NTID Program Encourages Students’ Creativity and Literacy Skills

A photograph of eight students in a room with a desk, table, and chairs, holding notebooks and smiling.

Participants work together at one of the NTID playwriting workshops in Florida.

From May to August, 2017, theater professionals from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) presented a theatrical script writing program to students who are deaf and hearing students closely connected to deafness. The ten-hour program, held at five sites in Maryland, New York, and Florida, offered students a creative way to explore their feelings of identity, disability, isolation, community involvement, and aspirations.

Aaron Kelstone, director of NTID’s performing arts program, and Fred Beam, coordinator of NTID’s performing arts outreach program, said the participating students were ages 13-21. Kelstone and Beam answered questions about the program in an email interview, sharing insights into the students’ experience learning about theatrical script writing.

 

VSA: Tell us about what the students enjoyed the most in your script writing program.

Kelstone and Beam: The students enjoyed creating a play, especially when they were about to make a story as a group. For example, a student will start one part of the story and leave the next part for the next student. Everyone took turns in creating a scene, and it helps them see their ability to create a play.

The students also enjoyed the pre-writing theater workshop session. The workshop began with a warm-up, or icebreaker, which teaches recognition and awareness of facial expressions, body language, and body movement. The next section was the “clay” activity, which allows students to create a prop with their hands and show action with their body; this helped students understand how props can play an integral part in the development of their play. Finally, the students participated in a “mask” activity, which allowed them to change their character and show their feelings after their mask was put on, then return to normal after the mask was taken off.

 

A young man with light wavy hair and a green t-shirt signs, holding his right hand near his face.

A student signs to a video camera during an NTID playwriting class.

VSA: What playwriting lessons were particularly well received?

Kelstone and Beam: The introduction of playwriting vocabulary words, like script, acts, scene, character, setting, dialogue, and conflict, offered interactive activities for each word. We defined the word, offered an image that reflected the word, and then modeled how it was structured.

The next lesson was the brainstorming session. We gave students a worksheet that asked for information like title of their play, characters in the play, character descriptions, setting, conflict, and scene summaries. Then students had a choice if they wanted to write in a word, write in a sentence, or draw a picture on the worksheet. After that, we guided students through making a storyboard and encouraged them to edit their storyline. We wanted students to be able to see their scenes in a specific order and add a necessary element if anything was missing.

Deaf students signed their stories; we had them tell it to the audience or record it on videotape. They then used that process to support themselves while doing further writing. Students also received sample scripts written by others as a reference.

 

VSA: Your program also explores the students’ feelings about deafness and Deaf culture. Did the plays spur a helpful conversation within the classroom?  

Kelstone and Beam: Yes, it allowed the students to express their experiences with barriers. They were able to identify frustrations about their feelings and relate to each other when they have similar experiences by sharing their stories. A main theme that emerged from the students’ work was communication in a different language (American Sign Language, or ASL).

 

A photograph of white posterboard with six handdrawn pictures, each with captions underneath. Together, they tell a story with the title, "Almost Died...".

A student story board created in an NTID class.

VSA: How did literacy skills improve within the participating students?

Kelstone and Beam: Many of the students we worked with use ASL as their dominant language, and needed some support writing in English; others did their writing independently. Everyone worked on literacy skills, and it happened in several different ways.

For instance, we had students who drew a picture and asked us, “What is the word for that action?” Then we introduced new vocabulary words, and they used them in their storyboard or script. Other students had their story all mixed up, and organizing it on a storyboard really helped them learn how to structure and write in ways that created order or put information in the proper places.

Some students were not comfortable with only writing, and they had the freedom to sign their script and put it on video, draw a storyboard, and explain what happened in each scene. By watching the video of themselves, writing what they saw, and asking others for help, they were able to learn new words, sentences, and phrases. It also helped them develop a richer story because the video taught them how their facial expressions and body language contain a depth of meaning. It was similar to the growth one gains from translating from one language to another.

One teacher told us that one of her students would not write a paragraph when given a written assignment. After participating in our program and learning about playwriting and storyboards, she wrote a whole script!

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Urban Artisans Prepares Students with Disabilities for Careers, In or Out of the Arts

Two smiling, male students work with clay at a table in the ArtMix studio.It was more than 16 years ago that staff at ArtMix in Indianapolis, Indiana, and officials in the Indianapolis Public Schools identified a need to better prepare students with disabilities age 16-22 for life after school. Knowing that the arts could train students in pre-vocational skills and aid in personal growth, ArtMix began its Urban Artisans program, training students in the making, marketing, and selling of artwork in a professional studio setting.

Today, over 60 students with disabilities participate in Urban Artisans each year, according to Linda Wisler, ArtMix’s Vice President of Programs. Wisler says a key to the program’s success was creating the right environment for teaching those important pre-vocational skills. “Offering the students a learning venue outside of school really motivated and excited them. They all share a love of art and look forward to their time in our studios,” she explains.

All of the Urban Artisans participants are paid a stipend or hourly wage for their work in the program, where they create artwork alongside teaching artists that is sold in local galleries and creative outlet shops. Proceeds from the sale of the items go directly to support the Urban Artisans program. Katy Deadmond, ArtMix’s Manager of Community Outreach, says that the students work as a team and are paid as such, adding, “[t]hey have a real sense of pride and accomplishment when they get that paycheck.” Wisler notes that paying the students also promotes their leadership skills, saying they “start having high expectations for each other!”

Four rows of clay flowerpots are displayed on white shelves, with a tall plant to their right. There is a sign next to the flowerpots that says "ArtMix."

Flowerpots created by Urban Artisans students are displayed at a gallery in Indiana.

Wisler says the Urban Artisans line of products is known for certain items, like flowerpots, serving platters, and small animal sculptures, but also includes weavings, painted silk scarves, and large canvas paintings. “Many of the objects we make evolve organically, based on what the students enjoy creating and what is marketable,” says Deadmond. The students also work on commissioned pieces and contribute to some sort of community service activity; this year, they are making centerpieces for the Indianapolis Library’s gala.

Urban Artisans includes both a school year session, when students work in the ArtMix studio as part of their school day, and a summer session. Both sessions are designed for students to be in the studio three times each week, with about 25 students participating during the school year and 30-35 in the summer. ArtMix teaching artists also work with 10-12 Urban Artisans students in their school classroom, as a first step for those who may not be ready to participate in the studio environment yet.

A young woman, wearing a headband and blue, tie-dyed tee shirt, uses a fork as she sculpts with clay; a small dog sculpture sits on the table beside her.

An Urban Artisans student works on an animal sculpture.

Wisler and Deadmond emphasize that while the students’ technical artistic skills improve over the course of their time in Urban Artisans, they make tremendous gains in other skills that are transferrable to any job or life situation. “We see major improvement in the students’ social skills, including their ability to work in a team and accept one another’s differences. We even hear from parents that their students are more willing to clean up at home since it is part of the routine at the end of each Urban Artisans session,” says Wisler.

Deadmond also notes that the students’ self-awareness increases throughout the program, as seen in the self-evaluations they complete at each session. She explains, “Some of the questions we ask are about their behaviors and mood, and over time in the self-evaluations, we see the students begin to realize how they are impacting their co-workers. Ultimately, this leads to a hugely important, transferrable, pre-vocational skill: having respect for yourself and those around you.”

 

 

Read more about the work done by ArtMix (formerly VSA Indiana) and other organizations to aid young adults in their career development in the 2012 publication Transition to Employment: Model Projects Fostering Careers in the Arts for Youth with Disabilities.

IRT Theater’s Westside Experiment Offers Career Development Opportunity to Deaf Students

Eight students are standing and stepping to their right while raising their arms to mid-chest level.

Students participate in a movement activity at IRT Theater’s Westside Experiment workshop. Photo credit: Rich Stillwell Photography

In July 2017, New York City’s IRT Theater wrapped up their sixth annual Westside Experiment summer intensive for high school age youth. This two-week career development program pairs experimental theater artists with adolescents working to find to find their identity and voice.

For the first time in 2017, IRT made the Westside Experiment fully accessible for students and theater professionals who are Deaf and have hearing loss. Nine students who are Deaf or have hearing loss joined nine hearing students in the program, and they worked side-by-side for the two weeks under the instruction of lead teachers Monique Holt and Luane Davis Haggerty.

American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters were present throughout the intensive, and ASL was incorporated into the workshops through lessons on ASL poetry and storytelling. Students also spent time studying other theater-making techniques, including movement, improvisation, nonverbal communication, mime, mask work, writing, stage combat, and collaboration. There were also opportunities for students to talk with arts administrators, including Julia C. Levy, Executive Director of New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company.

IRT producing artistic director Kori Rushton says that, in addition to the inclusive group of participating students, the teaching staff also included several theater professionals who are Deaf or have hearing loss. Rushton points to the diversity of the student participants, who came from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and with varying levels of experience in the arts and in Deaf culture, as one of the program’s strengths. “We had a goal of crossing linguistic and cultural boundaries,” she explains, adding, “it was thrilling to watch this cohort embrace the challenge and exceed expectations.”

The students called the program a valuable, enjoyable learning experience, with several noting how sad they were to see the two weeks end. One Deaf student commented that he learned many new things at the Westside Experiment, which “…changed my perspective of what I want to become in the future.” Rushton says IRT hopes to continue to nurture the young theater artists, Deaf and hearing, and make sure they know that they have an artistic home at IRT.

The Musical Theater Project Demonstrates the Value of Building Evaluation into Programs from Day One

One girl and two boys growl like tigers while wearing smock-style costumes.

Students participate in a Kids Love Musicals! residency. Photo credit: Heather Meeker

When leaders at the Musical Theater Project in Northeast Ohio decided they wanted to expand their Kids Love Musicals! residency program to serve students with disabilities, they were deliberate in their planning. They sought out resources and expertise from peer arts organizations already working with students with disabilities, and they attended professional development sessions on arts and special education topics. As they laid out their expansion plan, they identified program assessment as a priority and sought to include comprehensive evaluation strategies as a part of the new residencies.

With this in mind, Heather Meeker, Executive Director of the Musical Theater Project (TMTP), connected with leaders at the Schubert Center for Child Studies at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), located nearby in Cleveland, Ohio. “CWRU is interested in being deeply involved in their community, so developing a mutually beneficial research project was of great interest to them,” says Meeker.

The Schubert Center introduced Meeker to psychology professor Sandra Russ and doctoral student Olena Zyga, who agreed to work with TMTP to assess the new residencies. TMTP agreed to support the academics’ work by raising money to pay for student researchers and faculty time, and Meeker says funders have been especially interested in supporting this collaborative assessment.

The Kids Love Musicals! residencies for children with disabilities aim to teach social skills and emotional understanding through the stories and characters from classic American musicals such as The Wizard of Oz, The Jungle Book, and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. The multi-year evaluation project with the Schubert Center seeks to better understand if engaging in the residency program impacted participants’ socioemotional skills, including the ability to make eye contact, engage with others, take turns appropriately, and demonstrate emotional understanding. A secondary goal is to understand whether gains seen during the residency program extend to other environments.

Russ and Zyga created a custom measurement scale for the program, using their expertise in the fields of psychology and play. TMTP initiated their new residencies for students with disabilities, collecting multiple forms of data throughout. Residency sessions were videotaped across multiple school sites and to include a range of student ages and ability levels; the videos were then coded and scored according to the measurement scale. Teachers were also asked to report on the same variables that were being coded in each session for every student, both before the residency program began and after it had finished.

Analysis of the first round of data, which specifically focused on The Wizard of Oz residency, suggests that students who participated in the Kids Love Musicals! program did make gains in eye contact, turn taking, engagement, and symbolic flexibility. These results were recently published in the Journal of Intellectual Disabilities. Meeker is thrilled that their collaboration with the Schubert Center led to the research being shared broadly, both through journal publication and in various conference presentations by her and Zyga.

Four children stand in front of two adults, all wearing curly gold ribbon on their heads and making roaring faces.

Teaching artists work with students in the Kids Love Musicals! residencies. Photo credit: Heather Meeker

The research collaboration between TMTP and the Schubert Center continues post-report publication, including a new round of data collection focused on identifying if similar gains are seen across curriculums presented to students. Specifically, they are asking if children made the same gains while learning The Jungle Book as made while learning The Wizard of Oz. Analysis of this data is currently underway, with initial results suggesting that curriculum differences do not significantly impact the student outcomes. A final phase of data collection, completed at the end of the 2016-2017 academic year, focused on comparing the active residency period with a pre-residency control period.

Given the success of their collaboration with the Schubert Center, Meeker encourages organizations interested in conducting robust program evaluations to consider partnering with a college or university in their own community. “If a project can be designed with the idea that both the organization and university students can benefit from it, a collaboration can really be a win-win situation,” she says.

Of course, Meeker also warns of the hard work and complications that come with conducting a large-scale assessment. She explains, “We had to make peace with the fact that we would not get 100% compliance from teachers in our data collection efforts, and that not all of the data we worked so hard to collect would ultimately be used in the study. We also did not anticipate the delays that sometimes come with working with a university, like waiting for internal review board approvals for everything from project proposals to parent permission forms.”

But the reward for that hard work is great, Meeker says, as their research has clarified so much for TMTP about the program internally. She concludes, “If you are constantly looking to improve your work, then thorough evaluation is crucial. This project has empowered us to do even more with our programming.”

In Amazement Square art program, students ask, “How Can I Help?”

A girl with black hair and a burgandy sweatshirt holds an art project made of cardboard boxes.

A student from the Amazement Square program shows off her creation.

Students who live in rural areas may not have access to the same kinds of cultural resources as their peers in metropolitan areas. For their VSA Visual Arts Discovery Program contract, staff at Amazement Square in Lynchburg, Virginia, sought out students with disabilities living in more isolated areas. Thanks to Amazement Square’s teaching artists and their expertise in using the museum’s Visual Arts Outreach Program framework, students with disabilities all over Central Virginia are having valuable arts learning experiences in their own classrooms.

According to Gwyn Tatum, director of education and programs at Amazement Square, opportunities for cultural engagement are very limited for students with disabilities in Central Virginia. The children’s museum jumped at the opportunity to expand their outreach to this community.

“We specifically reached out to schools that are far in the countryside, with students who are not going on field trips, so we can bring them lessons,” says Tatum, adding that their instructors are driving an hour or more to the school sites for the visual art residencies.

A girl with brown hair and a striped shirt holds an art project made of cardboard and plastic cups.

A student holds her creation from the “How Can I Help?” lesson.

Caitlin Seaman, one of the lead instructors for the Visual Art Outreach Program, says the teaching artists have been using two lessons from VSA’s 2016-2017 Teacher Resource Guide in their sessions with the students. Seaman says the “How Can I Help?” lesson, which focuses on the idea of service to one’s community, inspired the students to think outside the box.

“I was amazed with what [the students] came up with,” says Seaman, continuing, “…they had tons of ideas about problems in the world and many wonderful inventions for how to address the problems.” Seaman found the lesson worked best over the course of two one-hour sessions, so that they had enough time to make modifications as needed and ensure a meaningful experience for every child.

The “How Can I Help?” lesson is available on the VSA blog and on pages 9-15 of VSA’s Teacher Resource Guide. More information about Amazement Square is available on their website.

Children with ASD Learn through Shakespeare at OSU

Photo of teaching artists working with a boy.

OSU teaching artists work with students with ASD. Photo credit: Big Ten Network

Shakespearean language may sound unfamiliar or intimidating to some children, but at The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus, Ohio, educators are successfully using Shakespeare as the cornerstone of theater workshops for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). OSU’s Shakespeare and Autism program not only offers an exciting arts learning opportunity for young participants with ASD, but also provides hands-on training for university theater students as teaching artists for students with disabilities.

The Shakespeare and Autism program grew out of OSU’s partnership with the UK’s Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). While RSC actor Kelly Hunter was at the university in 2009 to lead Shakespeare workshops for graduate students, she proposed incorporating her program for young people with ASD, called the Hunter Heartbeat Method, into the partnership. The success of an 11-week pilot program led to a collaboration between the OSU Department of Theater and the Nisonger Center, a university center for excellence in developmental disabilities. The Nisonger Center embarked upon a 42-week longitudinal study on the impact of the Hunter Heartbeat workshops on children with ASD.

The results of the Nisonger Center’s study were published in 2016 in the journal Research and Practice in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. They showed that participation in the Shakespeare and Autism program led to significant improvements in social involvement, language skills, and identification of facial expressions for children with ASD.

A female teaching artist puts her arms around two boys in a theater workshop.

Students play theater games led by OSU teaching artists. Photo credit: Big Ten Network

Kevin McClatchy, assistant professor of theater and director of the Shakespeare and Autism program, says the Hunter Heartbeat Method is rooted in the rhythm of Shakespeare’s language and exploring the mind’s eye. “Shakespeare was so great at putting words to feelings, and our workshops help kids express what being alive feels like to them. It gets exciting,” says McClatchy.

McClatchy teaches a Shakespeare and Autism class in the theater department every spring semester. During the 15-week service learning course, undergraduate and graduate students spend the first five weeks studying the Hunter Heartbeat Method and learning about ASD from scholarly reading, research, and guest speakers. After the first five weeks, they begin to lead Shakespeare and Autism workshops with two groups of 12 children with ASD from the Columbus area.

The workshops always begin with a heartbeat circle, in which everyone pats the rhythm of a heartbeat on their chests and says hello. McClatchy describes the circle as a great transitional tool and acknowledgment of a shared moment. After the heartbeat circle, the teaching artists lead the children in games based on Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, which provides a central storyline throughout the workshops.

Photo of a male teaching artist holding hands with a girl in a red shirt.

A teaching artist works with a girl at a Shakespeare and Autism workshop. Photo credit: Big Ten Network

The teaching artists might begin with a game like “Changing the Face,” when they would introduce the half-fish, half-monster character of Caliban. They make an angry face, attach an angry heartbeat, and go around the circle doing an angry hello. That moves into throwing the face across the circle to someone else who will catch it, and ultimately involves attaching Caliban’s text to the throw as well. Teaching artists model the games, and for certain activities, break the children into small groups for practice before returning to the large group.

McClatchy says the play-based games aim to develop skills like recognition and replication of facial expressions, taking turns, sustaining eye contact, and understanding cause and effect, all using Shakespeare’s text as a starting point. He also describes the practical learning opportunity for the university students as “incredible,” adding that real learning for any teaching artist happens when you actually do the work, adding, “You must be present in the moment and respond to every particular need. A strategy that works one week may backfire the next session. The OSU students are amazing in their ability to respond.”

For more information about the Shakespeare and Autism program, visit OSU’s website.

Drum Circle Class Impacts Students and Educators

Three students play drums with two teaching artists. Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

A new partnership between the Westminster Center for Community Engagement and Critical Pedagogy and Trenton Public Schools in New Jersey (U.S.) offers children with autism the opportunity to learn drumming alongside Westminster music education students. The program, called Junior Vitamin D after the Westminster Choir College’s own Vitamin D Drum Circle, provides students in self-contained classrooms at three elementary schools and one middle school the chance to participate in a drum circle, play a variety of rhythms, and perform original compositions.

Frank Abrahams, Director of the Westminster Center for Community Engagement and Critical Pedagogy, says a Westminster alumnus experienced in drum circle facilitation leads the Junior Vitamin D classes. Six current music education students assist that teaching artist. The elementary school session for Junior Vitamin D began in January, and concludes in April; approximately 18 students attend each class, and 75 young students with autism are served in all.

A boy plays a drum held by a teaching artist while a girl watches, smiling. Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

Abrahams says the children have learned a host of skills during the Junior Vitamin D classes, from how to hold and where to hit a drum, to how to copy and improvise rhythms, to how to work collaboratively on a project (like hitting their drums at the same time). He adds, “[The children] learn how to express their own musical ideas through the drums.”

The young participants with autism aren’t the only ones having a valuable learning experience at the Junior Vitamin D classes. Abrahams says the experience has had an enormous impact on the six college students helping facilitate the sessions, teaching them about adapting lessons for students with disabilities and thinking on your feet. “I’ve seen a dramatic change in their perception about what teaching is about, and their give and take to go to plan B if plan A isn’t working,” he says, continuing, “I think the college students are coming away as kinder, gentler, more understanding teachers.”

A teaching artist leads three boys in a movement exercise while playing a drum. Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

When designing the Junior Vitamin D program, Abrahams and his collaborators made sure it maintained the integrity of a high quality school music program. They set measurable goals for the program in three areas: arts learning, academic learning, and social and emotional learning. The instruction also aligns with National Core Art Standards for Music Education and New Jersey Core Curriculum.

Abrahams says it is exciting to observe how the program has changed both the children and college students. “The children are learning to express their own original thought and emotion in playing drums,” he says, “…and the music education students are having a participatory, pre-service experience you cannot get by reading or watching a video.”

Combining Movement and Classical Music at the Australian Chamber Orchestra

A woman plays a cello while a teenage boy in a wheelchair touches it with his right hand.At the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), access and inclusion are core organizational values. Their triennial disability action plan is a major part of the strategic plan, and comprehensively sets goals for inclusion in every aspect of the organization’s work. This includes their signature education program for students with disabilities, ACO Move.

ACO Move is a series of sessions for young people with disabilities featuring movement and live music. ACO Customer Relations and Access Manager, Dean Watson, who has a background in dance, conceived of the program six years ago to offer adolescents with disabilities an arts learning opportunity with the Sydney-based string ensemble.

ACO Move takes place over five two-hour sessions, with a group of approximately ten young participants alongside program facilitators, a quartet of ACO musicians, and a percussionist. Each session begins with a welcome, warm up, and introductions, followed by a series of music and movement exercises. Watson says the facilitators plan many exercises to allow for flexibility in the sessions and “are prepared to adapt.”

Two teenage boys raise their arms in the air while musicians play violins.Watson says some of the student participants have never heard classical music before, and creating a “soundscape” helps to familiarize everyone. The percussionist brings instruments for the participants to use, and everyone works together to build up sound based on a given idea, such as a storm or wave. This builds a sense of community and trust among the group, says Watson, adding, “Everyone performs together, including the ACO musicians, and by the end we’ve created a new ensemble with a composition we can call our own!”

The sessions focus heavily on the theme of dynamics, and Watson and his collaborators use musical terminology like crescendo, diminuendo, staccato, rhythm, and rest to convey this idea. When a term is introduced, the ACO artists first demonstrate the concept musically. The facilitators then turn it into a movement, and the participants imitate and improvise, ultimately building a theatrical piece.

Tactile and sensory learning are also core components of the ACO Move sessions. Participants touch instruments at rest, lay on the ground while a cello is played, or hug a double bass while it is played. Watson also incorporates the sensory learning and soundscape creation as major parts of the ACO’s education sessions in primary and high schools for students with disabilities.

Young adults with disabilities dance to live classical music.Each year, Watson seeks to engage a guest artist with a disability to collaborate on the ACO Move program. The upcoming 2017 sessions will incorporate original compositions for string quartet by a young Australian composer with cerebral palsy. In 2016, the young writer and actor Emily Dash diarized the project and created original spoken word pieces to perform at the presentation day that concludes each ACO Move series.

According to Watson, ACO Move’s success can be attributed to the organization’s commitment to the program, from the administrators to the board to the musicians. He says, “When we invite people to participate [in ACO Move], we want them to feel as though they are part of the ACO family. This means they have access to everything in the building, can communicate freely with the musicians and staff, and feel like an equal part of the ensemble we create.” ACO is currently investigating opportunities to expand ACO Move through partnerships with arts and disability organizations, as well as with the venues in which the orchestra plays.

For more information, contact dean.watson@aco.com.au.

West Virginia Program Helps Teachers Utilize Music with Young Students

The West Virginia University Music Therapy Program will host its Creating Capacity Through Music professional development workshop this month for educators in Morgantown, West Virginia, and the surrounding areas. The five-hour, interactive, continuing education opportunity helps classroom teachers utilize music to engage all students and support various learning objectives for children ages three to seven years.

Picture of a woman wiht blonde hair, a green shirt, and a pink scarf.

Dena Register

Program Director and Associate Professor of Music Therapy Dena Register says she was inspired to create the professional development program by her work with preschool-age students with disabilities. She hopes the workshop will help attendees feel more comfortable using music in the classroom, and give teachers music-based tools for successfully conveying information to all students.

In addition to the workshop, which will be held for 20-25 participants at four different points during the year, teachers are also invited to apply for a six-week, in-classroom consultation opportunity. Those selected will have a music therapist come to their classroom once per week to lead a 30-minute group music experience tailored to the needs of the children in that class, and a 30-minute consultation with the teacher on implementing various strategies presented each week.

When asked what she would recommend to educators hoping to integrate more music into classrooms inclusive of students with disabilities, Register emphasized the importance of strengths-based assessments. She says, “It is helpful to focus on what students can do rather than what they cannot do. This is especially true for music, when many people think, ‘Oh, I’m not a musician.’ Everyone has a musical capability! They just need to focus on their strengths.”

Preparing Art Teachers to Work with Students with Disabilities throughout their Careers

Six adults looking at pieces of wood while they collaborate on an art project.

Educators participate in an art education symposium at Moore College of Art and Design.

At Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, preparing art teachers to work successfully with students with disabilities is at the core of their art education programs. From their undergraduate art education major, to the Master of Arts in Art Education with an Emphasis in Special Populations program, to their art education symposiums, helping current and future educators make art accessible to all students is an institutional priority.

Assistant Professor Amanda Newman-Godfrey says preparing Moore students to serve people with disabilities in the art classroom is a thread that runs through everything they do. That begins with first year undergraduate students in the Art Education program, who get hands-on experience in creating and implementing art curriculum for a diverse aging population thanks to a partnership with the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.

From there, Newman-Godfrey says undergraduate students take several different classes that address working with students with disabilities, to include topics such as differentiated assessment and instruction strategies, Universal Design for Learning, and the history and regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The hallmark undergraduate course is a Special Populations class, which offers Moore students the opportunity to teach art to students with disabilities alongside a certified special education teacher. In Special Populations, Moore undergraduates plan lessons and learn how to be observant, reflective, and thoughtful in the classroom so they can be constantly adjusting, modifying, and adapting based on the needs of their young students.

Moore’s Master of Arts in Art Education with an Emphasis in Special Populations graduate program similarly launches students into a hands-on learning experience, through partnerships with the Barnes Foundation and SpArc Philadelphia. Graduate students create and implement lesson plans for the SpArc participants based on artwork from the Barnes Collection. Graduate Program Director Lauren Stichter notes that graduate students often enter the program eager for mentors and peers to connect with, as it can be hard to find others with an interest in art and special education in their home communities.

A woman with blonde hair and a black dress standing in front of an urn with branches

Lauren Stichter

For art educators seeking a continuing education opportunity, Moore offers semi-annual symposia on topics in art and special education. The next symposium, Going Beyond the Art Room: Engaging Diverse Learners in Museum and Community Arts Settings, is on April 1. At that event, attendees will have the opportunity to visit neighboring sites, including the Barnes Foundation and Franklin Institute, to experience hands-on learning with inclusive tools. Stichter says a goal of the symposium is to make teachers more comfortable accessing local museums with all students. The symposia, now in their eighth year, usually attract about 100 educators.

Stichter, Newman-Godfrey, and their students at Moore are eager to share their work in art and special education with others, and are able to do so through partnerships with local arts organizations and colleges. Stichter says sharing promising practices across the field can only increase everyone’s success in the classroom, and ultimately make more art teachers comfortable and ready to work with students with disabilities.