when teaching rhythm and pitch to students.
To help the students focus on music class before they even enter the room, each student knocks on the door. Akers answers while singing, “Who’s that knocking at my door?” Each student then says their name while tapping the syllables on a drum. “I’m trying to teach them that words have rhythm,” said Akers. And, if their smiles are anything to go by, the students love it.
“I love their enthusiasm,” said Akers. “They are so happy to walk in my room.”
Once in class, the students sing songs and play instruments, with Akers incorporating learning games along the way. They may use classroom instruments or body percussion, such as clapping and patting their legs, as well as singing. “I’ve been amazed at how much they’ve been able to do,” noted Akers. During class, the students have been learning beats and rhythms, interpreting rhythms Akers shows on the board and even playing it back to her. “They (may) have varying reading skills, but they get it.”
“So often we go into classrooms as support, but Jennifer really takes charge, learning what motivates the kids and moving on from there,” explained Broshear.
Akers ensures that her students have three experiences every day in class: notation, performance and listening. These experiences, which align with the Ohio Department of Education’s standards for music, are helping the students grow. “(Some of the) kids were barely speaking at the start and now they are saying their names,” said Akers.
The class is now working on learning the chorus to a song called “Draw the Circle Wide” by Mark Miller. This will be performed by all of the students involved in choir classes at the school’s spring concert. “I thought since the words are about inclusion and always having room to make a circle wider with no one left out, it was a good message for all of our kids,” said Akers. “Everyone can sing and enjoy music!”
“This has been a tremendous experience for both our students and our adults working with our kids,” said Hopewell’s principal, Jeff Rouff. “The power of music knows no boundaries, and the smiles on our students’ faces tell the entire story. We are so appreciative of all the hard work that has gone into creating this unique experience.”
- special education